Some say Christmas is a season of giving of gifts, followed by January, a season of paying for them. So it is, for many people. The commercialism of Christmas is a significant thing: stores are thronged by shoppers at this time of year. Websites are deluged by customers ordering gifts for Christmas, willing to pay extra to have them shipped in time. These shoppers are driven by one desire: to buy Christmas gifts to please their loved ones. Some overextend themselves to do this: they accumulate debt to buy these gifts, debt that lingers into the new year. And sadly, many of the gifts bought and given do not last: they break, or they are put aside to sit on shelves unused. So is all this gift-giving a bad thing?
Well, yes and no. The excesses of commercialism so often seen at this time of year are not good. But gift-giving itself is not a bad thing. The Christmas season culminates with Epiphany, the visit of the Magi to the newborn Jesus, who brought him special gifts from afar. So gift-giving was an important part of the first Christmas, too.
Also, do consider what Christmas is. During Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, sent by God the Father, whose coming was foretold by an angel. This baby is the Messiah, the Christ, who grew up, preached and taught, was crucified for it, then rose again at Easter to new life. In so doing, Jesus made it possible for human beings to receive life through him. So Jesus himself is a gift from God the Father to humanity, and he is a very good gift indeed.
From this, what can we learn about a gift being in the true spirit of Christmas? It is not expense that matters. After all, the baby Jesus was born in a stable, not a palace. He was wrapped in swaddling cloth, not fancy clothes. He was laid in a feeding trough for animals, not a cradle. It is not pleasure or enjoyment that matters either: the baby Jesus was not born into a comfortable life full of amusements, but a hard one with no shortage of suffering. But not suffering only, but love, self-sacrificial love. He reached out to the poor and the needy. He healed the sick, forgave sinners, gave people hope. In so doing, he showed us that what matters most is love. Indeed, God loved the world so much that he sent his son Jesus to be to us, as the angels on the first Christmas announced to the shepherds, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And so Jesus was, and is. Here is no short-term gift that soon breaks or sits on a shelf unused. Here is gift-giving where the gift makes all the difference.
How to give like this? Think less about things, more about people. Look for the meaningful difference, the gift of the heart. Look for love, look for meaning. Do everything in the light of the original gift of Christmas, the gift of the child Jesus. Do not let your love stop when Christmas is over: do not be afraid to let what you do for another make a permanent difference. Remember that the true currency of gift-giving is not monetary expense, but love. Let us open our eyes and our hearts to the gifts and the giving that really matters.