Gift-giving: a love-hate Christmas relationship

resized image Promo 15The Revd Dr Rosalind Selby, Principal of Northern College, a United Reformed Church Resource Centre for Learning, explores what’s important about gift-giving at Christmas.

Years ago, I remember an advert on television in the run up to Christmas. The ‘storyline’ was about not leaving Christmas shopping to the last minute. The advert showed a man who stops, on the way home, at a garage that’s still open. The ‘thoughtful’ presents his wife, children, parents other relatives get were things like: hub caps, a jack, a spare tyre, a steering wheel lock and a car shampoo kit.

Most of us have probably got a love-hate relationship with the present-giving season, both deploring the huge sums of money and the pressures on the spending yet not wanting our families and friends to miss out.

I don’t know if it still happens as I’m completely ‘out of’ the loop when it comes to football, but I remember the big teams being criticised for changing their kits needlessly-often because it looked like a shameless bid to get parents to buy their children gifts displaying the colours, numbers and names of their favourite players.

Even if we use charity gifts (are your friends getting a goat this Christmas, for example, or a save-the-snow-leopard subscription?), there is still something that doesn’t feel right about withdrawing from gifts completely. The children would be dreadfully disappointed!

If we are buying gifts, what’s important is that we put real thought into them and show our love and appreciation. The buying of something at the last minute is not thoughtful. The buying, or making, of something – however simple – that shows that we really know what a person would appreciate and enjoy says a lot. You can fill in your own examples, but for me it would be the difference between the person who buys me a bottle of wine (I don’t drink and they didn’t spot that!) or the person who buys me a box of chocolates (which I love even if I shouldn’t).

How much is the giving of gifts a stepping onto the ‘slippery slope’ of commercialism at Christmas and how much would not engaging in it at all be the coldness of Scrooge’s ‘bah, humbug’? I don’t have the answer to that. Families, churches and whole cultures have Christmas customs that are important to them and quite a bit of what happens costs money, from the gifts to the sitting down with family and friends to eat a meal that’s been carefully and traditionally prepared.

We don’t yet know whether this Christmas we will be able to spend time with all our families and friends, or just a few of them. Perhaps this year we will appreciate the simpler things like being able to see those we love and that, truly, would be a gift coming into our isolation and distancing.

As we consider the different ways we will share and celebrate this Christmas, we can all be sure that God’s gift to us was not only perfect it was, and still is, perfectly thoughtful. Knowing us and what we need and would be able to receive and celebrate makes clear the sincerity of God’s love and faithfulness to all God’s children – not one of whom needs to be disappointed.

God didn’t call in at the garage on the way home (!) but spent all time knowing us, preparing for us, planning that gift so that it was just perfect.

“With all wisdom and insight [and love] he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fulness of time, to gather up all things in him, things on heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:8-10)

Image: Simona Sergi/Unsplash
Published: 21 December 2020

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