Alrighty, this won’t be short. Let’s recap first.
1. If you need to use the bible to justify gift giving at Christmas time, you’re out of luck: No where are we told to do this. Instead of telling us to give stuff to people to honor Christ’s arrival, it implies that we’re to give ourselves to God.
2. If we changed the way we gave gifts or stopped giving them altogether, we would be more upset and uncomfortable than those we’re giving to. I suspect. You seem to agree. So we can’t really say we do the gift thing entirely for the children. Giving gifts often times/sometimes has a lot more to do with us and our fears, expectations and traditions than anyone else.
3. While the bible doesn’t command us to give gifts to each other at Christmas (it doesn’t even tell us to celebrate Christmas) and while our motives in giving aren’t exactly selfless all the time, there’s nothing inherently evil about this practice of wrapping stuff and giving it to people. Like Halloween, Christmas can be “redeemed” – partly by guarding against the “slippery slope.”
So, as promised, here’s how we handle the whole gift giving thing in our house, in four points with some whys and hows (!!):
Becky and I don’t give each other or our kids a single thing at Christmas.
We don’t give our kids anything because they don’t need, expect or ask for anything. They don’t need anything because they use their own money to buy themselves stuff year round, we buy them small things year round, and they get loads of loot from friends and family on their birthdays – we haven’t put any limits on that…yet. They don’t expect anything because this is all they’ve ever known (soy milk, remember?). They don’t ask for anything because they don’t have cable. Yes, it’s that easy. There’s no built-in need in the human body, mind or spirit for a Webkin or a Wii. The “need” is created. Because there are no need creators in our house (aka advertisers) our kids don’t want stuff very often. And when they do, we get it for their birthday or encourage them to earn the money to buy it themselves. So far, so good.
Santa Clause doesn’t give Becky and I or our kids a single thing.
Well, I’ve written before about how we slayed Santa if you want all the details. Essentially, our kids think the whole Santa thing is something the whole world pretends. Hey, it’s no more of a lie than what you tell your kids. Anyway, seriously, don’t worry: there’s no incentive for our children to tell your children Santa isn’t real because they think everyone already knows that. It’s genius! Complete strangers come up to my kids this time of year and ask them what Santa is bringing. And they
No real Santa means no lists, no waking up at 6AM to get stuff, no two hour present unwrapping sessions, and no worries about whether we’re making too big a deal out of Santa and not a big enough deal out of Jesus. Santa’s a bit player. Jesus is the star.
I think it’s incredible how some people do family worship services or read the Christmas story or unwrap the baby Jesus figurine first thing Christmas morning. Very cool. But we’re not that advanced yet. Simply killing off Saint Nick has been enough to put the spotlight on Jesus at Christmas. In addition though, the last few years we’ve had a birthday party for Jesus, complete with singing and candle blowing and cake eating. My mom’s idea. And a lot of the emphasis on Christ comes from little conversations that just naturally happen. For instance, Gresham, my son, recently asked me if he was going to get any presents for Christmas. He knew he would but this was his way of trying to figure out what they might be. I sarcastically asked him why he would get presents if it’s not his birthday. I asked him whose birthday it was. He said Jesus’ and then I asked him what he was going to give Jesus for his birthday. He thought for a minute and then he said the most profound thing: “Well, Jesus gets…me!” Exactly. And then we talked very briefly about how we could give ourselves to Jesus this Christmas. The kids gave their ideas and we eventually decided to buy animals and water for families in the third world – a gift to poor kids like Jesus. They’re pretty excited about buying a goat.
Grandparents are limited to two gifts per kid.
This is a tough one. And this our first year to man-up and actually ask grandparents to change their ways. As a kid I remember my mom working twelve hour days as the director of a daycare center, then coming home, fixing dinner, and working another four hours sewing stuff that she then sold for Christmas present money. All that work to get me stuff I stopped playing with a few months (or days) later. She didn’t seem to mind. Gifts are my mom’s way of loving people and she’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. To give less than a lot to every kid in our family might actually kill her. I’ll let you know. But because my mom loves me she’s agreed to give it a try this year. We’ve assured her our kids don’t expect much for Christmas and haven’t asked for a single thing and will still believe she loves them no matter what. She may be doubtful but se’s playing along. Thanks, mom.
This new grandparent “rule” came about partly because Becky wants our kids to think of their grandparents as people and not toy dispensers and partly because she wants them to do stuff with their grandparents, not just get stuff. So at Christmas, our kids will hunt frogs with Papa, go swimming with Nonnie, do art together or go see a movie. The grandparents are the gift. That, Becky hopes, will be more meaningful to our kids in the long run than a bunch of stuff.
Limiting the number of gifts they get is also good for us. The less we have the more grateful I believe we’re likely to be. The less we have the more responsive we are to those who have nothing. The less we have the less we want. (Odd, but I think true.) Lastly, the less we have the more imaginative and relational it’s necessary we be. My kids spend hours every day pretending with simple things like a box or a ball. Kids don’t need stuff to have fun but when they have a lot of stuff, I think, it can cripple their ability to have fun without it. Visit the third world and see how much fun a stick and a tire can be. Then give a stick and a tire to an American kid and watch them slump, whine, and groan about how bored they are. We’re not doing kids any favors by taking away the need for imagination. So, some stuff, some imagination, and we just hope that works.
I’m no psychologist. I could be completely wrong about every bit of this. All I know about kids is what I’ve seen of my own. Results may vary.
We give gifts
Why wouldn’t we give at Christmas when we give all year round? At Christmas, the gifts change slightly, that’s all. And there’s more conversation probably about why we give, but the giving itself is nothing unique to Christmas. And the stuff we give isn’t all that grand. We give friends food and Christmas cards made by the kids. We give relatives ornaments or frames or planters or some other small thing we make as a family. We give teachers plants and pictures made by the kids. We do the same sorts of things the other eleven months of the year too. When we appreciate someone we give to them – we recognize them. When we hear about a need, we meet it. We work a few hours every week at a food pantry, sponsor kids through Compassion, give to a homeless mission in Nashville, volunteer for this and that, etc etc. The point is that Christmas isn’t a time of increased generosity for our kids or us. There’s virtually no difference in our level of giving from one season to the next – the only difference is the kind of card that comes with the gift.
Your turn. How do you do the whole gift giving thing? Specifically, how do you handle giving your kids gifts?