I realize this is a very opinionated piece and perhaps an odd topic coming from a pastor but hear me out. There is a disturbing trend that I have seen more and more within today's culture around Christmas time. It is a trend that directly contradicts what many are taught to be one of the “Five Love Languages”. What I am getting at is the lack of; or doing away with gifts at Christmas. I would have to say my love language is physical gifts. No doubt I inherited that from my mom. Both of us loved giving and receiving gifts.
Let me clarify that there are many well deserving charities out there that benefit greatly when a person or family buys gifts for them. I understand it is with a good heart that people say they are going to purchase gifts for those in need instead of the family this year. At the church I pastor we are doing just that for an ongoing ministry we have. What I am not asking for is families to not buy for each other.
Let me get a bit personal. What were your fondest memories of Christmas growing up? I am willing to bet it was not the vast array of cookies aunt Mildred set out; though everyone likes cookies. Perhaps I will go out on a limb and even suggest it wasn’t some charity the church was getting behind during the Christmas eve service. No, what stands out to a kid is that bike, game, lego set, etc. that they were wanting for so long and it was finally theres wrapped in a glowing package under the tree on Christmas morning.
I came from a home where my parents loved each other, us kids and God. Was it ever a thought for my parents that somehow getting the Atari 2600 (yes I am showing my age) was going to somehow tarnish the true essence of Christmas? NOT A CHANCE!? When my brother received his first new Raleigh bicycle on Christmas morning did it cause his faith to waiver? Nope. To this day my brother loves God. Did getting the Capsela set I was nagging my parents for more than Ralphie nagged his parents for a Red Ryder BB gun set my faith today into a theological tsunami? Once again…no. In fact, I remember my parents taking us to Mayfair Mall in Milwaukee to sit on Santa’s lap so we could ask him ourself what we wanted for Christmas. I know…BLASPHEMY! My parents never thought for a moment that seeing Santa was going to somehow tarnish our thoughts of God. In fact, I am quite confident they knew at some point we would grow out of that belief. Guess what? We did! For me it was just a couple of years ago. Um....
Here’s what I know to be true. The whole “no gifts this year to help the less fortunate” thing sounds good and understandably so when you are granting your kids requests by purchasing a new iPad or 65” color tv. When did it become the norm for kids to receive multiple gifts over $100 each? It’s no wonder parents pull their hair out during the holidays. If we were to get a new video game system, that was the only gift under the tree. Well, that and the new digs we were going to wear to Christmas Eve service. No wonder Christmas shopping can be such a drag when we purchase big things each year potentially matching or exceeding last years indulgence. It’s easy to understand why Christmas shopping can be a downer when many families are in debt up to their eyeballs because of other things deemed more necessary (moving out of their "starter home", boat, cars, etc.). Again, things that are not necessarily bad if done within ones means. It's fine if adults agree on the no gift thing...but the kids?
Keeping Christ in Christmas? Why is this even an argument? It is what you make of it. No one can take Christ out of Christmas. If someone has in your world...I wonder how deep a walk you had in the first place. Keeping gifts in Christmas? I can tell you as a guy that came from a family with not a ton of means…getting those gifts each year actually strengthened my faith. The gifts were not huge and expensive because they didn’t need to be. Most of the items were things that we wanted. Perhaps we even circled them in the Sears catalog. I'll be honest...some items were what my parents felt we needed…you know…socks, underwear, etc. An experience Christmas present? That's lingo used over the past few years. If my parents would have said "instead of you getting the G.I. Joe Amphibious Personnel CarrierI, we are going to go to the museum" it may or may not have been met with a bit of a protest. If the big ticket item was not under the tree, we took our gift money and started a fund to work towards that big ticket item.
With that said...as with anything...it is what you make of it. If the main thrust for Christmas is just about the gifts then you missed it. If it is over compensating and not doing any gifts so you can give them to the homeless...just stop. I have discovered people that say that only give about a quarter of what they would have normally spent. What are the homeless going to do with gifts? They're homeless. Give the cash to a good ministry that helps the homeless instead. Find a balance where gift openings are tied together with the reading of the Christmas story out of Luke in the Bible. Where a goofy trip to see Santa is met with a Bible story regarding where all true blessings come from, then you will find that Christmas can be a very special time. A time where we don't have to say no to things that meant so much to us in our childhood.