The same old story plays out once again. It is an annual tale. While we decry the materialism of our society, once again we get swept up in the seemingly irresistible tide of commercialism. In November we turn up our noses at the insane mobs flooding American stores on Black Friday. Just one month later on December 25, we find ourselves wading through the 6 inches of wrapping paper that cover the floor within a 10 foot radius of the Christmas tree. It has a funny way of sneaking up on us unawares.
We know full well that more stuff does not bring happiness. We know that it actually complicates life. And yet, we can’t help ourselves. We take a glance through the fliers. We ‘like’ one product after another on Facebook. And we are drawn in. It sure would be nice to have “……..” we tell ourselves. I feel this tug. It is a constant battle.
And in some ways, I feel as if it’s even a war over our souls. We are being lulled to sleep by the pursuit of ‘stuff’. Acquiring these toys, electronics, tools and appliances consumes our energy and our money. And after we have them in our possession we must maintain and update them. As we find fleeting happiness in these, our hearts are dying to that which truly matters: loving God and loving others.
And yet… gifts are a very good thing. They are an expression of love between people. They are an enjoyment of the good gifts of God’s earth. We can worship our heavenly father as we enjoy the resources he has given us.
When I look back over Christmases of old I smile with fondness as I recall the presents I was given as a young lad. A John Deere pedal tractor. An electric train set. A table hockey game. An electric guitar. I spent hours upon hours with these gifts. They were a source of joy. A catalyst for imagination and discovery. A means through which I explored my own delights, gifting and passions.
With a 1 year old daughter and another one on the way, I am beginning to ask how we will raise our family to enjoy and value gift giving while not being given to the unhealthy excess of ‘stuff’. It’s easy to have ideals as a parent. That’s one thing I’m really good at. Living out those ideals is a whole other story.
Our daughter is not yet at the age of recognizing when her friends receive Christmas gifts several times in number and expense than what she has received. I am really looking forward to seeing a squeal of delight as she unwraps a toy that she has been wanting for sooo long. I am worried about the times when she’ll not be able to hide the disappointment on her face when she didn’t receive what she asked for, what “all” the other kids have. This is going to be an interesting journey to walk. My hope is that our family will be able to enjoy gifts well.
How has your family dealt with this? What practical tips do you have for helping your kids to understand why we maybe don’t have as many toys as other people? How do we help them to see that there are better ways to use our resources, and that true and lasting joy is found in other places? Where have you drawn limits for what is given. How do you really celebrate the few gifts that are exchanged? Please comment below if you have any suggestions.
I have heard of families who make it a habit each Christmas to give at least one toy they no longer use to a thrift store or Christmas Bureau. Another helpful measure can be exposing our children to the reality that many don’t have as much as we do and then finding ways to respond to those needs as a family. This can be a wonderful Christmas tradition. Some families have sought to do this through involvement with the Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes (I will say, however, that I’m not a fan of OCC – but that’s a discussion for another time! Ask me about it sometime). I’ve also heard of a family who holds to the practice of giving only three gifts to their kids each Christmas. One fun gift (perhaps a sled), one practical gift (perhaps winter boots) and one with spiritual value (perhaps a book or video).
I am going to enjoy this one last Christmas of not having children old enough to approach Dec. 25 with the expectation of getting all sorts of presents. However, next year and for the many Christmases to follow, it is my hope that with God’s help our family will give gifts well: as a display of love, as an enjoyment of God’s goodness to us, and within the bounds of the wise use of our resources. In all things, to God be the glory. Even in the gift exchanges of Christmas time