The Gift Giving Shuffle

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I love craft fairs, and craft fairs love me right back. I’m very lucrative for them, because I can’t resist interesting and creative things, even if I can’t think of any possible use for them.

I think that’s why I don’t enjoy traditional Christmas shopping. I know that rushing around like a tasmanian devil on December 20 is part of getting in the Christmas spirit, but I always find myself a little ashamed when I succomb to the latest piece of junk at the mall. If only I had remembered that person earlier, rather than waiting for them to arrive at my door with a Christmas gift, I could have bought them something interesting at that summer craft fair.

My perfect Christmas would be more akin to a Norman Rockwell painting than the consumer frenzy it’s turned out to be: we exchange a few handmade gifts, enjoy far too large a meal, and visit with family. Somehow buying everyone you know crap doesn’t fit as well into that idyllic picture. It just makes us look like dupes.

That’s probably why I like crafts for gifts. If you can buy it at Wal-Mart, it just loses some allure. After all, the recipient of said gift could go buy it at Wal-Mart just as easily as you could. So why exchange gifts you both bought at Wal-Mart, when it would have been easier for you to go yourself and get exactly what you wanted? I think the stores are pulling our strings, and we’re obeying, without really knowing why. Besides, when I want something from Wal-Mart, or Sears, or Chapters, I go get it. On the other hand, I may not have been at that craft fair you went to, so that’s why crafty things seem to be more logical for gifts.

Now I understand why kids get into gifts at Christmas, even if they’re bought at the mall. They have very little money of their own, so if they’re going to get something new, someone’s going to have to buy it for them. Christmas is a kid’s dream come true.

Even so, I still feel somehow reluctant to participate in this mass-commercial ritual. I know my kids want stuff, but is that really the kind of attitude we want to encourage? It’s not that I want to deny them presents—the root of the Christmas present ritual, after all, is that God gave a gift to us—but I just don’t particularly feel like fostering greed. I like the eyes lighting up as they open the presents; I don’t like the dollar signs in those same eyes as they count the presents under the tree on the days leading up to the sacred holiday.

And so this year, at the advice of my friend Wanda, we’re starting a new present ritual that she calls the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh exchange, named after the gifts the wise men presented the baby Jesus at that first nativity celebration. The gifts were meaningful, they were valuable, and they showed that the travellers cared. Now the wise men knew gifts at Christmas were non-negotiable, just as all sensible husbands should know today and all children constantly remind their parents. But the wise men’s gifts weren’t about spoiling anybody; they were about honouring somebody.

So how can we honour our kids at Christmas? Here’s what I’m planning. The Gold gift will be something they want. They may have a list of preferred items a mile long, but I’ll choose just one. The Frankincense gift will be something they need, which will most likely turn out to be clothing. And the Myrrh gift will be something that will help nourish their soul. It could be a journal, or a book, or a magazine subscription. It could be a painting, or something unique to your family that affirms who your child is. It’s going to take some thought, but I think it will help our kids to remember that Christmas isn’t only about getting stuff; it’s about what you do with what you’ve already been given. And that, I hope, will stay with them long after the wrapping paper is shredded and the turkey leftovers are a fond memory.

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