I was watching TV the other day when this commercial for eBay caught my eye. Commercial What grabbed my attention was the way that they girl declares how unhappy she was with the gifts that she got from the previous year's Christmas. She wants people to know just what it is that she wants and really is not going to accept anything less than her heart's desire. She sounds like an echo of Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with her chorus of, "I WANT IT NOW!"
The thing that gets me is her perception on gifts. A gift is something from the giver without the receiver making demands on what the gift should be. For me to give a gift requires me to think about the person to whom this gift will be given. Things to consider are what they do in life, what their talents are, what their likes and dislikes are and so on. But when it comes down to it when we give a gift to someone else we are giving a part of ourselves to that other person, even if it is a throw pillow to compliment all of the other pilowa that were made in the past. And a gift that is handmade really is a gift that is of ourselves because we took the time to actually labor over it. We put our hard work, for the love of the other person, into that gift.
I think that we've let our views on gifts become so convoluted and manipulated by the media and especially big businesses that we've lost the meaning of what a gift really means. Something special has given way to "more is better". You see this a lot in the Christmas commercials that are on TV with the idea that if we can buy more, then we can give more and then, and only THEN, we will have a wonderful Christmas.
What if we all just gave one special gift to the ones who are dear to us? Would the fact that it was just one gift ruin the holiday for them, for us? What if you received a gift that was uniquely thought of, made, purchased, for you and you alone? Would you appreciate it more or less?
The promises of "Wonderful Christmases Now!" come with bills due in January where we find ourselves working overtime the rest of the year to pay for the Christmas behind us. Is that really worth it? Is that the true sentiment behind gift giving? Or have we become indentured servants to a false spirit of the season?
One of the most poignant Christmas stories that I've ever read, and sadly is never really retold this time of year, is O.Henry's The Gift of the Magi. And if you don't know this story then shame on you or at least shame on the school you went to when you were younger. In a nutshell the story centers on a young married couple who have very little money with which to buy a Christmas gift for each other. The wife wants to buy a chain for her husband's pocket watch and the only way that she can come up with the money is to sell her long beautiful hair, which she does and then buys the chain. The husband knows that his wife's hair is stunningly gorgeous with it's long flowing locks and so he decides to sell the only thing he has of worth; his watch, and buy some ornate combs to adorn his wife's beautiful coif.
The moment comes to give their gifts and then they see what the other has done to come up with the money to buy the gift which they are receiving. It's a poignant moment as the true gifts that were given were the gifts of themselves and the sacrifice that each one made for the other.
O. Henry ends the story with the following:
The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. In a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as donors they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.
My prayer for you this Christmas 2011 is that the gifts that you give are truly of yourselves and that the gifts you receive, no matter what they are, are received with joy and thanks. May God bless you all and may the gift of Jesus Christ be seen and received by all!