I’ve been thinking lately about why we exchange gifts at Christmas time. And really, many other religions and traditions have gift giving times in the fall also. I’ve also been thinking about why people get so stressed out during the holidays that they dont make it fun for themselves. The answer to this last question I place squarely on the person being stressed out. I know they often want the holidays to be “perfect” or they are the ones who are saddled doing most of the preparation for the holidays. But they put the stress on themselves and they can take it off themselves also. Yes, creating memories and traditions is wonderful and important. But the kids and family around you would rather have you firmly present and participating with them, than all stressed out, dead tired, or lacking focus on whats happening or whats really important.
Its just the two of us… my husband and I. But we start saving months ahead of time for Christmas and frankly I think we have fun buying for each other and ourselves. We often pick out what we want and just tell the other what it is… we have learned that’s the best way of getting what we really want.
But why do we give gifts? For those who celebrate Christmas as the symbol of the birth of Jesus Christ are gifts supposed to be synonymous with God gift to us through Jesus? Is it because the Bible in Matthew 2:10 says wise men came and gave gifts to Mary? And if so, why wouldn’t we be giving money to the church instead of gifts for each other? And why not just give gifts at the birth of a child instead of every winter? And why are we doing this still in our modern age… when frankly the reasons behind the gift giving are pretty vague and maybe even become opposite to any real religious significance?
My undergraduate degree was in physical anthropology and I remember talking about concepts of wealth redistribution. That there are tribes in remote areas that have elaborate rituals where they will exchange gifts or have long ceremonies where they exchange food or have feasts that other tribes are invited to. And part of the concept was a redistribution of wealth and a balancing of the playing field to lift up those without as much. Could this be one reason we give gifts to children during the holidays. Because they are the ones that are most in need of new clothes? But are they really in need of the latest game player?
I also wonder if it has something to do with the end of one year. Because many other religious traditions have similar period of celebration towards the end of the year. It is the time when the harvest if truly over, surplus is stock piled, and it is the season of plenty. It may be a redistribution of wealth but its also when families have time to be together. Whereas when winter really sets in people were often confined to their homes. The fall is the season of plenty and thanksgiving whereas the new year and the winter is the season of hope… the season of faith that the winter will be over at some point and growth/planting will again happen.
Giving is also a healthy thing for humans to engage in. There is something very meaningful in being able to help another person. I know when I took a financial planning class that one of the final goals of becoming financially stable was actually having the ability to then give away some of the money you knew was not necessary for you to exist and live on. There is even something fun in helping others anonymously… thus perhaps the concept of Santa.
I wish things weren’t so commercial because I think that giving, spending time with family, and having times of rest are important goals to have. But I dont know that kids get that or that parents are teaching the “good” reasons for the holidays. We adults get too wrapped up in the money. But we can choose to remember its a time of rest and a time to refocus in preparation for the next year to come. Just like the mom who is stressed out because she wants the holidays to be “perfect” can choose to do things different we also can choose to not obsessively focus on the money or the gifts but to rest, remember and look forward to the next year.