Monday, January 2, 2012

The Best Gift of Christmas

"It is more blessed to give than to receive." --Acts 20:35 

I have been thinking a lot about this Bible verse this Christmas season, trying to figure out what is TRUE. And I think the truth, for me, is that both are easy and both are hard at different times and for different reasons. Here are some examples from this Christmas.

A week before Christmas I got a call from my brother-in-law. He knew a family, with two small boys, who had to make the choice between paying the rent and buying Christmas presents for their kids. Did we have any toys or books - any small thing - that we were no longer using that he could give to them for Christmas? 

Of course we did. I talked to my kids and told them what was up and they quickly gathered up a few things for these little boys they did not know. I was amazed at how generous they were. They gave away things I didn't think they would and my heart beamed at their willingness to give.

I wrapped and labelled and ribboned the books and toys and handed them off to my brother-in-law on the Friday before Christmas. It felt good to give. 

And it inspired me to help another family I know who is struggling in the same way. We picked out some more presents, I wrapped them up and included a grocery store gift card for a Christmas meal. Again I was amazed at my kids' generosity and willingness to share. 

I was also amazed at this family's ability to receive. And as I gave this gift I thought about how hard that is, especially around the holidays. "To give with graciousness and to receive with gratitude," (from the Unity Offertory Prayer) is tricky. 

We didn't exactly nail it on Christmas morning. 

As a parent I struggle with Christmas as you know. I just never know quite how to handle it. The kids make lists and I try my very best of make sure that they get most of the things they want, knowing that as a kid your purchasing power is very small and this can be frustrating and that Christmas is meant to be a magical time. 

But there are certain things I just cannot, will not, give to my children. Their own computer, their own handheld device, ANOTHER video gaming system, ANOTHER huge Lego set that never gets put together and ends up in pieces in our Lego trundle. These things make my blood boil just thinking about them.

A waste. Too much. Over the top. All of these phrases come to mind when thinking about the kind of Christmas my kids want and many kids in our little part of the world expect. Ugh. It just makes me sick thinking about it. 

And yet...

I know on some level that this is my judgement about it and that it comes in part from my experience of Christmas as a child. My parents were not rich and they were not flashy. They never had the newest thing or bought the trendy car. They were smart and thrifty and practical. All great qualities, but not what you're looking for as a kid on Christmas. 

Still, I can't entirely leave that conditioning behind. 

So even though I always wanted the Easy-Bake Oven or the doll that wets and cries - and felt disappointed because I didn't get them - I just can't bring myself to buy my kids an iTouch when they already have a DS or an Xbox 360 Kinect when we already have a Wii (which we got three years after it was the "thing" and the year the Kinect first came out). 

Which brings us to Christmas morning...

The kids wake up to stockings full of treats and a tree piled high with (some) of their greatest desires and the carnage begins. 

There are ohs and ahs and squeals of delight at first. Until the presents are all opened and the first barrage of, "But wait.... I didn't get ________! Where's my _______?" begins. 

And I lose it. 

But not in the usual way. I didn't yell or scream or begin a long lecture about the kids without presents. I got quiet. I left the room. I started to clean. 

And that scared the shit out of them. 

They started to tell me how much they liked the presents and how great they were and how they were going to use them right away. And I appreciated the effort. But it didn't change the fact that I had disappointed them. Again. I had worked my ass off and tried like hell to make it a great Christmas. And I had failed. Again. 

And that's when the thoughts came into my head about blowing the whole thing up. No more presents. No more gatherings. No more candy and cookies and cocktails. Just us at a homeless shelter. Or on a vacation. Or at home by the fire. 

So I don't know what Christmas is going to look like around our house next year, but I do know that the best gift I got this Christmas was the chance to give to those who couldn't and to watch my kids get into the spirit of that. 

"To give with graciousness and to receive with gratitude." That's what we're going for around here next year. I don't know what it's going to look like or how we are going to pull it off, but at least I know what we're going for. 

Let me know if you have any suggestions on how to get there. And I'd love to hear your holiday stories too, for better or for worse. 

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