In the fourth of a series of articles, Revd James Gilder of Wanstead Parish talks about gift-giving and receiving, and explains why the commercial side of Christmas should not be dismissed completely
Are you a Christmas list writer or do you prefer surprises? I’m a keen Christmas list writer, though I have noticed a tendency in myself in recent years to include increasingly banal items. What I really long for this Christmas is a new offside front shock absorber for the car (parts and labour) – though I doubt any of my nearest and dearest are likely to shell out on such an expensive item!
Writing a Christmas list is perhaps a bit presumptive, but I think it’s far harder to cater to those who can’t think of anything they want, or – worse still – those who don’t write lists on principle and who also refuse to engage with what’s on yours!
I often call to mind my grandfather, who told me that he and his brother always exchanged a sixpence at Christmas in lieu of a present. Indeed, the grumpier side of me is occasionally inclined to wonder whether this ritual ought to be resurrected, as it would certainly be a lot easier than buying for some people!
Many column inches have been devoted over the years to bemoaning the commercialised nature of Christmas, and I’m sure most of us at one point or another have felt a little uncomfortable at the seemingly ever-increasing length and excess of the festive season. Of course, for many, the pressure to spend and to consume can be difficult or even destructive – but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
For all I groan inwardly at the thought of having to select presents for everyone, the truth is that gift-giving and receiving is fun – because for most of us, this process is about far more than just obtaining some new stuff. Much anthropological research has been carried out into the meaning of gift-giving and receiving in cultures around the world, and there is an almost-universal link, it would seem, between gifts and relationship formation. Gift-giving and receiving is often a sign of love. I’m sure you’ll have noticed that the most precious gifts we are given are often not the most expensive. Instead, we treasure the ones which have the greatest meaning behind them.
Christmas seems like the ultimate time for gifts, primarily because the Christian faith believes the coming of Jesus to be the ultimate gift to the world. A gift to us all, wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. A gift that Christians believe cements forever the love between God and humankind. And much like the best gifts, the idea is that we don’t leave it wrapped up in the cold and dark but that we unwrap it and treasure it forever.
A very happy Christmas to you all.
To contact Reverend James Gilder, email firstname.lastname@example.org