I’m not much of one for giving gifts. I receive no great delight in the act of procuring or receiving them—especially not the shopping bit. If you find the “love language” system helpful, gifts are not mine.
I am also in agreement with the premise of Buy Nothing Christmas, which thinks that the spectacle of orgiastic consumerism during December sums up so much of what is patently wrong with our culture. We buy more and more, and it means less and less. And if this economic crisis we are currently waking up to is teaching us anything—Lord please let it be—it’s that building an economy on buying lots of crap we don’t need is fundamentally unsound.
But the anti-consumer-Christmas crowd tends towards shrillness rather quickly, and I fear that they’ve lost a bit of nuance in the midst of their crusading. What gets lost in translation is that the consumerism they are opposing has as much to do with actual gift-giving as the Pope and Richard Dawkins attending Easter Mass (which I would pay to see).
I want to defend gift-giving for a few reasons, one of which is theological. At root, gift-giving can be seen a mode of giving thanks to the One who has created the world and given us life as pure, unadulterated gift. If the universe and life itself are gifts that spring forth from the superabundant love of God, then gift-giving is a participation in the fundamental reality of the cosmos.
We might also consider the Gospel, which proclaims that God was not finished with the giving of Creation, but rather that he in some way gave himself to his Creation as the God-man Jesus of Nazareth. Salvation for those who put their trust in Christ is but the culmination of a stunning litany of gifts.
Furthermore, the giving and receiving of gifts is a fundamental human activity that has governed economic relationships for most people throughout history. They would never be able to comprehend the ideas of contract, law and obligation that govern our economic relationships today. If they could, they would deplore them as dehumanizing and relationship-destroying. They would be right.
Let us then not grow weary with giving good gifts to one another merely because the notion has been twisted and abused by our corporate overlords. It might help to recall that a gift is something that cannot be purchased. To be sure, a gift may involve a monetary transaction, but this is not the gift. The gift is in giving freely of ourselves to those that we love. It aligns us with the grain of the universe, even if it goes against the grain of society.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.