If you really think about it, gift giving (in its present form) during Christmas is completely ridiculous. Buy a bunch of objects for people who buy a bunch of objects for you in return. It's basically just an obligation to trade (usually unnecessary and superfluous) objects. And maybe the person will like what you buy them. Or maybe they will hate it and pretend to like it. And maybe you just purchased a gift for someone off of their carefully crafted wish list. This just seems so transactional. Why not cut out the middle man and have everyone buy their own gifts?.
When it comes down to it, present day holiday gift-giving is basically done out of obligation or expectation. We do it because that's just what we do. Children or spouses expect gifts on Christmas or expect that the gifts they give will be reciprocated. That's not REAL gift giving. Real gift giving should communicate something. It should communicate that we are thankful or appreciative, or that we recognize a need, or that we are thinking of someone. (Sadly, the $25 gift card I gave my son's teacher was probably the most genuine gift I gave all season- it communicated my appreciation and thankfulness for all her hard work and kindness without any expectation of a gift in return.)
When I watched my kids tear open gift after gift (on Christmas Eve with my family, Christmas morning, and then on Christmas evening with my husband's family) all I could see being communicated was consumerism and materialism. We are teaching them to put all their expectations and happiness in receiving objects. Gifts are the big climax. We are expected to feel fulfilled from a bunch of wrapped boxes? It's no wonder people experience let down or become gloomy after Christmas. The objects that we anticipated all year failed to bring us the happiness that we expected them to.....big surprise there!
My kids would kill me for saying this but, I truly wish gifts would be taken out of Christmas. I mean, I want my kids to learn about giving. But I want to teach them to give in other ways. Like giving their time. Or giving food. Or meeting a real actual need in the community. And I'm all for donating toys to children. But every time I passed by a toy drive I kept thinking to myself, "maybe the kids who don't get toys have a better understanding of what Christmas is about?"
I've been a parent for six years. I know what really happens to toys. Most toys get old within a week. They break or get lost or become uninteresting or just take up valuable shelf space. And as I shelled out my credit card this year to purchase toys for the kids, this is all I was thinking about. I was thinking about the heaps of toys in their room that rarely ever get touched and the bags of toys we take to Goodwill each year (small house). Why feed the cycle? I'm pretty sure my kids would be more appreciative if they received just one gift for Christmas rather than a slew of them.
This year, Christmas totally snuck up on me. It came and went so quickly that it almost feels like it never even happened. What do I miss the most now that Christmas is over (the Catholic in me has to disclaim that, in fact, Christmas is NOT over until the Epiphany)? Certainly not the gifts. No way. I miss the lingering in the presence of company and family. I miss staying home in pajamas with no where to go. I miss the rest and the food and the singing and the holiday parties. I miss sitting in a pew with my entire family for Christmas Mass singing Joy to the World. I miss cuddling up and watching Christmas movies. I miss Christmas lights. I miss the charity and the good deeds. I miss the Christmas tree and Christmas candles. I miss the scent of pine and cinnamon and peppermint. THESE are the things I miss the most.
Objects? PFFT. I can buy for myself anything I really need or want that badly.
What makes Christmas so special is the warmth and togetherness of company. The laughter and the memories generated from family outings. And you know what? We can have these things all year round, if we make the effort. Even though I'm really tempted to lament the fact that Christmas has come and gone so quickly that I almost missed it, instead I'm going to make an effort to plan more family time and family outings. This way we can have the pleasures of Christmas all year round without all those stupid gifts to get in the way.
A couple years from now, I'm pretty sure I'm going to remember these moments much more than any gift I would have received:
Jonathan's big smiles
Laughing with Daddy
A million baby hugs by treelight
Brothers doing brother stuff- and sometime even showing affection