A few years ago, I started making an effort to do my all my Christmas shopping before the start of Advent. I wanted to be free during Advent to focus on spiritual preparation for Christmas, rather than rushing around trying to buy everyone’s gifts at the last minute. As a born procrastinator, this proved to be a difficult task, and I have not yet had a year where I reached my goal. This year, between being in my first trimester of my fourth pregnancy, and being sick with a cold, I barely even got started on the Christmas shopping before Advent began. If you are one of those organized people who has your shopping and wrapping done already, I bow down to you (in a totally non-idolatrous way of course). I hope to be like you one day. But I have a feeling that there are a lot of people out there like me – people who, despite their best intentions, have barely even gotten started shopping.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Christmas gift-buying can feel overwhelming, even onerous and unpleasant (which is not exactly how a charitable act should feel). I have written before about my desire to be more of a minimalist. Ever since I’ve realized the burden of “stuff” in my life, Christmas shopping has been even more difficult. It’s a bit easier to buy things for people who don’t live under the same roof as I do; but even still, I feel a sense of responsibility not to add to other people’s stuff problem as well. It can be a challenge to figure out gifts that are going to be meaningful, and are not going to add more clutter to people’s lives. It’s definitely easier to buy indiscriminately, without thinking much about the true value of the gift for its recipient, or about what will happen to it after the initial excitement of opening it wears off. But when I’ve shopped that way, I always have regretted it later. I believe that gift-giving, especially at Christmas, should be very intentional.
Besides reducing clutter and pre-holiday stress, intentional gift-giving can help focus the giver on the reason they are buying the gifts, and the recipient on the reason they are receiving – that is, love, inspired by the birth of Love Himself. We Christians are giving and receiving in the name of Jesus at Christmas. We can’t let consumerism make us forget that. It’s easy to get stressed out and even resentful when you are in the midst of chaotic Christmas shopping. But, intentionality helps restore the good will, thoughtfulness, and generosity that should be hallmarks of giving. And opening a limited quantity of thoughtful, useful gifts is more conducive to the gratitude we should have as gift recipients. With that in mind, I’ve written some ideas on how to simplify the gift-giving portion of Christmas, so that both giver and receiver will be less distracted by stuff and more free to focus on the Lord.
- Limit the number of gifts. A popular number for children is three, because that is how many gifts baby Jesus received at his birth. I like this idea a lot because it’s inherently a reminder of why we have presents on Christmas at all. I have also heard of people giving one single gift to each of their children. This is sometimes out of necessity, but oftentimes is done on principle. Usually, the more gifts someone receives, the less each one will mean to them, the less appreciative they are, and the less they remember what Christmas is really all about.
- Have a formula to follow. Last year we used “want, need, wear, read” for our children. This gave me direction, and made me think long and hard about each gift I purchased. We will probably do the same this year. I have also seen “play, wear, read, share,” and various other formulations of the same concept. The point is to both limit the number of gifts and give you a simple guide to what gifts to purchase. For some people (me), just limiting the number without having any specific direction about what to get makes the process much more complicated and challenging for me. Should I buy two toys and a book? Should I buy a toy, an outfit, and a book? Should I buy three toys? But the beauty of the formula is that it’s not too limiting. For example, “something to wear” isn’t limited to everyday clothing. It can be something fun like dress up clothes (which is what my kids got last year) or a piece of jewelry. Don’t tell my oldest, but she is probably getting a miraculous medal for the “wear” category this year.
- Cut back on your budget (if you’re not already being thrifty out of necessity). Just because you have $100+ to spend on each person on your list doesn’t mean you have to spend it. If you vow to stay within a smaller budget than what you are used to and can afford, then you have to be more creative and considerate about how you spend your money. It’s difficult to buy indiscriminately on a tight budget.
- Give the gift of an experience. A zoo or museum membership, movie tickets, restaurant gift cards, ballet (gymnastics, karate, sewing, art, etc.) lessons, are all clutter-free gifts that are likely to be appreciated more than something you picked up off a shelf.
- Make all your gifts. When you make a gift for someone, it automatically forces you to be intentional and thoughtful about the gift. Instead of giving your sister in-law another infinity scarf from Old Navy, how about a basket of homemade goodies, which will be consumed, leaving behind no clutter? These goodies can be food or personal care products. There are plenty of ideas and recipes for the latter floating around the internet. For years, I’ve had the intention of making homemade vanilla extract to give out as gifts at Christmas, but I have yet to do it. I told you I was a procrastinator!
I’m sure there are many other ways that people simplify their Christmas and keep the focus where it belongs – on Jesus. I’d love for you to share your secrets for combating the consumerism, stress, and ingratitude that can be a by-product of Christmas present mania.