Some of the things I think of when I look at the whole idea of gift giving are wrapped around the words Expectation, Expression, Anticipation and Appreciation. Gift giving has been with us for a long time. We sometimes use the bringing of the gifts by the Wisemen to the Christ child of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh as a basis for giving gifts at Christmas time.
Then, of course, there is Santa Claus. The story of a bishop goes back to the second century where he gave gifts to children and distributed his wealth to the poor. The traditions piled on by adding layers of cultural and religious ritual. The poem by Clement Moore framed for the western culture the vision of sugarplums and helped all visualize the modern Santa, resulting in no end of gift product that fills the pocketbooks of vendors each year. To top it all off, every gift is produced by an elf at the North pole. No wonder there are no jobs and there is more and more social pressure on the giving of gifts. This is the season. This is the moment children and adults reach far beyond their capacity with an attempt to make everyone happy around them with commemoratives that express how much they care.
Before I launch into my personal feelings, let me acknowledge that the poor who are always with us are always on the minds of people during this time of the year. There were times a few decades ago when we collected so many toys for the poor that the toys for tots distributors would not take any more toys because they had received too many. Today that has changed. That does not say that the poor do not often sit wistfully by wishing for just a little of what many others have. That is a problem that we have few answers for, because at the root of the poor are many issues that we can’t take time to address in a blog like this.
Gift giving is an interesting exercise. Making a list, checking it twice, going to find out just how tough it is as the years roll on to buy something with meaning for someone who already has enough. I really am frustrated as to the buying and giving of gifts. I have grandchildren that have everything a person could want. What can we get them that will be meaningful and not lost in the shuffle of dozens of other gifts?
There are those who poke fun at the idea of re-gifting. I don’t know anyone who re-gifts a gift that they need. When a person needs a gift and gets it, they use it. I heard about a person who got married and at the wedding reception received dozens of towels and sheets. What in the world is a person going to do with a house full of towels and sheets? That’s why today people have registries. But then at Christmas time we have a house full of trinkets and stuff that have been given to us that we have no use for and we feel sort of guilty giving them away.
Sometimes I think shoppers are like blindfolded kids playing “pin the tail on the donkey” in a gift shop. “Oh isn’t that cute?” “They would like that!” “What was that price range again?” Whatever falls off the shelf at their first touch is the one ordained to land on my door step in a UPS box marked fragile. The drawers of my cupboards are full of stuff that people have given me that I believe have about as much thought behind them as buying sand for an hourglass or a pet rock.
Last year I ran out of ideas for gifts for some of my family, so my wife and I decided to give sheep to families in a third world country, sending a card saying that this gift was given in your honor as a way of remembering you this Christmas. I thought that it would be appreciated by the family recipients that we had thought enough of them to provide for someone who had truly nothing. Well, that went over like a lead balloon.
This year we went back to sending frozen steaks to those who misunderstood our motives and we will continue to give sheep as the Lord leads us. I don’t want to come across as a person who is unthankful, but every time I get a gift, I open it with anticipation. When I see something that is not about thoughtfulness but about obligation, my joy dips and my enthusiasm wanes. Why do I care when it seems to me that others don’t? But just getting the gift should be an expression that people care or at least think about caring. Is my expectation really too high? Even giving thought to that could be classified and seen as judgmental, but you have to start someplace.
At what point does one lose thoughtfulness and take on duty. There is never anything wrong with any gift because gifts have no morality. But if I get a gift at this time of life from people I have known all my life and all it says to me is, “I really am just filling a slot here and lots of luck as you prepare for your next garage sale” then I do not react in a very positive way. Of course I should rejoice because it has motivated me to write this blog and the fact that they had even thought to fill the slot has merit and should be translated as meaningful.
So then we tell a little white lie! Maybe I could word that differently because today people don’t lie they just misunderstand or find someone else to blame. I say thank you for your wonderful gift, I have it on my mantel. The truth is that I put it on my mantel until I whisk it away to some drawer for a time later when the people visit. It’s really not a lie because when I write the thank you note the gift really is on the mantel. Then when they visit, I usually whisk it back out so they can see that their gift, which gives me no joy at all, is at work adorning our home and respecting their donkey tailed pinning of gift buying to check one more thing off their list of obligations.
Here are some suggestions. If you can’t find something with meaning, give money so people can plan a night out and remember that you made that possible. Maybe we should just say let’s stop the dance and realize we both don’t need anything. Give something to eat. How about something that can engage you for a moment as you spread the jam on some bake goods that have been sent to you over night? There are those overpriced steaks that arrive packed in dry ice from a far away place. There is the delight of having the aroma of those steaks wafting toward you as you sizzle them on the grill. These things allow our senses to appreciate that there is something that has meaning because we can smell, taste, see, and appreciate the quality of something given. Now I can at least receive that with joy and satisfaction. Don’t buy those overpriced gift baskets that are filled with ornate boxes and one ounce portions of exotic substances surrounded by stale bread sticks.
There is always the other alternative. Go back to giving sheep or a goat to a third world family in honor of your love for someone who has everything rather than wasting money on something one does not need.
What do you think? Let me know how you feel. Have a Blessed Christmas!