Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In defense of gift-givers.

Last week, I alluded to the "rules" of Christmas, the ways that the entire holiday has become quite complicated, and how it is *almost* impossible to seriously maime your children with dangerous gifts anymore (think lawn darts)--though, we are certainly gonna try, because Big J is getting himself a Red Rider B.B. gun this year.

But along with holiday cheer and  five ten extra pounds and an above average consumption of chardonnay, Christmas brings THE GUILT.  Of being too busy, of not hand-sewing ornaments for all of our friends, of spending too much money, of not focusing on Christ, of forgetting a present for the hamsters, of buying cookies for the school party at the grocery store instead of making them without flour or milk or eggs or raw sugar.  However, it's a pretty consistent theme among my mommy-friends, that there is a crap-ton of guilt over how much we spend on our children at Christmas; how presents under the tree seem to be competing with Jesus (and winning); how we are (potentially) teaching our kids to be little Kardashians who expect iphones made out of actual diamonds.  I have seen "My Super Sweet Sixteen" on MTV, and these are VERY real fears.

Except that Christmas, for me, is BIG and BOLD and MAGICAL.  It always has been.  I can't remember a year where it wasn't, where I was disappointed--even after the fantasy of Santa was stripped away over the years, there hasn't been a Christmas where I didn't come downstairs filled with anticipation, or where my expectations weren't met or exceeded.  

Both of my parents worked hard at full-time jobs my entire life.  I eventually came to understand that money was tight for my family, I knew my parents HAD to work--but also, that we had a comfortable, normal life.  I know they made it work.  And I also know that I woke up every morning on Christmas to a tree FULL of presents, which is an even more amazing feat when you consider that I was an ONLY child, and therefore, they were ALL for me.  I don't remember them ever NOT getting it right; I don't remember being disappointed.  As an 8th grader (I think), I know I was still SO EXCITED to get downstairs on Christmas morning that I completely missed the LARGE table in my bedroom that my parents had decorated (after I went to sleep) with my very own phone--a big deal, since they had to have a phone jack installed.  At the time, the red phone with the really BIG numbers was the most  amazing gift--but as a home-owner, I now understand that the inconvenience of WAITING half a day for the phone company was a big deal, as was keeping it a SECRET until Christmas morning.  But what they REALLY gave me that year was trust and privacy and a little bit of independence, which as a parent, I am beginning to understand, are scary and near impossible gifts.   

I come from magical Christmases, and I don't apologize for it.  Big tree, lots of presents.  My parents were thoughtful in what they bought, and they saved in other ways to be able to give me a few more things at Christmas.  And in the context of our family I came to UNDERSTAND it, and eventually, to replicate the joy of giving to my kids at Christmas.  It has had a tremendous impact on me; and if you are familiar with the Five Love languages, mine is CLEARLY gift giving, as it is how I am most comfortable expressing gratitude and thankfulness and affection.  I LOVE to give gifts, thoughtful gifts.  I LOVE to make them.  I love the time it takes to find something perfect, and possibly on sale.  I loathe gift certificates.  Which is another reason that Christmas, and all it's rules, make me crazy--you can't just gift friends with monogrammed dish towels or a homemade scarf anymore, without feeling like you are HEAPING guilt on to someone else.  There's this whole idea that presents have to be reciprocal, everything fair and easy and equal...and it's a buzz kill for a gift giver.

I understand the argument of excessive consumerism, and the notion that we are teaching our kids to value presents over Jesus, that somehow they are learning that all they need is a Savior AND a Nintendo DS.  I get the tendency to want to curb that, and I think about it, too.  I have GUILT over it--except that I am a gift-giver by nature, and there is a large part of me that delights in showering my kids with a pile of gifts under the tree that simply takes their breath away.   In my everyday world, my kids DO NOT understand that it is my UNDYING love that denies them 12 cookies for dinner, or makes them go to their room and *rethink* their attitude, or forces them to wear a jacket throughout the winter.  They don't get it.  One day, all these boundaries and rules will make sense, but for today, I am mostly the woman who pops a blood vessel in her eye when milk spills and is always telling them to clean up their toys or put their lunchboxes away or flush the toilet, for God's sake.  But also, I am the lucky gal that gets to hug them everyday after school, and buy them hamsters and play Yahtzee on family game nights and let them lick the bowl after we make cupcakes.  I was designed to be rules and spontaneity; freedom and safety; strength and vulnerability.

