14 December 2011
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11 NIV).
What Christmas presents do you plan to give this year? Probably your kids or grandkids have already given you long lists, and you’ve checked them twice—not just to see who’s been naughty and nice, but to see how much you can afford.
The American Research Group, Inc. reports that the amount of money American shoppers plan to spend on Christmas gifts has gone up by 58% since last year, from an average of $417 to $658. This shows greater confidence in the recovery of our economy over last year. Compare that to average Christmas spending of $1,004 in 2004, and you can see that our economy still has a long way to go.* Maybe your Christmas spending isn’t as much as you’d like it to be, because times have been difficult for you lately. More than once I’ve heard someone’s grandma say “Now, don’t expect as big a Christmas this year, because money is tight.”
Which brings me to a pet peeve of mine—hearing people say, “I’m going to buy the kids their Christmas,” instead of “I’m going to buy the kids their Christmas presents.” You can’t buy Christmas! You can buy Christmas presents, but let’s get this right. Getting it wrong indicates that all our priorities are out of whack.
Christmas gift-giving has a long tradition that actually goes back to pre-Christian times, when the Romans would celebrate the winter solstice festival of Kalends with festivity and gift-giving. When the Winter Solstice became the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth, gift-giving recalled the presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh given to baby Jesus by the Magi. During the fourth century, Bishop Nicholas of Myra dropped bags of gold down the chimney of a poor man whose three daughters were about to be sold into slavery. The gold landed in the girls’ stockings that had been hung by the fire to dry, and the Christmas gift exchange was born! Until the industrial revolution, gift-giving was mostly fruits, nuts, and homemade items, but all that changed with modern innovation and advertising.
This year, instead of getting bitten by the commercialism humbug, why not intentionally simplify your Christmas? Gift-giving is fine—I’m not saying you should let your family go without. But place your priority on the right thing—on Christmas Presence, instead of Christmas presents. Let the presence of Christ overwhelm your celebration. Instead of giving gifts and then sending the kids off to play with their toys all day (and ignoring you), be present with your family this Christmas. Too many extended-family get-togethers involve three or four generations, with the grandparents and the parents spending their time visiting, while the parentally-ignored children go off to play together. That way, grandparents never get to know their grandkids! Instead, let everyone spend the day, and the season, together. Let the presence of God fill you with joy. Enjoy Jesus’ Christmas Presence, and remember that He is the greatest gift of the season!