Before kids have consumed their Halloween candy, stores launch their Christmas hype, hoping to arouse your gift-giving appetite. Where did gift-giving originate anyway? Historians suggest that in the fourth-century Roman world, Christian leaders created a winter festival to celebrate Jesus’s birth. Gift-giving symbolized the Magi’s gifts to the Christ child. Through the ages, gift-giving has waxed and waned. The pilgrims banned Christmas, but when the holiday was legalized in the 1680s, gift-giving exploded, morphing into today’s commercialized Christmas. Not everyone applauded. In 1904, Margaret Deland wrote in Harper’s Bazaar, “Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden it is now. There was less haggling and weighing, quid pro quo, fatigue of body, wearing of soul; and most of all, less loading up with trash.” These sentiments resulted in organizations like SPUG, the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving.
In 2009, Joel Waldfogel, author of Scroogenomics, found that two months after Christmas one-third of Americans still haven’t paid their debt and 18 percent of gifts are “deadweight loss,” sweaters never worn and books never read. He insists that all this spending goes against the very spirit of Christmas. Yes, and no. Thoughtful gifts uplift and express love to friends and family, but for many of us a shift is worth considering—a shift from focusing on gifts to celebrating the indescribable gift that God gave the world two thousand years ago. Jesus is that indescribable gift, and “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God’s gift of Jesus shows us how much God loved the world. So as you enjoy the Christmas season, consider how traditions that minimize your focus on self and turn your attention to others can honor the teachings of Jesus, God’s gift. For example, join together with friends or family to purchase a goat, cow, or sewing machine to help someone in a third-world country start a business; volunteer at a shelter; or pool your money and together give to a worthy cause. And the day after Christmas, instead of random boxes and scattered toy parts, you might just find you’ve created an indescribable Christmas.