I love the Christmas season. Yes, it’s hectic. I know, it’s cold. Yes, travel is a nightmare. Each of those issues may bring back a Christmas memory you’d rather not recall.
Despite all that, I look forward to Christmas. Always have. As a young child it meant a trip to my grandparent’s house in Indiana each year. We’d usually stay for a week with the rest of the extended family crammed into the house. My sister and I camped out on air mattresses in my grandfather’s study.
I don’t know how my grandparents did it, especially my grandmother. Cooking for 15 plus people for the week must have been exhausting. In fact, from our sleeping position in the study, my sister and I could see the light of her bedroom and the kitchen click on early – EARLY – each morning. She always pulled it off though with the perfect mixture of meats, fruit salads and desserts that we all liked.
It was crowded in that house but for a young child, it was as close to nirvana as one could come. So many things happened during the week that were out of the routine. There were later bedtimes, watching endless TV (sports) with my uncles, playing in the snow outside and having a steady stream of board games going on the inside.
But what I remember more than anything – and what ended up touching my life the most to this day – was our annual gift exchange.
A Christmas Memory: Anatomy of a Gift Exchange
I’m sure you’ve been involved in some kind of gift exchange. Our process went something like this:
Each year (at the end of the Christmas holiday get together) the adults would draw names out of a hat. The person whose name you drew was recorded with my grandmother who would then write the name on a tiny slip of paper for you to keep (so you didn’t forget…unless you lost the paper…which happened all the time…but we never came up with a better system…go figure). You were responsible to buy presents for the person’s name you drew for the following Christmas.
Around October, grandma would write a letter to each family member and ask them to send her their Christmas list. You were supposed to come up with a list of 5-6 affordable items for the person to buy who drew your name. Once the lists were received by grandma, she would mark off the list the items her and grandpa would buy for you and then send the remaining list items to the assigned person. The lists would arrive before Thanksgiving, so there would be enough time to shop for gifts.
Whew! Talk about a lot of work to pull this off.
On Christmas day, the actual gift exchange took several hours to complete. We would hand out presents one by one and watch as each person opened their gift. What I remember most from those events was a lot of laughter (because my family likes to give joke gifts to people in addition to the normal gifts), a lot of smiles and hugs, and many expressions of thanks.
But the Christmas memories I recall the most were the expressions of joy on the faces of those who gave the gifts. That may seem a little backward to you. You would think the most joy comes from those who received the gift. After all, their Christmas present wish list was coming true.
What was modeled for me in the small, Indiana home was that giving to others brought a deeper sense of satisfaction and personal reward than receiving from others. It’s something I’ve never forgotten to this day.
Giving is in Our DNA
Giving is a part of God’s nature. John 3:16 describes it this way to us when Jesus states that “…God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
We see in this verse that God gave. He didn’t receive and He didn’t take. He gave something extremely valuable so that we would get the chance to have a relationship with Him.
I get the sense when I read the Bible that God didn’t do this because He had to but because he wanted to. It gave Him great joy to do this for us.
God has passed his giving nature on to the human race. The Bible says that the first person, Adam, was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). From that we can conclude that the physical, intellectual and emotional characteristics of God were passed on to us albeit in some diminished capacity.
In essence, we portray a small picture or reflection of who God is. And that includes the capacity to give.
The Bible is full of verses about giving. That’s why I end up writing about it so much here. Giving is not something we are forced to do. Rather, we are encouraged to give sacrificially, with pleasure, without favoritism, honestly and in wisdom. There are tremendous personal blessings that come to those who give in those ways.
Giving should be a year-round habit. But there is no greater time to do so than at Christmas. See who you can bless this holiday season. You may end up creating a Christmas memory – for them and for you – that you’ll never forget.
Questions for Discussion: What is a Christmas memory from your childhood that stands out? In what ways are you giving this Christmas? Do you have a story of how someone blessed you with a special gift?