Christmas is a holiday with many competing areas of focus. Some manage to stay focused on the Lord, but there are many distractions. Some focus on family, but one can easily get caught up in a month long stress about the “perfect holiday” and “who is or is not coming” and “do we have the perfect gifts for everyone”, etc. I have seen people who strive to genuinely follow Jesus yield a month of every year to stress associated with the Christmas holiday.
Others get lost in debt, convinced by marketing and our culture that to celebrate Christmas requires spending lots of money, often money they don’t have. For the record, even “good sales” cost you money unless you were going to buy that item anyway. It costs even more if you buy other stuff along with the thing that was on sale. That is why the companies selling you things run the sales… to make money, not to save you money! Often this debt creates stress that lasts for months after Christmas is over as the credit card bills roll in.
Rather than waiting for that after Christmas “hangover” to set in along with the credit card bills and extra 5 pounds you put on by eating too much… consider challenging some of the holiday cultural norms.
1- Reduce the number of people for whom you buy gifts.
Buying gifts for everyone you know is not necessary. Instead of buying gifts out of obligation for many with whom you are not close, just make a point to be nice to them all year round. Treat them with kindness and sensitivity and they will know you care for them even if you do not give them a gift. If they only like you when they receive a gift, then they are not really your friend anyway. If you are concerned they will buy for you and you will not have something for them, just have a real conversation with them about managing your expenses and budget responsibly and encourage them not to give something to you. If they are not close enough to you to have this conversation, then why are you even exchanging gifts with them? In some cases, it may be very important to someone close to you to exchange gifts… go ahead if you want to.
2- Reduce how much you spend on each person
Contrary to advertising… you do not need to buy a car, a diamond, gold jewelry, expensive electronics, etc. for people just because it is Christmas. If you don’t show them you love them throughout the year, you will not fool them with an expensive gift in December. For those with whom you want to give or exchange presents, you can set a reasonable budget for each person and then stick to it. This helps you set your overall Christmas budget in a predictable instead of impulsive way.
3- Save up your budget in advance and avoid credit cards you can not pay back before you have to pay interest.
Once you decide who you will get gifts for and how much to spend, you have a good estimate for your budget planning. Now divide by 11 and start saving it each month starting in January and continuing through November. Inevitably you will still have surprise expenses in December from the season’s activities, so you don’t plan on taking money for gifts from that months budget.
4- You can even consider replacing your current gift exchange traditions with a donation to a charity or family in need… someone you can give to in God’s name with no hope of receiving a gift in return. You will spend less money and honor God more.
If you find yourself condemning me as “Grinch”… I do not mind. You are not alone, but you are in fact also not correct. If Christmas is all about giving and getting gifts as the centerpiece and focus, then it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ and is simply a pagan festival where people want to get a lot of expensive stuff from each other. I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically reject giving (and receiving) gifts on the basis of obligation.
The alternative is to recognize that gifts are intended not as the focus, but as a means of showing those closest to us that we were thinking of them. That does not require spending lots of money, despite what our culture would have us believe. Besides, you can give gifts to those you love any time during the year. You do not need Christmas as an excuse to give a present.
Many tell us that giving gifts is a tradition originated to honor God’s gift to us in the birth of Jesus Christ or because of the acts of the real man who came to be known as Saint Nicholas. Though many give with this in mind, the fact is that this is not the accurate origin of gift exchange. In fact gift giving to children in late December did not start with Christian origins, but rather as part of a pagan celebration of the sun god, Saturnalia, in ancient Rome. It is easy to research for yourself… even in Christian history encyclopedias such as by Zondervan.
Let’s explore the gift giving tradition further and test if it is even consistent with celebrating Jesus’ birth according to the principles of the Biblical record of that glorious event. Does this tradition point to or honor God, or is it just a tradition of men and a potential distraction from God?
Mary and Joseph did not get gifts for one another or even for Jesus and they knew who He was and that He would be born soon. The shepherds came to celebrate and honor God. They did what they were commanded by God to do… which did not involve bringing gifts. The wise men did not even come when Jesus was born… contrary to common tradition. Scripture tells us they came and found Jesus in a house, not a manger. Herod killed all the male children two years and younger… not a week and younger, or even a few months and younger. It was likely they arrived over a year after Jesus was born. When they did come, they brought gifts to honor God. They did not exchange gifts with each other, nor did they expect to receive gifts in return from Joseph and Mary. I should not fail to mention that God came down as Jesus to die for us and while this is a great gift, He expects no gift from us in return.
So if you really want to focus on giving gifts to honor Christian traditions… give in a way that honors God to those who will not be able to give anything in return and convince others to do the same. You will honor God more, find more joy instead of stress, and spend less.
If suggestion number 4 seems overwhelming… start with suggestions number 1-3. The less focus you put on gift exchange, the more focus you will find is available to consider God’s gift to us in the person of Jesus Christ. You will have more time and less stress to enjoy the holidays and hopefully you will not have the Christmas “hangover” in January.
Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? Are you living today filled with the peace and joy of truly knowing and following Jesus Christ? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.