People think I have a Scrooge-streak, but really, they’ve got it all wrong. You see, Scrooge might’ve been on a downer about Christmas, which yes, is a little too “me” at times, but I’m no miser. In fact, sometimes, I just think “hang all this tack I’m wrapping for people that don’t need it, let it go to the poor and needy, where it’s really needed. No, Scrooge wouldn’t say that. He’d keep his dosh for himself.
If you want to call me Scrooge because my Christmas Spirit has been known to get a little dampened at times, go ahead. I won’t stand in your way. But I want to show you that the ice has started to melt a little. I hate to say it, but I’m not quite as rebellious as I used to be against certain Christmas traditions. Not since I wrote my Christmas Survival Guide….
Day 12 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide.
Giving and receiving presents is so ingrained and central to our Christmas celebrations that even if you want to opt out of it, it’s almost impossible unless you go into hibernation (which, I must admit, is a tempting option for me at times.)
Let’s just imagine that this year I decided to think outside-the-gift-box, and do something a little counter-cultural. Imagine I totted up the amount I would normally spend on presents to the grown-ups in my life and gave it all to charity instead. (Obviously, I would still buy for children, I’m not that counter-cultural).
Ah, what a lovely gesture that is. So much better than buying a load of stuff. Stuff that uses up the earth’s valuable resources and clutters up people’s homes, making them feel guilty because they look at it and think “I’m going to have to give that away, I’ll never use it”.
It’s a sound enough plan. And noble and green to boot. All I need to do is communicate this plan to everyone who would be affected and request that they don’t buy anything for me either.
All fairly simple. Until we get to Christmas Day. Just put yourself in that moment in your mind’s eye….
My family and I are all gathered round the tree, fire roaring and “Christmas music” playlist on shuffle. They are raring to get stuck into a good old present-opening session.
None of the grown-ups have anything from me of course. I may, or may not have something from them, because we all know that no matter how much you ask some people NOT to buy for you this year, they just have to do it. Bless their cotton Christmas socks. But, in this hypothetical situation, that doesn’t matter, because I have donated to a charity that gives gifts to orphans. So I feel good, I feel contented with the situation, because after all, I did something that makes a difference! My family and friends understand and feel good about it too, I’m sure of it, because they’re lovely kind people.
The present opening commences. I watch my nearest and dearest smile and laugh as they open each gift – sometimes smiling because they got something beautiful to treasure, sometimes laughing because they got something a little bit silly, sometimes looking thoughtful because they opened something that makes them feel loved. And sometimes looking downright baffled because they just opened something ridiculously random.
I smile and laugh with them. I look thoughtful and confused right there with them. But I’m on the outside looking in. I have nothing to give them that would make them laugh, or smile or even pretend to love. Nothing.
I feel like I’m watching them all from outside an invisible circle. Suddenly I feel incredible lonely in a crowded room full of the people I love the most. I can’t really feel a part of this moment because I’m empty-handed.
The carol “In the bleak midwinter” is playing in the background, but the haunting last verse feels like it’s turned up full volume, drowning out the laughter and the excited chatter.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him? Give my heart.
Yep, pretty much, that’s all I can do with my loved ones at this moment. Give them my heart. Surely I don’t need to give them a material possession when I can give them my very heart?
Now, I know I’ve said a few times that first and foremost I want to focus on the “matters of the heart” this Christmas. And I used to think that present-giving was just an empty gesture because we are under pressure to spend money on useless stuff in the name of conforming to tradition. But I’ve changed my mind this year. I’ve had a light-bulb moment…..
Gift-giving connects people. Giver to receiver, receiver to giver. It crosses barriers – it unites two people who may not speak the same language. I’m not just talking about words here, I mean political, social, and religious language. I’m talking about uniting people who desire to show love to each other despite their differences. They may not see eye to eye in the details of life, and they may not truly understand one another, but they still desire to connect and share with one another.
Giving a gift is one of the languages of love. Modest, simple, imperfect, considerate, thoughtful gift-giving…. is a beautiful thing. It’s a heart thing.
Meanwhile, back at my imaginary round-the-Christmas-Tree scene…
I try to make up for it. I share with my family all about how the orphans will be so blessed because they received a gift in the place of my loved ones. I tell them that I love them, and I tell them that I want to give them my precious time over Christmas, because that is much more meaningful as an expression of my love.
But they are empty gestures. All words and no action. My nearest and dearest may, or may not mind that I bought them nothing. And I didn’t mind before this present opening moment. But now I do. The emptiness weighs heavy on my heart.
I wonder if next year I could buy for them, but ask them to give me donations instead of a gift. That could work.
But how would those people feel when I give them a wonderful gift to open and they give me an envelope marked “charity donation”? Some of them would feel great. But others, people who just love to give a gift, they would feel that lack of connection. They would be robbed of the joy of giving to me, someone they love. I’d be trying to control their choice to buy for me or give to charity. And I don’t want to control anyone.
Thought for today
I think that gift-giving is an art. With practise, it’s something we can all master, if we want to. It’s a chance to express love. It’s a chance to unite, to share, and to laugh and smile together. I have realised it’s value within the Christmas Tradition. I, the non-conformist, tradition-breaker have swallowed my pride and I am joining in the gift-giving with enthusiasm and joy.
Task for today
With a little thought and planning, I want to give thoughtful presents that don’t break the bank, that leave enough to spare for charitable donations as well. I already did the “thoughtful” bit with Day 3’s task when I was to spend some time thinking and praying about each person on my gift-list and really considering the types of things they would love to receive.
Well now I will take action. Today’s task is to actually complete the process and organise, buy or create and wrap whatever I planned to give. This isn’t going to get done in one day is it, let’s be honest? So I will take two days to do this. Therefore there won’t be a new post tomorrow.
There’s just one more action – to write a blog post about how it’s all gone, and to write down what (if any) creative, economical ideas I came up with. It’s good to share, so on Sunday, I’ll share my ideas with you, as long as things go to plan and I don’t procrastinate!
PS – For a few of the people I normally buy for, we’ve agreed, after an open and honest conversation not to give gifts to one another this Christmas. It was a mutual decision that felt really right for both parties. And doing this will allow me to stay in budget and afford to give to charity as well.
I happen to think that giving to orphans is a wonderful thing to do at any time of year, and especially at Christmas. I want to spread the word about a charity called Stella’s House which takes care of orphans in Moldova, where they would otherwise be in danger of the human trafficking industry. They have made a short Christmas video appeal. If you’d like to know more, please take a moment to watch it here and consider donating if you can.