As far as memory and historical records go, gift-giving has been part of every culture. There is something ingrained in our human nature that prompts us to be generous and give.
In the Scriptures we find classic examples of people bringing gifts to others. The Arabian Queen of Sheba came to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem bringing “camels bearing spices, a large amount of gold and precious stones” (1 Kgs 10:2).
A most popular story in the New Testament about bringing gifts is that of the Magi visiting the newborn Jesus: “Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Mt 2:11).
Why do people give? We could answer this question in many ways.
People give because they love. Others like to please their friends and loved ones. Others give as a sign of gratitude. Others want to honor someone’s dignity. Others give because they expect something in return. I bet you can name a few other reasons.
It is wonderful that Christmas is perceived in our social imaginary as the season of giving. I think it is. After all, it is a time of the year in which we remember God’s most generous gift to humanity: Jesus, the savior.
We must be cautious, nonetheless. The word “season” is used in our society too loosely, often in association with rather arbitrary marketing strategies. Also, the idea of “giving” is often reduced to consumeristic practices.
Catholics and other Christians really need to reclaim the use of those two categories: season and giving. This is the least we can do if we want to preserve the religious dimension of Christmas.
During this time of the year, it is common to hear many Christians raising concerns about a “war on Christmas.”
As I read and listen about what people say in this regard, there seems to be a perception that someone out there — individuals, groups, organizations – is working hard to get rid of Christmas.
There may be some elements of truth about this. We cannot deny the winds of secularization that blow rampant in our society, some with activist impetus.
Yet, I think that if there is a war out there, it is more an internal one: We Christians are not doing enough to celebrate Christmas as a religious time with our families, friends and faith communities.
I want to propose that upon entering the season of Christmas, we become truly intentional in doing something that should be a nonnegotiable for us as believers: Give Jesus.
Here are two simple ways in which we can give Jesus to one another during Christmas, ensuring that the season remains focused on our savior.
One, reclaim Christmas by celebrating this time with your family and friends during the actual season. The liturgical season of Christmas begins on December 25th and ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
It is striking, yet disappointing, that exactly at the time when Christmas begins, many people stop singing carols, throw away their decorations, stop giving gifts, and go somewhat silent about Jesus. Catholics should do better.
Two, while keeping the spirit of generous giving, give something that invites others into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. In other words, give something with explicit religious meaning and focused on Jesus.
Give a Bible, a theology or spirituality book, a religious object, perhaps an icon. Write a letter or a poem about Jesus. Have your children or grandchildren draw something about Jesus’ life. Then share these as gifts.
It’s Christmas, a time to be generous and to celebrate God’s generosity. Give Jesus.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.