--“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”,
That’s the amount of money you and I, as average American consumers, are each forecast to spend on gifts this holiday season. Collectively, if that number holds up, we’ll pay cash or credit totaling some $630 billion, all to celebrate the winter holidays. That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of gifts. Toys. Clothes. Christmas baubles and trees and lights. Electronics. Food. Name a consumer item and someone, somewhere will no doubt either purchase it as a gift to give, or covet it as a gift to receive.
Because aren’t gifts what the holidays are really all about?
Now that I’m well north of fifty years old, I’ve probably received upwards of 1,000 Christmas gifts through those five plus decades: a boatload of books, a sleigh full of sweaters, stockings stuffed with so much stuff. But I must confess. For the life of me, I can’t remember 99 percent of all the things I’ve ever gotten, all those gifts. Even the things I so anticipated receiving as a kid: those too are mostly lost in the mists of memory. I know there was a bike one year and definitely, a Big Hoss action figure from the TV show “Bonanza”. Yet looking back, most of those presents seem buried now, under piles of wrapping paper and bows.
Not that I haven’t been blessed by some pretty amazing Christmas gifts through the years. It’s just that those presents most often were not things or gadgets or the hottest new toy, but instead the gifts were about people and relationships. And those gifts are unforgettable.
Like the year a snowstorm was forecast for Christmas afternoon and so my perfectly planned Christmas dinner was hastily transformed into Christmas breakfast, with waffles and roast beef and lots of laughter. The Christmas, when in a fit of nostalgia, my big brother gave me a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot Set and in return I gave him a Chia Pet. Good times! The Christmas when me and members of my church youth group gave a sweater to Norm, a tug boat captain, who had to work at sea for the holidays. He said it was the best gift he ever received. The Christmas each year I shop for a little boy or girl whom I “adopt” through a local social service agency. That day I always love going to the mall.
Because there are holiday gifts. And then there are holy day gifts. The hard part about our annual year end consumer spending frenzy is to be able to tell the difference between the two. So this month, before we rush out to buy even more gifts, perhaps we can also commit to giving gifts that are priceless, gifts that the world really, really needs. Gifts that last a lifetime. Gifts that won’t break or be lost or end up being returned on the 26th.
Maybe it’s the gift of time that calls out to be given. Who in our lives needs, not another present under the tree, but instead just our love and attention? So visit a nursing home. Spend the day with an aging parent or an elderly neighbor, your son or daughter home from college. Call an old friend. Track down someone you’ve been in conflict with and then be reconciled. Pray for the refugee, the orphan, and for peace on earth and goodwill to all people.
Maybe the gift we need to give is service to a neighbor in need. Buy a bag of groceries for the local food pantry. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Send an extra check at years’ end to a favorite charity, and even better, make it anonymous. Imagine what might happen if only a fraction of our $600 billion dollar holiday shopping bill was instead given over to the poor, the hungry, and the forgotten ones. That’s a Christmas gift this world would not soon forget.
Maybe the gift we need to give ourselves is to return home to our faith tradition or find a new spiritual path. After all, the original human impulse to give in December was found in faith stories. The story of ancient travelers, who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to a poor little infant boy, born to an unwed mother and nervous father, 2,000 years ago. The story of believers thousands of years ago, who trusted in God to not let the oil in their lamps run out, a God who was ever faithful. I think we forget this sometimes.
So even though there are only 21 shopping days left to buy all those gifts on your list, fear not. Because the true gifts of the season, like peace, love, joy and hope? We can give those gifts away all year long.