I like gifts. I like getting them and probably equally, I like giving them. In fact I think five of my favorite words to hear are, “I got something for you.” My heart kind of skips a beat and I am almost instantly filled it this giddy, childish excitement. Now, I realize by admitting this I sound like a greedy, gift-obsessed excuse for a human being, but hear me out. It’s not about the gift as much as the thought behind it. Ask my roommates or closest friends–even the simplest of items, albeit a recycled plastic cup, a new pad of post-it notes or a bar of dark chocolate, all constitute a gift in my mind. We are talking small things, with maybe little or no monetary value. Just small, thoughtful gifts, heck even free things and garage-sale things. All are gifts in my mind.
Part of this probably has to do with how I grew up. My mom and dad were superb at bringing home little treasures and “gifts” from weddings they attended or conferences they were at. They’d walk in and say “Michelle, we got something for you.” And that was all it took. With eager eyes and anticipation, I would tear open the little bag to find a collection of hotel containers, filled with shampoo, conditioner and lotion…and even an occasional shower cap! Other times my parents would creatively sneak a few extra wedding favors left over on the tables in order to bring them home for us kids. I cannot tell you how excited I got for those little mesh bags filled with mints tied in purple ribbon. (Parents: don’t under estimate how exciting these little goodies can be for kids).
All this being said, we enter the Christmas season where we’re supposed to buy, buy, buy and then give, give, give. It’s all about gifts, so naturally you would think someone like me would love it, right?
But I don’t.
I mean I do like Christmas, but I don’t like all of the pressure and urgency to buy everyone and their mother gifts. Sometimes I feel like we miss the point of giving gifts when there is the underlining sense of obligation. And in recent years I’ve started to question why and when did Christmas become defined by the marketing and materialistic kings of corporations. Now, before I start to sound like the Scrooge who stole Christmas, know that there is obviously nothing wrong with gifts. I know for most kids, gifts are synonymous with Christmas. But because I don’t have kids yet, maybe I have a little more room to think through what Christmas and gift giving means to me.
A few years ago some pastors from various churches started re-thinking how we celebrate Christmas. They found out that America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas. Wow. They asked what if we chose to do Christmas differently? And out of this, a movement called Advent Conspiracy was born to encourage faith communities, to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All during this season. My church showed this film last night at our Saturday service (click here to watch it) and I felt simultaneously convicted and inspired. For as cliché as it sounds, the part that stuck out to me the most was the idea of giving the gift of presence, instead of presents. And then using the money we would have spent on that tangible present and in turn, giving it away.
In our fast paced, drive-through-Starbucks-kinda-culture, I am learning that the gift of presence is rare, but so desirable. I think more than anything else this Christmas season I want to be with people. I want to share a meal with friends and linger longer around the table. I want to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and laugh with my sisters. I want to give away money I would have spent on excess gifts and instead spend a leisurely evening walking downtown, sipping hot cocoa and looking at lights.
I want this Christmas to be different.