There's a lot of gift giving at Christmas time, and a lot of gift receiving for that matter. As a mom of two small children, I worked hard to ensure that the focus of the holiday for my children was not simply receiving gifts. Through the month of December we focused on the season of Advent through our Advent wreath and storybook as well as our Advent calendar. We focused on the upcoming birth of Jesus and the wonderful gift that it is to us.
Somewhere around December 21st, I had a mommy freak out when while wrapping presents, I realized that I had not actively included my 4 year old son in the gift selecting process. I had been so focused on taking the focus off of gifts (as well as getting the gift purchasing done through online shopping in the wee hours of the morning) that I hadn't considered how to make him part of that process.
I panicked at the thought that he would be woefully unprepared for Christmas. I had visions of tantrums caused by presents given to anyone other than my children. I thought of four different craft projects we could throw together for family and friends. I dreamed of a gift giving boot camp that we could do in the next four days in order to prepare him. And then I snapped out of it, realizing I had far too much on my plate and that I would just have to do a better job next year.
Then it was Christmas Eve. I was lying in bed putting my two boys to sleep. We'd been to church. We'd read the final night of our Advent book. We'd left cookies for Santa even though he was pretend, along with carrots for Rudolph and cheese for Santa Mouse (who are also pretend in case you were worried). Just as I thought Ben had fallen asleep he said, "But mama, it can't be Christmas. You said Christmas was a still a while away." I assured him that yes Christmas was tomorrow, and it was finally here. He anxiously replied, "But mama, I haven't gotten all my presents for everyone." The distress in his voice was real. That whole gift giving preparation thing was going to bite me in the butt, but it wasn't because he was some greedy little kid. It was because he wanted to give.
Trying to be the calm and confident mama that we all know I am, I asked who he wanted to give a gift to. The first response were his two best friends from school last year who hadn't returned this year. We talked in circles for a few minutes about how that would be difficult as I didn't know where they lived and so on. Then he settled on giving a gift to Dada. I asked what he wanted to give Dada. The first response was a marshmallow shooter which I had told him earlier that we were giving to his cousin which we decided I wouldn't be able to acquire by morning. So then he decided on a cow. He wanted to give his father a cow. I thought to myself that this conversation was going really really well.
But then he explained a little more, "ya know, the kind that live really far away but help people who don't have food to be able to eat." You see, we had given ducks from ELCA Good Gifts to his teachers at school this year, a program where you can give a donation to ELCA World Hunger, selecting from a variety of farm animals, water, school supplies, and much more to help a community in need. Our neighbor had then given both Elijah and Ben ten chicks that evening for Christmas. We explained to Ben that these were not chicks he'd ever see, but that they lived really far away and would help people who didn't have food to be able to eat. Sound familiar?
And so, after discovering that a cow would have cost me $500, we settled on a goat because they could give milk that could be drank and made into cheese and yogurt just like a cow. Ben was delighted to give Dada his goat. And I was delighted to realize that I hadn't totally screwed up this gift giving thing. Instead, I realized that our children learn about giving from watching us give. The more joy and generosity we show in giving, the more they will find. As we soon move from Christmas into Epiphany, I hope to continue to model the giving of gifts, both tangible and intangible, throughout the year just as the gift of Jesus that we receive at Christmas does not stop giving on December 25 or even 12 days later when the season of Christmas ends.