If I ruled the world, simplifying Christmas would be on my to-do list.
After all, if Jesus is the reason for the season, how on earth has the birth of our Savior born among animals been morphed into the biggest buying season of the year? Many forget that the Son of God came to us wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger for a reason. God did not forget to make reservations at the inn. No, it was part of the plan. From start to finish, Jesus taught us to live in the world and not be of the world. Gift giving came as a reflection of the gift of God’s only begotten son. So, we in turn show our love for others and give.
I’m not perfect at this, but I do try to bring Jesus into the gifts wherever possible. At the very least, I try to make them practical and not something that is wasteful or frivolous. Through the years, I have developed some favorite ways to give. I will share them with you and I encourage you to also share your favorites in the comment section below.
The Mass is our most powerful prayer, so how about giving that as a gift? Most parishes offer this usually for a small stipend. There are a large number of religious orders that offer a Christmas novena of Masses or enrollment in a year of Masses. Just do a search for Catholic Mass enrollments. One of my favorites is the Passionists, which offer cards and also perpetual enrollment folders. Whenever I volunteer as a religious education teacher during the year, I enroll every student for Christmas.
Give to Charity
How many families still draw names or have gift exchanges after everyone is married with families of their own? Often figuring out what to get everyone is a challenge. In my husband’s family, we were still exchanging gifts until a few years ago. Now, instead, we all send donations to the God’s Child Project in Guatemala. One of my sons has been the social service director there for three years and I visited the program last summer. Seeing people living in plastic and wood houses on the edge of garbage dumps, and my experience holding malnourished babies and handing out vegetables to young mothers, further impressed upon me the value of giving to the poor. Here was the clue for us: When it’s hard to figure out what to get someone, it’s because they don’t need anything. Give where it is needed.
Enroll in the Miraculous Medal
This is a gift you can’t afford NOT to give. It is the second gift I give to my religious education students. Earlier in the year, I tell them the story of the Miraculous Medal and teach them the prayer: “Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” They learn of all the graces that will pour down on them as golden rays from heaven and the blessings of wearing the medal.
Membership is 25 cents a year. Seriously. Anyone living or deceased, including non-Catholics, may be enrolled. A member shares in three novenas of Masses and 30 additional Masses every month–a total of 57 Masses monthly. Members also share in other Masses offered for them and in the daily prayers and Masses of the Vincentian community in the western United States. If you enroll twelve or more people, you are considered a promoter and share in a papal blessing.
Books can reach deep into minds and hearts. Consider giving a child a religious catalog (don’t forget to establish a price limit), and then let him or her pick out a gift or book. If you want a spouse or child to read a book you think would inspire them but they are reluctant, consider asking them to read it for your Christmas present.
The third present I give my religious education students is something for their parents: my book Catholic Truths for Our Children. It’s a guide to inspire and help parents to know and pass on the faith. Like all my books, I pray for those who receive them every day at Mass. I believe teaching religious education is the mission field, where families often know and practice so very little. Consider giving something spiritual to the parents that might draw them deeper into the faith.
An Hour of Adoration
What is of greater eternal value: a new scarf and mittens, or an hour of prayer at church before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? Answer: the one that is free. Give a card explaining you spent an hour in prayer for them. The nice thing about this gift is that you benefit too, by spending an hour with Jesus.
Inspirational Music and Videos
Music can lift the soul and play in the heart long after the CD player has been turned off. Of course, one must choose carefully and discern if the recipient will actually use it. The same with videos. But if a CD or DVD has inspired you, consider spreading it around through gifts.
With the suggestions above, there are plenty of ways to give spiritual gifts to people who are uninterested in religion. I don’t always tell people I enrolled them for Masses or with the Miraculous Medal, or even that I prayed for them in adoration if I think they might find it irritating. Still, I know that the benefits will still be there.
It’s likely that we will buy gifts in addition to giving those that are spiritually connected. I don’t like to spend money wastefully so I will look for something that fills a need and will be appreciated. Here are a few suggestions.
Give a certificate for a family portrait or put together a photo album for family members. One year, I told a friend I was taking her kids bowling for a homeschool gym class day. Before we went, I had made an appointment at a department store for a family portrait. What a fun surprise it was to hand her a portrait of her family as a Christmas present.
If you are talented in the craft department, the list is endless. If you are a crafstman, i.e. furniture maker, seamstress, quilter, etc., consider giving a little extra with your presents. God has given us all many talents. Consider praying daily for everyone who receives the fruits your own gifts from God.
Make a dinner and offer to deliver it after the New Year to give someone a nice break. Wrap up a box of baked goods. Give gift certificates to a favorite restaurant.
Gift cards for gas, groceries, haircuts or other necessary expense.
Offer to babysit.
Fancy teas and coffees.
Gift certificate to full-service car washes.
Giving to others can be rewarding. It feels good to make someone happy and receive his or her appreciation. So, consider one more gift–one that you might never receive thanks for in this world. Think of ways to give a pure gift in which there’s nothing in it for you–it’s all for the love of God. For instance, take one of the gifts given to you–one you actually like– and donate it. There are lots of charities to choose from. Or throughout Advent, make little sacrifices, offer up extra prayers for others, or be a Secret Santa to someone–and keep it secret!
The material trappings of Christmas can be fun; after all, God made the material world too. We just don’t want all the stuff to get in the way of the best part of Christmas: the gift of Jesus and the message of love he gave us by being born in a manger.