Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Giving Or Not Giving Christmas Gifts

Two particularly thoughtful articles have had me pondering lately in the midst of all the Christmas preparations. It started last year or the year before with this classic post from Ann Voskamp, When Christmas Gets Radical: Whose Birthday Is It Really? In it she shares her family's practice of eschewing gifts for each other, instead choosing to give gifts to the poor worldwide through gift catalogs from Samaritan's Purse, Compassion International and the like.

When I first read this, I found it very compelling--and my zeal was renewed when I reread it this year. My heart's desire was to throw off many of the obligatory gift exchanges and give to people who are REALLY in need, rather than get gifts for people who don't need them (or would and could buy it themselves if they wanted it). I wanted to enjoy family time and focus on Jesus and make a big deal of birthdays throughout the year, instead of exchanging Christmas gifts. And to a certain extent we are indeed moving in that direction. We still do lots of giving and receiving with our extended families, but for just the four of us, we've chosen not to do gifts (other than matching PJs for the boys on Christmas Eve).

But then I read a startling article by Rachel Jankovic at Desiring God last week, called Of Kids and Christmas, in which she writes:
Christmas is the ultimate celebration of the material. Because Christmas is the time when God became man. Word to Flesh. Unfettered spirit to the hazards and joys and stresses of physical life. Think about it. Some people want to filter the material out of Christmas and morph it into some pure ethereal spirit religious day. And some people want to filter all the spiritual out of it and make it simply a holiday celebrating the purchasing power of plastic. But the power of Christmas is when spiritual and material meet. And it always has been. That is the joy of the season, that is the good news, that is the laughter and the paradox and the earth-shaking magic of Christmas. The infinite Word became a physical baby.
WHEW. Definitely go read the whole thing. This very unique perspective really challenged me! And while I still find much beauty and truth in Ann's article, I think this one provides a helpful balance for me.

I am reminding myself that there are wonderful reasons to give gifts. First of all, just because gifts aren't my or Steve's love language, that doesn't mean they don't speak love very profoundly to some of our friends and family.

And second, I have to stop and realize that there is a very real sense in which giving gifts reflects the character of our extravagant God. For the reality is, God constantly lavishes me with far, far more than I need. He gives me generous and wonderful gifts. So when I give gifts to those I love, I am imaging my Heavenly Father to them, imitating the Giver of all good gifts.

Just some thoughts as I wrap up my Christmas shopping and prepare for family celebrations. I'd love to hear from you in the comments: How do you handle gift-giving at Christmas? How do you feel about it?


Danielle said...

I've thought a lot about this too. I also was very impacted by Ann's post last year. But the thing is I LOVE giving. That said, I don't want materialism to be the focus. We give limitedly: stockings, 1 toy, 1 clothing item, 1 book. I don't want them to think as they grow up their list can be endless. :)

We're also encouraging them to pick out an item to give through Compassion's catalog for a child in need this year too. I want it to be concrete for them. Although Josh and I also are giving to missionaries and various people in our church who are in need, the kids I think don't "get" writing a check for someone in need as much as giving something more tangible, like chickens.

Extended family-wise, the kids don't get an extravagant amount. We have siblings still in college with no money and grandparents who can barely support themselves. So the focus isn't gifts there. We're keeping it simple by giving a framed picture from our photo session to all our family members. I hope it's meaningful, as many family members aren't local. But I love giving to them too. We have family members with no health insurance and trying to pay for college. Even cash goes a long way.

I think it really is the thought behind the gift. In our circle there really are a lot of needs and it's easy to think of how to bless people and image Christ in that way. But I think it's important to think "why" we give the way we do.

Can't wait to read that article you linked to!

Danielle said...

Just back to say that article was fabulous. Actually, it reminds me of what I was reading last night by Tim Keller in "The Reason for God" about why Christians care for the earth, justice, etc. and things on this earth. Because Jesus came to this earth and is in process of making it new. Kinda dovetails (at least in my mind).

Ali said...

