I am an enjoyer of gifts, thoroughly. I like thinking about what someone might appreciate and I enjoy giving it. Gift giving is a way that I express love. I also like being the receiver of gifts; gifts show me that I am loved and nothing brightens my day more than receiving a package in the mail (that isn’t a hint by the way.) And watching my children receive a well thought out gift delights me completely; I also enjoy seeing their joy at giving a gift to others and I want to cultivate that spirit in them. We also deeply value living simply with what we need and not a whole lot of extras besides. I/we believe that with less we are able to enjoy what we have more and we are able to use it better than if we are overwhelmed by things, even beautiful quality things.
It is these two ideals that often leave me in a bit of a quandary at Christmas time. To give gifts or not? To spend money on a quality gift or not? To express love in that way or in some other way? My friend Beth shared some of her thoughts on why the expression of love through gifts is such a beautiful and important one to her. She makes a very valid point that the “pertinent question is not how much can we minimize our participation in the gong show of more, more, more – and how quickly can we jump on the less, less, less bandwagon.” But rather how can I honor the One whose birth I am celebrating? I stand right now and say that I have been guilty of jumping on the less bandwagon with the pride of believing it is the better way. For Beth is right. To be ungrateful myself or to teach my children ungratefulness for gifts given with love is no better. To judge others for the money that they spend or the number of presents that they purchase does not make me the better person.
When I look back to childhood, I didn’t feel more loved on the years that saw more gifts bearing my name under the tree. In fact, I quickly learned in my need for love and validation that no amount of gifts from loving siblings and parents could satisfy. As I grew older, Dan and I married, and started our own family, we have spent a great deal of time talking about gift giving each year. From my perspective I realized that I didn’t want to create or continue a tradition that said love and celebration must be spoken through physical and wrapped gifts no matter how tasteful and well-chosen. We want celebration and love to have the ability to be expressed in times of plenty and of nothing. I think that perhaps I lean so far away from lots of gifts is because I see that I have so deeply ingrained myself to believe that love must be shown at specific times through wrapped gifts and that my ability to show love is through giving the “perfect” gift. It isn’t so much that we don’t want to give our children good things nor do I wish to receive poorly, but our goal as a family is to always be moving toward simply being, appreciating and offering…ourselves.
I think that what it comes down to is that our understanding and practice of gift giving/receiving is always changing and there is no right way. Our practice will likely change as our understanding grows. And because we spend way to much time thinking through everything, we will likely continue to do so but we will also enjoy the choices that we make. Hopefully, we will learn to truly embrace that any way in which we fully give ourselves or receive from others is indeed a worthy gift.
Now having said all that (and I am sorry if it is not terribly cohesive), this is a bit of detail on our approach to Christmas giving. Christmas is a big one but also birthdays and other events. The truth is that with 13 siblings between us and many nephews and nieces, family gift giving is not financially realistic or possible so much of this really only relates to within our own little family.
- Plan for one gift each within the amount that we can afford (or in times of plenty feel is wise.). This is also somewhat in consideration for the ages of our children as they are overwhelmed by more than that. While they enjoy the opening, they don't really know what to do with more than that (and they are very blessed with gifts from other family members that they enjoy as they arrive in the mail.).
- Think practical before wants. (We do stockings that are mostly filled with needs like toothpaste or soap and then “extras”.)
- If practical has been filled already for the time being, consider if the want is purposeful. (Don’t buy a toy just for the sake of having a gift.)
- Think handmade, re-use or repurpose, local, ethical, and quality. (For example, this year the girls are receiving a dress-up box from materials that we have, a few second hand items, and some clothing of mine that I will repurpose.) And consider passing on items for the same purpose.
- Look for both planned and spontaneous opportunities to give and share with others.
- Express ourselves lavishly in gift forms which cannot be wrapped but have immeasurable lasting value.
- Keep it SIMPLE! I am the queen of over planning and over detail with my desire to have everything just right. I can have the most delicious treats, beautiful table, detailed advent, wonderfully planned activities, and great handmade gifts but if my family only receives a flurried and heart-absent me for a month prior it will all be for naught.
- Pause and savor the love that has been expressed so wholly to us through a baby in a manger. Truly. No other Christmas gift compares.
What are your thoughts on gift giving?