Two days after Christmas. I am in the midst of this two-week holiday break wondering what happened. Has my seemingly growing cynical approach to the holiday season subsided because I “received” some nice gifts? Or, did I successfully tune into the meaning of Jesus’ birth? I’m not really sure. Though, I can tell you where my heart and head was one week ago today.
“I really hate Christmas,” I said to my friend, “And love it at the same time.”
I am not a gift giver. I would rather give my time and effort to someone than give gifts. In my house I am the grocery shopper, the groundskeeper and in charge of the laundry. I actually love doing all of those things because I know it really helps my family in obvious ways.
There are other reasons I am not a very good gift giver. I don’t shop well. I am impatient and tend to buy the first thing I see instead of thoughtfully taking my time to consider all of the items the other person might enjoy or need. Need. Hmm. That is part of it. No one in my family “needs” anything. I provide clothes, shelter and food for my wife and children on a daily basis. In fact, everyone owns multiple items they don’t use or need because (my theory) they have been overly gifted. This is a first world problem that, I am certain, has reached epidemic levels. In American culture there is no cure for our over consumeristic tendencies other than war, economic depression, natural disaster or some other completely undesirable influence.
Time is also a deterrent to being a good gift giver. When I was in college I worked in the summer and on winter and spring breaks at a large law firm in Kansas City. At Christmas time the senior partners would send me on errands to buy gifts and deliver them. At the time I thought it was very impersonal. Today, I would love to be able to afford a person who would shop for me, wrap the gift and deliver it. It would save me so much time.
Here is the real reason I hated Christmas a week ago. I hadn’t yet bought my wife a gift. I knew that without a thoughtful gift, I was going to be in big trouble. Her list was short and expensive. I really wasn’t sure how I was going to pull this one off AND stay within the budget to which we both agreed. And I was running out of time and short on ideas.
This pressure only added to the guilt I was heaping upon myself. Had I lost the real meaning of Christmas? Was I resentful that the pressure of buying gifts was shielding me from the gift of the life of Jesus given to the world some 2000 years ago?
I went shopping on the 23rd fully intending to shop the next day also. I began to formulate alternative plans if my shopping proved unsuccessful. Leaving the country wasn’t an option as it was expensive, too. Luckily, within five hours I met some helpful sales people in several stores who guided me to some beautiful purchases for my wife (she loved the watch and earrings from me and the other accessories from my children).
The pressure had finally subsided. Over the next three days I found myself securely in the moments of the season. Christmas Eve worship was amazing. The birth of Jesus came alive for me. Time seemed to stand still because I paid no attention to it. Gift opening, meals and playing with the kids seemed to flow naturally into one another. Love was palpable and real.
These are the reasons why I love Christmas.
Every year I forget. I forget the symbolism of giving to one another leads to our understanding of the gift of love God continually gives to us. My new Fitbit and hammock are nice gifts. I certainly didn’t need them. But, when I lay in my hammock, I think how excited my children were when I opened the gift and their enthusiasm in helping me hang it. Their love gushes out. So, therefore, I am reminded of God’s love for me and all of humanity. It gushes out in tangible and unseen ways.
I understand why I need to fully celebrate Christmas every year. The holidays provide a much needed break so that I can remember the importance of love. I don’t need a natural disaster or anything else to remind me of God’s love for me and my responsibility to love others. All I really need is Christmas.
Steve Schneeberger is the Executive Director of the Youth Ministry Institute. Beginning in 1985, Steve began a vocation as a youth minister serving churches in Kansas and Florida. He is a 1981 graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, has a business degree from Baker University (1985) and a law degree from the University of Kansas (1988). He is married to Carol, an elementary school teacher and former counselor. They have three children. Steve consults, coaches and teaches Visioning, Organizing and Planning for Success, Budgeting, Helping Youth Over Developmental Hurdles, Beginning Leadership – Mastering the Core Competencies, Conflict Resolution and Expecting Great Behavior for the Youth Ministry Institute.