We decided to give only three gifts to each child this year. And to tailor them specifically to each specific child. So, no ridiculous toys just to make sure they all have the same amount. For instance, Zack is REALLY into birds and is our most compassionate child. We have decided that his large gift will be a parakeet. He's going to be thrilled. His other two gifts are just two very small toys that he really wanted and that cost maybe $15 put together. We'd like to limit what our children receive and instead give them gifts that are meaningful and special. I'm excited to start this - especially since I grew up in a family where gift giving was a HUGE production.

And in regards to extended family ... in mutual agreement, we've cut out a large portion of our extended family giving. It seems everyone is happy to be cutting back a bit.

It does seem that much of our giving is focused outside of the family. We always bring baked goods to the neighbors as a way to bridge relationships, we put out stuff for the mailman and garbage collectors, we give to teachers. Most of these items are homemade - which I find is really great because it allows the kids to be a part of saying "thank you" to those who are serving our family.

Is all this necessary? No. But as a family we enjoy it. And I don't think it's so much about whether it's okay to give gifts, but rather more about where the focus is throughout the holiday season. We all really enjoy giving gifts to others, so as long as we are realizing the source of these gifts and giving thanks to the One from whom all good things come, I don't see the need to cut out gifts completely.

But don't forget ... we're a work in progress! My opinions on this may change in the future! :)

Zoanna said...

I will have to read the article when I get a chance, but for now will say that this year has been one of opening my heart more wider to varying beliefs about what Christmas is and isn't. I'll probably blog about it because it's been on my mind a lot and would be a huge comment here! Gift giving AND receiving are love languages for me, so to withhold or to receive very little (or rather, with little thought or effort ,not necessarily expense) would hurt me. That said, I respect people for whom giving gifts doesn't come naturally and I respect those who find it materialistic to give gifts to one another as opposed to those in need.

As for extended family, my parents decided to completely not celebrate Christmas at all. It's a huge change that makes me sad but not angry *(anymore. Last year was a different monster). They will be generous with birthdays and anniversary, but no gifts on "holidays" from here on. I disagree that Christmas shouldn't be celebrated at all, but I respect their decision in that it makes my mom feel "wrong" to materialize the coming of the Messiah.

Woops, so much for not leaving a long comment.

Zoanna said...

Not "more wider" but "more widely.' :(

Kayla said...

Hey Amy- I really enjoyed reading these articles actually. It's interesting to me to watch Christians process and unfold how they feel about celebrating all sorts of things, but since we're on the topic of Christmas... I'll stick with just that.

I wrote a blog about Christmas last year, and I still feel the same this year so I'll share my thoughts a little.

Sometimes I believe that Christians can get so focused on what we "should or shouldn't" be doing that we start to make the holiday about that.

What I mean by this is that I don't really believe we have to "Christian-ize" (bare with me on the made up word there) everything we enjoy doing to justify why it is ok.

For example. I think Christmas lights are pretty. I don't go digging through scripture to come up with a verse that gives me the rights as a Christian to look at the lights. I just love them. And I honestly believe that is OK in God's eyes.

I think the same can be said of gifts. If you love giving them, give them. I don't believe it reduces who God is or isn't to enjoy opening presents, be it at Christmas time or not.

For me personally, I believe the line gets crossed with gifts when we cause ourselves to sin. Charging ridiculous amounts on credit cards and creating for ourselves all kinds of unbiblical debt just to buy things out of our means or to keep up with everyone we think we're suppose to buy for.

All that being said, as Christians, we just can't lose sight of the fact that the month of DECEMBER is not our religion. Sometimes we almost worship the day on the calendar as something holy and sacred and not to be screwed up. When all the while, Christmas is just the day we picked out to give Jesus a birthday party. We must celebrate him 365 days a year, because that's what He deserves!

Ali said...

Kayla, thanks for commenting! I have also been frustrated by the need of some to have a Biblical basis for every bit of celebration. I think we can end up heaping guilt on ourselves unnecessarily.

Our God is a God of beauty and order and celebration. He is the most generous giver. The giving and celebration and beauty of Christmas (and, yes, even the order of doing things at a specific time of year) can point us to Christ if done well and with the correct motivation.