Christmas has become retail’s favorite holiday. Celebrations, decorations, and Christmas carols accompany mass spending, often to the point of debt. According to a Forbes article published in 2016, “Parents are predicted to spend $495 per child this year, which is nearly $100 more than they spent last year.”1
With Christmas spending rising year by year, we have drifted far from simple Christmases. Despite out of control spending habits today, America was built on the foundation of simplicity.
In the book Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder recounts what she and her sister, Mary, each received for Christmas one year: a tin cup, a candy cane, a heart shaped cake, and a penny. This would be a very disappointing Christmas morning in today’s world, but both Mary and Laura were left speechless with joy. Previously, they had been sharing a tin cup, so having their very own was a real treat. I own at least four reusable water bottles and innumerable coffee mugs, yet I have never thought twice about how privileged I am.
Simple Christmas gifts remained the norm for decades to come. In the book To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus, the father, purchases an air rifle for each of his children, named Scout and Jem. That was it. Jem and Scout were, like Mary and Laura, positively overjoyed. Thus, the 1930’s proved to be no different from the 1800’s.
The old fashioned gift giving philosophy still lives on in unique individuals today. For instance, my Grandma French is always careful to fulfill a need with both her presents and her presence. Several years ago my sisters and I were spending the day at my grandparents’ home. I was using one of grandma’s pens and commented how much I liked it. Sure enough, for Christmas I received an identical pen. The fact that she remembered that miniscule fact makes me feel treasured, even though the gift was not of a high financial value.
People used to be purposeful with their gifts. Gifts were meant to fulfill a practical function. Now, we aim for quantity instead of quality, hoping that the combined glory of the gifts will make the receiver happy.
However, the more we receive, the less happy we seem to become.
Yes, gifts are a great avenue to show our love and appreciation for one another, but perhaps we have caved to obligation. If we do not purchase extravagant gifts, then we feel as though we have failed in proving our love. History shows that love certainly is not proved just through gifts. Laura, Mary, Jem, and Scout, as well as many others all felt their family’s love through the time spent together, whether at work or play.
In some instances, material gifts are more of a burden than a blessing. Perhaps a more meaningful gift would be writing someone a letter of encouragement to let them know how much they mean to you. Or maybe you could arrange a time to go to lunch or spend time together. Love is shown in our daily actions, not in a once a year gift spree.
Our culture of extravagant gift giving has also fostered an attitude of entitlement. If we do not receive what we asked for, if we are not wowed by the gifts under the tree, we feel short changed somehow. The commercials we see on television and the ads in stores strive to convince us that our lives our incomplete without the latest products and gizmos. If that was not enough, our social media feeds show families enjoying the perfect gifts. That leads us to naturally believe that we deserve the same treatment. In reality, any gift we receive is a blessing beyond belief.
1 Timothy 6:8 says, “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” Anything that our family or friends give us beyond food, clothing, and shelter is a bonus, not something we are deserving of or entitled to. Perhaps the best gift Christmas can give is a change of perspective, an attitude of gratefulness. We can use this season to realize that many do not receive any gifts for Christmas, thus developing appreciation for the abundance we have. Our relationship with God and attitude of gratitude are the best assets in life. As 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.”
We know that the greatest gift of Christmas is Jesus Himself. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Whether we have a little or a lot, we can be satisfied because the Creator of the Universe has given His Presence to constantly abide with us. Christmas is when we received God’s presence ever abiding with us. Outshining any material possession, we have a permanent present: God’s peace and forgiveness. And that is a solid reason to be content.