Why We Give Gifts, a Christmas Conundrum
The other day my son asked me, "Why do kids believe in Santa? The whole idea is illogical.I don't understand." Tenderly I responded to my 'little Sheldon' (Big Bang Theory reference implied), "Because dear, these little children are born into a world of people around them saying these things are true. "Santa is real, reindeer fly, millions of gifts are delivered around the world, elves make gifts, you will get presents if you are good, and on and on..." and everyone they know is trying their hardest to convince these impressionable minds that this is true; t.v., movies, and books too. If the "whole world" (or at least their whole world) agrees, what else would they think? What would you do?" He nodded in agreement to what I now call the "Santa Syndrome": believing that which is ridiculous because everyone around you is buying that lie.
Going to dozens of Christmas parties over the period of 24 days, ridiculous. Watching countless children's Christmas plays conveying the same old story, the same old way, forcing resistant children to wear those homemade costumes and reciting memorized lines which stole from precious hours of playtime, ridiculous. Making so many cookies for ungrateful neighbors, that sweatshop workers feel pity for you, ridiculous. Writing Christmas cards till your fingers blister, your tongue bleeds envelope adhesive, and your address book looks like a weathered yellow pages, ridiculous. Taking a second job, staying longer hours at work, and depriving your loved ones of the gift of your time for the gifts they won't remember next year, ridiculous. Why do we do it? Because we believed the same lie every cookie-making, envelope licking, dirty-santa-giving, stressed-out, forgot-the-reason-for-the-season person around us believed, ridiculous. The things that were supposed to make us happy have stolen our joy, but we don't stop because like everyone else, some part of us believes the lie that these things are what we should do because that's how Christmas works (along with Santa and his gift delivering sleigh).
The first step (of twelve, I've heard), is to admit that you have a problem. I do. The next step is to tell someone.... Just did. The third step is to find an accountability partner. I pick you. The fourth step is to exchange your bad habits (put the half priced inflateable yard ornament down) for new ones (like reading your family a Christmas story instead of stringing out your brain for another way to brag about your gifted child in the annual Christmas letter). And lastly, commit to doing the things you genuinely enjoy but decline all Holiday commitments done out of obligation. We feel your "sincerity" disgruntled-secret-santa (or lack there of), so just do what you do because it brings you joy (Jesus first, Others second, You last). That is what your friends and family will remember, the way you made them feel, the way it felt to be around you, your "presence", not your presents.
Before you call People magazine to label me this years "Scroogiest", let me say, I love the act of giving and receiving gifts... ridiculous? No. When gift giving is done right, the act itself can bring me to tears. Not done out of obligation, not by braking the bank account, not to win affection or for self promotion, the perfect gift can change the world (Insert obvious reference to Jesus here ;) .
I have a friend who likens Christmas gift giving to the act of “passing the buck (the amount is inconsequential) to the right,” finding the whole process a complete waste of time. But I beg to differ. Giving a gift means letting go. It means that we are willing to offer a part of ourselves, something we have, risking that it may never return to us in one form or another, be it love, or material possessions. Giving a gift is an act of faith, rewarded when the kindness is returned, forcing us to put ourselves out there, by extension letting our guard down, and saying without words, “I love you more than myself.” It is an act of trust. In an egocentric world this kind of sacrificial love is rare. So rare that in the off chance I have the privilege of bearing witness to it, it causes me to let my guard down too. And I cry, not because I am sad, but because there is nothing more beautiful than when one person loves another more than himself. Even for a moment, it is one of the most beautiful things on earth.
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