Yes, the Wisemen inspired us to a great idea: giving gifts as part of the celebration of the birth of Jesus. We also know that this gave birth to a bad idea especially for young and adult children: Christmas is about receiving gifts.
Some families handle this by giving to humanitarian aid organizations instead of, or in addition to, traditional gift exchanges. Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol also reminded us “at this festive season of the year… it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.” Organizations cater to this impulse by providing Christmas catalogs where you can buy a “Christmas gift” like a milk-producing goat or a sewing machine to help someone in India to make a better living.
A few suggestions for “charity” Christmas gift giving:
- Watch your motives; be careful the gift isn’t just a “tithe” on an indulgence, e.g. “We feel better about extravagant spending on our cruise or overly expensive gifts for our family since we are also spending $20 on a shoebox of gifts for Samaritan’s Purse.”
- Don’t confuse the cultural “need” for Children to have Christmas candy or toys with actual needs of community and time.
- Similarly, resist the savior attitude, e.g. “Here is a photo of me saving five lives this year with my gift.”
- Consider a gift of time… giving two hours of undivided attention to someone or helping someone in a practical way often has far more impact than a present. We were able to invite someone who is experiencing his first Thanksgiving after a divorce over to celebrate with our family. Opportunities like this may have much more impact than giving a gift card from Target.
- One family in our church asks for the ages of children from needy families and comes back with customized Christmas gifts for them. They then give the gifts to the children’s parents through the church to remain anonymous.
- In order to avoid the “where’s my gift” expectation of Christmas, families from our church are volunteering to take children from poorer families Christmas shopping for their siblings. This still allows each child to get a gift, but replaces it with a more relational activity that is focused on giving rather than receiving.
- Don’t rob your church in order to give special Christmas donations. For me, the best donation is to my church. It has the right balance of local and international ministry, evangelism and human need outreach, and can help many people without being impersonal. If that doesn’t describe your church, help it to become that or find a different one to attend.
- If I had to pick one ministry outside of the church to give to, I’d probably pick this one: Serve India Ministries. They have a good focus on evangelism and church planting and handle human need projects within the context of the church.