This year, we’ve decided to buy more presents for Christmas, not less. We’re going to spend more money, get more stuff, wrap more packages, indulge in more consumerism.
I know, I know—we’re supposed to be teaching our children about Jesus and generosity and not subject the holiday to frenzied consumerism. That’s actually why we’re getting more presents this year. Hear me out.
Way back in 2001, six years before my son was born, my husband and I gave up Christmas presents. That year the president told the nation that the best way to heal from the trauma of 9/11 was to buy more stuff, especially for Christmas. We wanted to protest the idea that consumerism was the way to heal the world, and so we refused to buy anything. We made donations to organizations working for both charity and justice instead. It felt so good, we never looked back. It’s been 12 years since we bought Christmas presents for each other.
We’ve encouraged our families in the same direction, and they’ve finally listened. Last year, my husband and I received three small presents—one to each of us from our son, and one from my parents to the whole family.
My son, however, always has a giant pile of presents. He’s an “only-only-only” on one side of the family—only child, only grandchild, only great-grandchild. Everybody from great-aunts and second cousins wants to send him gifts, along with more than a few church members who think of themselves as extra grandparents. We love the way so many people love and care for our son. All our family lives far away, so the presents become their presence in our lives. We have worked with them to avoid going overboard with huge and multiple toys, but even so, the sheer number of gift-givers results in a big pile each year.
Last year, the contrast was uncomfortable. My son observed that he was the only one getting presents, with the exception of the one gift he had chosen for each of us. He had the joy of opening new things, well chosen by people who know and love him—but it was a lonely experience, because he was the only one. We who surrounded him on Christmas morning were observers rather than participants. He receives so many presents because people find such joy in giving him gifts. They delight in sending him toys and knowing he will enjoy them. We recognized that he was missing out on the joy of seeing other people delight in receiving gifts, the joy of watching someone experience surprise and joy at a shiny new thing, practical or beautiful or simply whimsical.
So this year, my husband made a radical suggestion: “I think we should go back to buying Christmas presents for each other again.” I sighed at first, resisting consumerism, dreading the work of extra shopping, trying to avoid more “stuff” in our lives. Then I imagined my son’s delight in watching us open our own presents alongside his on Christmas morning, and I knew it was the right thing to do. We’ll keep it simple and small—a few books, a small bauble of jewelry, some new socks, probably things we would have bought for ourselves anyway. More presents.
We’re buying more presents in other ways, too. We signed up for additional items to buy for two young boys, near my son’s age, at a local group home. My son and I shopped for several toys on their wish list and delivered them to church. We also picked out some simple things to give back to the folks at church who give presents to him, which we’ve never done. We’ve tried to support local business, small crafters, and fair trade, but we’ve purchased more presents than ever before.
I’m hoping that, by some inverse logic, the addition of more presents will make this holiday less about the stuff we get and more about the experience of giving and receiving, sharing in someone’s delight, enjoying surprise, showing love and offering presence by way of presents.