On December 6, St. Nicholas put presents in the shoes of Dutch children. On December 13, candlelit girls in Sweden brought their parents breakfast in bed. Eight days of Hanukkah gift-giving started at sundown on Tuesday the 20th. And we’re cruising into the gift-heavy Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Kwanzaa, and, on January 6, El Día de los Reyes Magos—Three Kings Day.
Gift giving is much older than Christmas. We’ve been giving one another gifts since time immemorial, anthropologists suggest, in order to establish bonds with one another or to show hospitality. Giving a gift can show honor and respect–or intimidate by parading wealth and power. Psychologists say it’s good for us, and that there’s as much pleasure in giving as receiving. Maybe more, said Jean Paul Sartre, who called giving an act of aggression, because it puts the recipient under obligation to the giver. If that’s true, Americans are incredibly aggressive. Don’t you sometimes feel like raising your arms to fend off that barrage of Christmas presents—especially the ones you don’t need or like?
In the days when I wrote and talked about simplifying Christmas, the aggression of shopping and giving bugged me. But no more. I’m in Christmas no-person’s-land – the long empty stretch after kids and before grandkids, when there’s no one around to delight. My decorations are in storage and there’s no tree. I left my musical responsibilities in Chicago and have no choirs to accompany or Christmas Eve services to prepare. Freelancers like me have no staff party. The people on my gift list don’t need much—just a few bars of goat soap and beeswax candles and, of course, a year-end World Hunger gift. This year the holidays are feeling a little too simple!
In the midst of this dullness an online article (which article? which magazine? I lost the link and can’t tell you) asked a startling question: How have we been gifts this year?
Ticking off to-do lists and measuring year-end accomplishments and “progress” feels natural to me. So does totting up what I spent and what I gave. But to reflect on my inherent giftedness—who I have been and what I brought to God’s world in 2011 just by breathing—that’s tough. And profound. Goodbye, gripes about gifts as commodities, braggadocio, and aggression; hello, holy and gift-filled weekend. Jesus may be the miracle, but all of us are gifts. Blemished, kicked around, miles from perfect—but gifts to one another, even if we don’t know why.
But I do know something about the gifts evident in this blog. Thanks to David, for using scripture to illuminate the systemic injustices that surround us. To Mikka, for her cheerful, practical, I-can-deal-with-this-too optimism about 7 billion earthlings and a 99/1 percent schism. To Jessica, for her passion about ending malaria. To faithful blog readers and commenters and World Hunger network people, for your commitment to walking your talk—a huge gift in our spin-happy world.
Gifts, all of you. And no purchase necessary!
Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity