It’s been a month since celebrating Jesus’ birth and the rebirth of light — and exchanging Christmas gifts.
That means 11 months more until Christmas and gift-giving season comes again.
Christmas thoughts from last year: Half as Close as I Want to Be
We sing “Keep Christmas with you, all through the year…”
Here’s some inspiration I’ve found on how to ‘keep Christmas with me’ — particularly with regard to the giving of Christmas gifts.
We say that it is unfortunate that times have changed and that Christmas is now a heavy economic responsibility. This development is in part due to a general misunderstanding and to the changes which the motions of civilization have wrought.p61
This post is an effort to solidify my realigned understandings of Christmas and the giving of gifts.
For nearly fifteen centuries, the concept of Christmas giving and sharing was comparatively free from what we call “commercialism.” In older times, there were neither means nor circumstances that invited extravagance. Gifts were considered important principally because they represented the personal thoughtfulness, skill, and industry of the giver. Presents were quietly accumulated through the year.pp59
One rather happy arrangement is not to shop at Christmastime at all but throughout the preceding year. One day we may stay to ourselves, “This would make my father happy,” or “This is just what my sister has always wanted.” That is the time to purchase the gift and to lay it away, as was the habit in olden times. Then when Christmas comes, there is no last-minute emergency, no hasty selection, and no meaningless gift. Also, the Christmas spirit lives throughout the year, and we recover from the absurdity of last-minute generosity. We are told in the legend that Santa Claus works all year long together his toys. Why not follow his example? In this case, the beautiful is also the practical, and no special funds need to be allocated to a single week or month. Nor are we faced with the haste and fatigue of late shopping. Thus we will come to Christmas with an eagerness to bring happy consummation months of kindly thought and preparation.pp103-104
I am a firm believer in collecting gifts through the year.
The magic of Christmas is in the giving. The “collecting” can be exhausting, especially if crammed and done at the same time as everyone else.
Creative and soul-based ‘performance’ improves when timelines and pressure are absent.
Collect all year when there is no looming deadline. Let the surplus accumulate. Then you’ll be stocked.
When you release your stock of goodness, you become the source of the Spirit of the Season.
The logistics of sending gifts
Isn’t part of the fun of Christmas actually seeing gifts under the tree day after day so that your anticipation builds as you wonder what they could be?
Would you rather:
(A) have gifts arrive on Christmas Eve with no time for anticipation,
(B) have gifts arrive December 1 and spend all month getting excited about what is to come?
I prefer (A).
Once I looked at this situation thru the lens of people receiving gifts I send, I realized it is so much better to get goods shipped by Thanksgiving so that they get not only the gift but they also get the anticipation of a gift.
I don’t execute this perfectly.
But I am now deeply converted to the timeline.
[In those older times, t]here was no problem with the competitive value of presents given or received. Communities were essentially poor, but this fact placed no restraint upon the spirit of thanksgiving and the pleasure of small remembrances. The very simplicity of the old Christmas was part of its charm and helped to keep alive and bright the secret of the celebration. After all, it was in honor of a man who had renounced the things of this world, for the birds of the air had their nests, and the beasts of the field had their lairs, but the Son of Man had no place to lay his head.pp60
One year my family celebrated Christmas miles and miles from where any of us lived. Transporting our typical tree decor was not feasible. We weren’t familiar with where to cut a tree in this new locale. But we got a tree and decorated it.
When considering what to do for tree decorations, my mind recalled scenes from an old Disney Christmas special where a 19th century family strung popcorn together on long chains and then strung those chains around their tree. So that’s what we did, adding cranberries for color.
My young nieces and nephews not adept with needles and thread cut strips of green and red construction paper to make long paper chains.
It was cheap. But we made it — together.
I loved that tree and those memories.
Most people are no longer sufficiently resourceful or skillful at making with their own hands gifts for their loved ones. We feel that we do not have the time, but in fact we lack the inclination. So today, we simply go out and buy, and join the throng, which has transformed this gentle festival into a merchants’ holiday. Is the merchant really to blame because we try to buy a spiritual experience that can come to us only in our hearts?
We all need to appreciate Christmas as an excursion of the fantasy — a journey into the into the land of mystery — where everything is wonderful and beautiful, and good is always triumphant.p62
The best Christmas gifts likely have negative, raw economic ROI
I have a friend who is an amateur carver.
He is carving a nativity creche.
The economic ROI of making one himself is brutally negative vis a vis spending those carving hours as a consultant making extra earnings and purchasing a product crafted by an expert.
His final product will not be the most beautiful to the critic’s eye.
But it will be beautiful to those who have it and see it, to those who unwrap it, display it and put it away each year. Because … “father made it.”
Many folks say that they have no idea what some other person would like. This claim means that through the period of an acquaintance, we have had slight communion with the inner life of our friend. We have not been observant of their ways or thoughtful of their character.p103
There must be a certain amount of wisdom to direct our giving. If there is little real beauty and appreciation behind our selection of gifts, we can have another cause for disillusionment. We give and receive an incredible array of worthless and impractical knickknacks. […] Christmas buying should not be a waste but a thoughtful selection of things meaningful or significant. It does not follow that we must select utilities — socks, neckties, and handkerchiefs as presents are the last resources of the unimaginative. Let us remember that the purpose of each gift is that it shall contribute to the consciousness of the Christmas Season. It should brighten the soul of both the giver and the recipient. It is a symbol by which we tell people that we remember them, not just as one of many, but as one cherished and understood.p102
Needs, tool and utilities as gifts — just say ‘No’
I remember during my teenage years receiving a handful of expensive items from my parents, often in the back half of the year, which came with the words, “Consider this your Christmas gift.”
I understand what my parents were going through and why said they this.
I have no problem with the actions, but I wish the words had been different.
There was unnecessary loss in the meanings left open for available interpretation. Something along the lines of, “All I can do for a gift for you is spend money.” That isn’t true. But it stuck.
There is no problem with a family budget in which gifts and tools compete for limited funds.
That is a fact of life and perhaps an important moment to help children understand part of maturing is embracing one’s role in making tradeoff decisions.
However, a TI-89 for your calculus-enrolled child is not a gift. It is a utility.
Let tools be tools … and gifts be gifts. And may our words and presentation match accordingly.
Reflecting on these and similar experiences, I now say about Christmas lists and gifting in general: “It isn’t a shopping list. If you need it, we’ll plan accordingly and buy it.”
Further, I no longer request or publish Christmas lists and even go so far as to hold back from offering suggestions.
No matter how the most recent Christmas went for you, I wish you a year filled with the spirit of thoughtful and anticipatory giving, and a coming Christmas season where you and those you love “share in the benevolent conspiracy and the general atmosphere of expectancy” (p59).
A Christmas present is a symbol. We give of what we have, to indicate our intention to give of what we are. We tell our loved ones that they may depend upon us for strength and integrity and protection. It is a mistake if we allow the spirit of Christmas to be exhausted on a symbolic level. Nor should we bury the spirit of Christmas under a stack of presents.p61