First, let’s talk about gift-giving to friends, co-workers, and other adults. Then we’ll get to the most important recipients – children. The lessons you teach them about Christmas when they’re young will live with them forever.
Many people make serious mistakes regarding Christmas gifts. The first one is feeling that they have to give gifts to everyone in their orbit – neighbors, co-workers, church friends. Most times we find ourselves giving gifts to people who don’t want or need them – and who then feel obligated to rush aound and find a gift for you. So, LESSON #1 is, “Never give a gift out of obligation.”
The second mistake is buying gifts to impress others, or to ingratiate oneself with them (for example, the boss). In most cases they forget the next day who gave them all those “political” gifts. LESSON #2: “Don’t waste your money buying gifts to impress others.”
The third mistake is not only wrong – it is terribly wrong. People put gifts on credit cards, and often find themselves still paying for the by the next Christmas. If you can’t afford to buy gifts with cash you can afford to use for that purpose, don’t buy them. If there are friends or family that you ususally exchange gifts with, be honest withthem: “This has been a tough year, so I am just going to send you a heart-felt card.” They will respect that. LESSON #3: “NEVER – and I repeat NEVER – buy Christmas gifts on credit – unless you have the money to pay the bill as soon as it arrives.”
Which brings us to the fourth mistake. Christmas is a time for celebrating the birth of Christ and teaching our children why He lowered Himself to be a man so that He could give us the best gift of all – salvation. As far as the gift-giving, in my opinion adults should get together and decide to only buy gifts for the children. Many families do this. If that leaves you with extra money, donate it to an orphanage (I can give you information on a great one in Haiti) so that they can buy gifts for these forgotten kids. LESSON #4: “Just buy gifts for children – let the adults buy what they want or need for themselves.”
Finally, don’t go crazy with the gifts for kids. I can assure you that they do not need – nor will they really appreciate – 10 or 12 gifts. We have all seen kids, particulary younger ones - receive elaborate, expensive gifts – and then have more fun playing with the box than the toy. Loading kids down with gifts send all the wrong messages. It tells them that Christmas is not about the Christ child, but rather it is about getting stuff. It feeds into the materialism that is the enemy of spirituality. And it reinforces greed: Johnny got more presents than I did. Susie got a better gift. LESSON #5: “Limit the number of gifts you give, and teach your children what Christmas is really about.”
For those who feel they must give presents to adults, try this idea. Get together with the group you usually exchange presents with and draw names. That way each adult gets to give one gift, and also receives one. It removes a lot of stress (you only have to read the mind of one person about what they want, rather than many) and saves money. Use the saved money to buy gifts for the children, to give to the orphanage – or to pay off last years Christmas gifts!
There are many different models for Christmas gift giving. I will share two that you may find helpful.
My beautiful bride of 26 years was born in Cuba. There, and in other Spanish cultures. “Tres Reyes” (Three Kings) is more important than Christmas. Since the Three Kings brought three gifts to Jesus, many follow that tradition. We have done that with our daughter, Sarah, her entire life. We get her one big gift and two smaller ones. We think she appreciates each one far more than if it were in a huge pile of 10 or 15 others. Most important, it gives us the opportunity to teach her about what is important in life – and what is not. She learns about what is eternal – and the short part of our lives that is temporal, our time on this earth.
Another tradition that many families follow is more practical than spiritual, but I think it makes a lot of sense. In this model each child receives four presents. It’s easy to remember because it rhymes:
Something you want,
Something you need,
Something to wear, and
Something to read.
In the article where I found this (LINK below) a mother described how her pre-school daughter became overwhelmed with the presents she received. Here is part of that article:
"That Christmas morning, it took forever for Abby to get through opening all the toys and gadgets and gifts. Then about five presents in, the light went out in her eyes. She would carefully undo the tape on the wrapping, open the box, pull out the gift, and set it on the teetering stack next to her. Then she’d look up with a small smile, say “thank you,” and move onto the next gift. She could no longer get excited because she was absolutely overwhelmed."
That led her and her husband to Google “How to keep Christmas from getting out of control,” which led her to the four present rule. It really makes sense. Ask your child for a list of the things they want, and then find out what they want the most. Get that for them (unless it is a pony and you are very rich). Then get them something they actually need, and something to wear. This teaches them that gift-giving should have a practical side to it. Finally, encourage that most important of skills, reading, by giving them a book.
Remember that whatever you do with regard to gift-giving, you are teaching your children what is important in your life, as well as what should be important to them. These are life-lessons. What you teach them about giving is what they will someday teach your grandchildren.
Speaking of grandchildren, let me give you one further piece of free advice. Don’t be those grandparents (or aunts and uncles) who compete with each other for who can get the kids the most expensive or over-the-top gift. If you do that, shame on you. You are not teaching them that you love them with such lavish gifts. You are teaching them that materials things are more important than Christmas itself. Parents, if you have relatives like this, tell them what you expect, and if they don’t respect the way you have chosen to raise your child, send the gifts back.
We always carefully and thoughtfully chose the gifts we gave our daughter. Any toys she received were educational toys. (They don’t realize that they’re learning when they play with these things, but the are.) We asked our friends and relatives not to give her any toys, because we felt we were responsible to choose what toys she should be exposed to. We asked them to give her a book or an item of clothing. (After all, how many stuffed toys can you fit into a bedroom?)
And, no, she was not scarred for life because she received a limited number of presents, most of them practical. In fact, she has grown to be a daughter anyone would be proud to call their own. She understands the importance of balance in her life regarding money, budgeting, and buying. She’s a careful shopper and knows how to find bargains. One day she will teach her children these lessons, and will make sure they understand that Christmas is not about gifts, but about The Gift.
If you have never had a personal encounter with The Gift, God’s Christmas gift to the world, his Son Jesus Christ, do these things. Read the book of John in the New Testament, particularly John 3:16. Go to a local church and speak to the pastor or a church member about how you can receive The Gift. If you don’t know a church, contact me personally.
Have a blessed Christmas.