Tuesday, December 13, 2011


1 : to make a present of

About this time last year, I read a blog post about what was - to me, at least - a radical idea: choosing to give to others instead of my family at Christmas.  Giving to those who really need it - not to my white, middle class children, who have everything they need and most of what they want.  It was challenging to me - this idea of doing Christmas differently.  But I'll confess two things that made me interested: 1) I'm not much into Things anyway and 2) a great big part of me really wants to be a radical - deep in my heart, I'm not much of a rule-follower.

J and I talked it over.  I wanted to know what he thought.  He's the more grounded of the two of us.  I get caught up in ideas with little thought of how to actually execute on them.  Our daughters have had more than a decade of receiving gifts at Christmas - how might they react?  Our culture tells them to want, want, want - could we buck that trend?  Was I crazy to even suggest we try?

After many discussion with me trying to temper my enthusiasm and J trying to meet me halfway, we came up with an idea.  I can't remember now whether it was his idea or mine, but we decided a year ago to try something different this Christmas.  Instead of buying gifts for our daughters, we would give them money each week of Advent for them to give away.  They've had some experience with giving, thanks to J's willingness to let the girls spend the tithe of his annual bonus.  And they'll still get some gifts: they have chosen gifts for each other and will get a stocking and a gift from Santa (in addition to gifts to and from grandparents).  But the gifts from us?  That money will go elsewhere.

Advent weeks 1 and 2 ended up being lumped together for giving.  Despite my best intentions, I didn't make time to sit down with our girls the first week of Advent for their giving.  So we recently went through some catalogs and talked through their giving options.  K loved the idea of giving rabbits or chicks to someone via Heifer International, an organization my dear aunt introduced us to.  B initially said she wanted to give her money to our church.  I reminded her that we tithe there anyway, but after hearing last Sunday about a fourth quarter budget shortfall, she wants to give all of her Advent money there.  (I feel I should note how surprising it is to both J and I that B wants to give money to our church.  She complains about going nearly every Sunday - not because it's not a fabulous place, but because she would rather spend her time in other ways.  I'm encouraged that something good must be happening to her heart while there if she's choosing to give them her gift.) A is still on the fence: give money to her ballet school (which serves inner city youth) or her church?

You might be wondering what my girls' reactions were to the news they would give instead of getting this year.  I told A and B together.  A was pretty immediately agreeable to the idea.  She loves gift-giving, but I think she's a bit like me and doesn't thrill to gift-getting.  B was not happy.  She's 10.  She likes electronics.  She likes predictability and tradition - this was radically new.  She let me know exactly how she felt.  K was excited when I first explained it to her.  Then she listened more carefully and realized this was going to cut into her gifts.  Her excitement diminished considerably.  Interestingly enough, B was there when K realized what this meant and got upset.  B chose to be the peacemaker and started reminded K of the good things about doing Christmas this way.

My own reaction has been as varied as that of my daughters.  I really want this to work.  I have been amazed at how freeing it has been to not spend hours planning for gifts and shopping for gifts.  It's like a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders.  Yet I am, by nature, someone who avoids conflict.  And I fear my daughters' disappointment on Christmas morning.  Will they feel shortchanged?  Is it possible to raise children who don't feel entitled to things when the culture screams at them that they deserve to fulfill their every wish and whim?  How will I feel if they're sad?

I've also been surprised to find I feel like we're not giving enough.  We've always had fairly modest Christmases around here.  We don't spend thousands on gifts.  So the money we've designated for them to give each week isn't a huge amount.  It's left me wondering whether I could do something different to give them more to give.  But yesterday as I was checking out of the grocery store, I realized something: our Advent giving isn't the only way we're giving this season.  We hosted a party for 60 ten days ago and next week we'll host a cookie decorating party.  Those parties?  They cost money.  I've never thought of them as ministry because they bring so much joy to our family.  But a friend who attended my birthday party commented that my children weren't territorial about having two dozen extra children in their space.  They shared their rooms, their toys, their friends.  And that's giving, isn't it?

I've been thinking these last few days about wanting to see more fully.  This can be a scary thing to pray for - seen things can't been unseen.  We're stuck with knowing how far this world is from God's kingdom.  But when we really see, we also get a glimpse of the ways God is at work that we missed before.  I've never realized that hosting a party is a gift to others, but it's no coincidence that we open our home to others more at this time of year than any other time.  We've been giving of ourselves all along.

I've been hesitant to write about our plans for Christmas giving.  I don't want you to read this and think we're super-spiritual or on the fast track to heaven.  I don't think people are wrong to celebrate Christmas by giving gifts.  I just want to see whether I can foster something different, unique and radical in the hearts of my children.  I want to see whether I can remove some of the stress of Christmas by putting our focus elsewhere.  Because that would be a gift to all of us.

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