Christmas Gift Giving

by Edna King

Does Gift Giving at Christmas Stress You Out? What are the Best Gifts at Christmas?

What stresses you at Christmas? Like many other people, I used to stress a lot about Christmas presents. Every year our large extended family exchanged gifts. I felt pressured (by myself really) to find something great for each person, while I had no idea at all what they might actually want. Opening the presents was stressful to me too. I’m an introverted writer and all that interpersonal commotion was hard for me.

For the last several years we’ve exchanged charitable gifts instead.  These  gifts are actual gifts to charities, which are much better than anything I’d find in my desperate hunt on December 23rd. Along with the joy of giving and getting charitable gifts,  I’ve noticed that my most joyous moments of the Nativity season sprout from the charitable actions we take personally- gifts of our time and effort.

 Charitable gifts- like donating a goat for a family in Africa- is a beautiful way to share love for others. Several Orthodox charities such as FOCUS make this easy and meaningful. A gift from FOCUS won’t end up getting dusty in an attic; it’ll be used to improve someone’s life in practical, hands on way. A beehive, a tool kit, a meal, these are things that can change a person’s situation in a meaningful way. These gifts are truly treasure in heaven.

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Caroling is an old fashioned but joyous way to spread the message of Christmas. In the past, our choir has gone caroling in neighborhoods- singing traditional hymns of the season. One year we simply sang carols at our church- a sing along for everyone! The choir mixed in traditional Orthodox hymns with the old English and French hymns. Recently, our family has joined with a group of friends who carol in nursing homes. These nursing homes are mostly for the poor and they are smelly and kind of scary places, yet the smiles of the patients when we sing touches my heart in deep ways.

Spending abundant family time may sound stressful to some, but as we all gather at my sister in law’s house and spend two days and nights together the extended time helps us move beyond small talk and grow closer. Over games of Settlers of Catan, roasting marshmallows, and watching movies together, we bond. Every year my sister in law plans a craft. Several of us will spend a few hours creating the craft and chatting casually. This quiet art time is one of my favorite parts of Christmas. Of course, my sons much prefer being rambunctious with their cousins, but that’s part of our tacit agreement-no one is pressured to do much of anything (or even to come) and so we all relax and enjoy each other of our own free choice.

Christmas is a stressful time and often disappointing for many, but maybe keeping things a little simpler by donating some gifts through charities like FOCUS,   purposefully choosing to do something together for someone else, or just by spending real time with your loved ones, you’ll keep in mind the gift God has given us at Christmas and feel peaceful while giving the best gifts- gifts of ourselves.

What, then, O, brethren, is required of us in order that we might avail ourselves of all the grace brought unto us from on high by the coming to earth of the Son of God? What is necessary, first of all, is faith in the Son of God, in the Gospel as the salvation-bestowing heavenly teaching; a true repentance of sins and the correction of life and of heart; communion in prayer and in the mysteries [sacraments]; the knowledge and fulfillment of Christ’s commandments. Also necessary are the virtues: Christian humility, alms-giving, continence, purity and chastity, simplicity and goodness of heart.

Let us, then, O brothers and sisters, bring these virtues as a gift to the One Who was born for the sake of our salvation – let us bring them in place of the gold, frankincense and myrrh which the Magi brought Him, as to One Who is King, God, and Man, come to die for us. This, from us, shall be the most-pleasing form of sacrifice to God and to the Infant Jesus Christ.”
— St. John of Kronstadt, Sermon on the Nativity of Jesus Christ