“Oh, do you draw names?” my mother-in-law asked when I explained my traditional family Christmas Eve celebration. “No,” I replied, “Certain people in the family shop for the whole crowd while others of us are not expected to give.” Sound strange? It probably is, but every family has its own idea of normal. Sometimes “normal” is simply a random decision someone made one year which was repeated until it was considered tradition. Once something is considered the way we do it, it can be difficult to make a sweeping change. Someone will likely be upset; and, since such change involves one of the most beloved holidays of the year, families often refrain from such change to keep the celebration peaceful.
But, what happens when the child of one normal becomes romantically involved with the child of another normal? What if she thinks it makes sense to shop for their parents only while he is expected to spend at least $25 on every member of his family – parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, and neighbor George (because he’s practically family).
Beliefs about gift-giving run deeper than just how much money to spend. Other beliefs we tuck away float to the surface when it comes time to start purchasing and doling out presents. Our expectations about receiving gifts (especially from a romantic partner) often rises. Our memories about past Christmases rise also. The comments our parents made regarding gift-giving may also reverberate through our minds:
- I don’t know why we spend any money on Shelly. She never comes to our family celebrations!
- Why are we spending all this time and money on presents when we could be saving our money and giving it to needy children instead?
- Oh, doesn’t the tree look nice! It’s not full enough, though! We need to do some more shopping!!!
For some, Christmas is a time of warm and happy memories. For others, it is an eye-roll inducing experience – or even a painful one. For the child who heard his mom complain every year about the stresses and expenses of Christmas, the holiday season may feel a little bitter. For the child who heard her parents fighting over family affairs or money at Christmas, decorations and Salvation Army bells may ignite some pain in her heart.
Childhood-related pain often comes out of hiding at Christmas – probably because everyone feels a little more like a child at Christmastime. Not to mention, it is the time of year everyone is expected to be happy – and, that unwritten expectation can cause a lot of pressure.
Society being what it is, this season of giving, love, and joy seems to bring out the worst in people. Christmas used to involve a few gifts. If Little House on the Prairie is to be believed (and why wouldn’t it be?!), an apple, a stick of peppermint, and a shiny new penny hit the jackpot; but, no jackpot bells ring for such gifts anymore. Now we trample each other to buy more stuff; then, we wrap the stuff; and then, we unwrap the stuff. Then, the stuff gets in our way, so we have a yard sale. Then we trample each other again next December to buy more stuff.
Do we ever ask ourselves why we do it?
The why is significant and it is important for you and your special someone to discuss the why. Do you purchase and give gifts at Christmas for any of the following reasons?
- It is an expectation and I want to keep the peace.
- I enjoy seeing the ones I love smile.
- I have the money and it seems like the right thing to do.
- I was taught giving is the most important part of life.
- It is traditional.
- I am a Christmas-crazed lunatic and I love shopping for my family and friends!
- It makes me feel elated when the present I gave is someone’s favorite present of the year.
- I remember not having a lot at Christmas, so I try to give a lot now because I know how hard it is to have a meager Christmas.
There are dozens of reasons why people approach gift-giving differently.
Creed Notebook Time is Here. Happiness and Cheer.
Though you might not wish to add anything about gift-giving into your personal or couple creeds now, it is still a good idea to print out these questions and add them to your notebook. As you update your creeds in the future, you may wish to add in holiday-specific themes. When couples prepare for marriage, they often talk about religion, money, and family plans, but rarely do seemingly small items like Christmas gift-giving get discussed.
Work through the questions together; tell each other your story. What does Christmas mean to you? What was Christmas like for you as a child? What emotions does the Christmas season evoke in you? How have past Christmases, people, and theology shaped your beliefs about gift-giving?
- Which gift-giving traditions do we have in my family of origin? In my partner’s family of origin? Are these traditions similar?
- Which aspects of my family’s gift-giving traditions do I want to keep; and which aspects do I want to change?
- When I shop for Christmas presents for my friends and family, which thoughts or emotions do I experience? (e.g., joy, frustration, excitement, stress, etc.) What beliefs are driving those emotions?
- What, if any, negative emotions do I have connected with Christmas gift-exchanging?
- What are the roots of these emotions?
- How can I resolve these emotions and make necessary changes?
- If it were completely up to me, how much of the Christmas celebration would center around exchanging gifts? (Note: There is no right answer.)
- Are there additional or alternative gift-giving opportunities I would like to pursue? (e.g., adopting a struggling family and providing Christmas for their children, packing a shoebox for Angel Tree, handing out gift baskets to the homeless, etc.)
- Once my future spouse and I have children, how do I envision my gift-giving practices changing, if at all?
- Which lessons do I want my children to learn at Christmas?
- What, if anything, do we want to teach our children about Santa Claus and when?
- What do I most look forward to about time with my children at Christmas?
What Does the Bible Say?
And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11, ESV)
And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matthew 10:42, ESV)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, ESV)
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, ESV)
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7, ESV)
One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed. (Proverbs 19:17, ESV)
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44, ESV)
Are Your Beliefs Creed Compatible?
To some, differences on this issue will be mild. Sure, Jim doesn’t like that Denise spends $2000 every Christmas, but he chooses to deal with it because it makes her happy and she is thrifty otherwise. However, to others the differences can cause repeated conflicts. Like clockwork every December, Kevin and Jeanne fight because he feels obligated to buy something for everyone in his family while she thinks their financial plan should not get off track over “worthless gifts everyone is going to forget in two days anyway.”
If you and your partner do not share similar beliefs on the merits of Christmas gift exchanges, it is important to know if you can live with the way your significant other executes Christmas. If you love to give, but your partner makes snide comments every time he or she sees a shopping bag, can you live with that? If a solid financial plan is a top priority, but your spouse refuses to follow a budget at Christmas, are you going to be able to let that go?
In addition to talking to each other about Christmas traditions and beliefs, notice each other’s family of origin. What do you see? How do they carry out Christmas? Is it a giftwrap ripping free for all on Christmas morning? Is it a gift per person? Is one gift allowed to be opened on Christmas Eve? Is it about the baked goodies more than the presents? Does everyone stay in their rooms and do their own thing after the presents are upwrapped? Is there a selfish spirit or generous spirit in the house?
Considering all the new experiences you and your partner are about to face together, gift-giving beliefs may not seem too important, but after a few years, your views might change. When my parents got married, I am sure they were not thinking, “Wow, we really need to decide how we are going to handle Christmas!” But, after a few years, Mom would have been adding gift-giving beliefs to her personal creed for sure! ~smile~
Based on what you learn during this week’s discussion, consider if an addendum should be made to your personal or couple’s creed to include your specific beliefs about Christmas/holiday giving.
T-minus nine days until Christmas.
Are you ready? Is your shopping completed? Are you panicked trying to finish it? Are you forgoing the Christmas shopping this year? Do you prefer to give out cash and call it a day? Do you believe the time you spend with family is more important than bringing presents? With the big day approaching, now is a great opportunity to observe how the Christmas rush affects your special sweetheart. Shop together. Get stuck in traffic together. Get pushed while you wait in a long line together. You will get a true glimpse of each other’s beliefs. ~smile~
It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving. ? Mother Theresa
The most truly generous persons are those who give silently without hope of praise or reward. ? Carol Ryrie Brink
You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. ? Amy Carmichael
Do you view Christmas gift-giving the way your partner views it?