If you happen to visit us anytime from June onwards, you will notice that our house is more of a Christmas workshop than a home.
You see, my wife Cathy is Santa’s undisputed elf of the century! If Christmas was to be cancelled for whatever reason, my wife would immediately cease to exist. This is at once very charming and deeply concerning; concerning because in my wife’s world, literally every person we have ever met gets a Christmas gift.
So, you can just imagine the shock and horror for her when people say things like; “Christmas has become too commercial! We should be giving presence rather than presents,” or “we should be avoiding gifts like toys and games and rather give our children something more useful like annual membership to the local botanical gardens.”
There is a growing movement to put Christ back into Christmas and that is all good and well. But in practise, what does that mean? Whether you believe in Christ as the saviour of mankind or not, what would you imagine He would want his birthday party to look like? Now, before we get all religious about this, let’s remember that His first miracle was to create a vast quantity of very good wine at a wedding. So, Jesus was not the pious nerd that we have made Him out to be.
As far as I can tell, He would want us to give both presence and presents. And the latter is not a money thing; gifts come in all shapes, sizes and prices; Cathy makes a lot of her own presents and decorations. You see, theologically speaking, Christmas and generosity are inseparable. So why use this celebration to teach our kids about being frugal or practical? Surely, this is the time when we teach them about selfless giving and generosity?
If we examine our motivation for giving less at Christmas, might it reveal some meanness in us? I know it does in me. I watch Cathy’s gift giving and my blood pressure skyrockets just about as fast as our credit card bill. But then, I see the look of joy and amazement as her and Lolly hand out the carefully chosen and wrapped gifts to school security guards, cleaners and cooks (those who are most often forgotten) and I think this is probably the kind of birthday Jesus would have loved.
Having given the presents, how do we give ourselves in terms of our presence? I recently came across some suggestions from an American Lawyer by the name of Howard W Hunter. Apologies to Mr Hunter for tweaking this in the interests of space and our local context:
“This Christmas mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Replace negativity with hope. Give a soft answer. Encourage a young person. Keep a promise. Let go of a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Reach out to someone who doesn’t look or sound like you. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Give people your time and attention. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.”
Christmas is an invitation for us to move outside of ourselves and our comfort zones and into a world that is desperate for people to extend a kind word, a gentle touch or a helping or giving hand.
Finally, you will notice that Hunter doesn’t say we should stop anything; on the contrary. He suggests we start doing small things that bring heaven to earth. This is a world in which charity – kindness and generosity – should begin at home, but not end there.
So, from me and my family to you and yours, may you have the most glorious and abundant Christmas ever.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.