For the past several years now, Kristy and I have not actively given each other gifts at Christmastime.  In fact, except for some of the closest children in our lives, we really haven’t given any one gifts at Christmastime.  And we’ve never really taken the time to explain this odd behavior.

It may equate me with the “Grinch” but Christmas does not do much for me.  In past posts, I’ve alluded to my problems with doing for the sake of doing, free from any rationale.  You may recall my thoughts on church, for example.  This is a quite honest representation of who I am as I person: I need to see the rationale before getting behind something.  There has to be a strategy or a purpose.

To be even more specific, it’s not enough to simply have rationale – it’s not an “as long as you can justify it, I’m in” scenario – obviously, the justification and rationale have to align with my beliefs and morals and personality.

It is at this level that Christmas begins to fall apart for me.

Christmas has become the perpetual out-do-myself game.  It’s on a grand scale so we may not even realize it, but for so many of us, this year has to be bigger than last.  Better parties, blingier gifts, nicer decorations, 1000 more bulbs. I wonder if we haven’t made Christmas into a milestone, some point of reference to gauge our progress (read: net worth) year over year.  Last year I was able to spend $X so this year, if I’ve had a successful year, it stands to reason that I should be able to spend $X + $Y.  If not, we’ve obviously not worked hard enough, long enough, made a big enough impression on the men “upstairs” (either literally or figuratively).  Certainly we give gifts away because it’s what culture and baby Jesus would have us to do, but I wonder if we don’t give in a spirit of self-measurement.

It’s not hard to imagine.  We get a card from someone that’s not on our list and some primal guilty panic sets in.  What is the drive behind it?  Fear that the we’ll “owe” the sender something that will strike the cosmic balance in their favor?  Do we honestly think that the forgotten ones are sitting with a Santa Claus style checklist, cross-referencing every piece of festive fan mail that arrives at their doorstep?  Just because we do it ourselves, doesn’t mean everyone does 🙂

My argument is that this is reflective of the yearly benchmark that we’ve set for ourselves.  More cards out mean more friends this year over last.  More gifts out means more expendable income this year over last.  Net growth is what we’re really after when we venture out into the wilds that are our bliss acquisition depots (a.k.a. shopping malls).

It’s important to be self-aware and introspective.  I don’t want to devalue those things.  What is off, however, is our tendency to measure worth in financial or material terms.  Sure, we’re constantly bombarded with financial news.  It’s strange to go through a day without encountering a stock ticker or at least some reference to which direction the DOW has been headed lately.  It’s understandable for us to measure ourselves by the tools that we have around us – in much the same way that I still find temperatures in Fahrenheit or distances in miles to be confusing at times.

In previous posts, I’m clear about my position that Christians have ruined the church.  Something similar is true for Christmas.  I don’t want to put this all on the church – only to say that this season has been ruined for me.

The beauty has been the rediscovery.

We haven’t completely disengaged from the season.  There are things that still have value and purpose.  But becoming indebted to financial institutions is not my idea of a good time.  And Christmas is still a milestone for us.  But instead of measuring the ways that we’ve made more money in the past year, or met new people that need to read the latest installment of the Smith saga and receive a picture of us sitting under our tree, we’re able to figure out ways that we can give.  We know we’re not “wealthy” when you compare our checkbooks to those of our neighbors, but it’s a beautiful thing to not be in want.  It’s an amazing place to be.

It frees you to be able to mobilize resources, no matter how meager, to help somebody that’s in need.  So instead of buying stuff, and wrapping it in stuff and packing that in stuff, we’ve been able to give.  Maybe it’s a house up the street or maybe it’s children in a country halfway around the world.  We’ve participated in programs like World Vision and local programs designed to help children and their families nearby.  The year we’re helping build wells in Malawi (http://www.equitas.cc).

And, if you’re busy buying Christmas gifts this year – don’t worry, I’m not at all saying that you’re efforts are in vain and stupid and a waste of resources that could otherwise be used to feed the poor.  There IS great value in gift giving – that’s the way that many, many people express their love.  I’m simply saying that, for my wife and I, we’ve chosen to reroute the resources we have to other things.

So, you’re not getting anything from us this year…. again.  Honestly, it’s not that we don’t like you 🙂  We like you very much.

Merry Christmas