All of this, everything I do or say, speaks of my faith, or lack of it.  My children's concept of God, their trust in him, the way they relate to him, will undoubtedly be influenced by me;  I am their first example of love and authority and compassion and grace, and that carries a lot of weight in who they are beginning to understand God to be.  I'm (attempting to) teach them to trust this GREAT life he has in store for us, how he wants to give us the desires of our hearts--and yet it often feels like the unassuming life of Christ and his seemingly humble birth is in direct opposition to the God who created an entire, lavish WORLD for his prized creation.  I'm not gonna lie, when I focus solely on the parts of faith that call us to deny ourselves and a live a life of sacrifice, it can often feel budgeted and lifeless and unexciting.  Because, I *think* God was always meant to be BOTH, purely and perfectly at the same time.

I am a gift-giver; and when I understand Christmas in the context of who God designed me to be, I understand that he is one, too.  That Christmas BEGAN with a very lavish gift--a SAVIOR--and that it came at a great cost.  There is a tendency to paint that first Christmas as simple and humble and that is certainly part of the story; but it was also a moment so intricate, that it was conceived from the very beginning of time, amazingly perfect and complicated.  That's the kicker about being God--being so simple and yet so incredibly complex that the world will debate your exact intentions FOREVER.  Plain and elaborate, just and full of grace, God and man...all at the same time.  

I cannot recreate that kind of wonder with an American Girl doll, and I KNOW that.  No Lego set will EVER beat the Christ-child, and I get that too.  However, I *believe* I can be a Christian and still desire to fill a tree with presents that my kids will love.  I believe those presents can say as much about Jesus as choosing to refrain from them can, too.  Where some of us focus on the parts of Christmas that are simple and uncomplicated, some of us speak to the mystery and wonder of the holiday.   I believe that whimsy and splendor speak to the parts of my children's hearts that will, one day, imagine heaven as amazing beyond ALL understanding.  As they get older and more practical--perhaps a little more cynical--I want my children to cling to the memory of Christmas morning, and know that in the midst of our discipline and rules, we also loved them in a way that felt like magic.  Years from now, my kids won't believe in Santa anymore, but they will remember waking up to what seemed like a miracle; the toys themselves will be long gone, but the memories of anticipation and joy and expectations met are LASTING.  As adults, they will understand that Christmas presents COST something and that they are incredible and undeserved; and if the Lord is gracious to us, then they will see that ALL of this is a picture of Christ, and that heaven is bold and abundant and will NEVER disappoint or fail to meet our expectations. 

My name is Sara, and I am a Christian who believes in  presents under the tree.  


Sarah said...


Anonymous said...

I love your ability to put into words what some of us feel and think also. Wonderful!! I agree! rj

Greta said...

I'm pretty sure who we are as adults stems from who our parents were as children. My Christmas's were magical but with this erie decay. Presents galore but not enough money to pay the electric bill and as the oldest I knew it was wasn't supposed to be like that even if I didn't have words for it. I am fully aware that my minimalist approach to gift giving is a direct result of my experiences just as your's are for you. The cool thing is that all 8 of our kids are loved and cherished and made a fuss of with a few presents or many and they get to learn about Jesus along the way.

heresthediehl said...

I love this...very well said! I am totally a gift-giver, too. I'm always FAR more excited about everyone opening what I've gotten them than what I'm getting.

We're trying to do both this year: keeping the number of gifts down/make them more meaningful AND keep Christmas that magical moment in childhood that is so memorable for kids. I guess we won't know if we've done a good job of it until they're grown, right? And despite the fact that 2 of ours don't believe in Santa anymore, this Christmas, to me, still seems just as special as all the last. I hope the boys think so, too.

Merry Christmas!

BOB said...

Sara,I love your association with the incredible gift ....CHRIST.
Love YA.

Adriane said...


Ryans said...

You've got to go read my friend LeAna's post on this subject... slightly different angle, but a great read.

I believe it is her latest post.

Becky said...

There should be a support group for us. Christians that believe in Santa! Well written friend.

Jodie Allen said...

I believe in santa too! I've emailed this to everyone i know! In my entire life I've never thought about the magic of God's gift to us AND how He spoiled us that day. Love that. Chris and I have gone pretty big this year because we're just so excited and while most of what our kids are getting is useful (clothes, books, art supplies, games, etc) we certainly crossed off a few silly things from their lists as well. The most fun part for me is all the other people in our lives as well... the gifts we give our extended families or friends. While I am totally stressed out right now it's in the absolute best way! I love the shopping and planning and wrapping and giving. OH Sara you seriously hit the nail on the head with this post. We are soul sisters! And Becky... can I join your club? :)

JenHahn said...

VERY well thought out and articulated. Love this.

Molly said...

I'm with Jen - very well said!