Michelle Martin

Giving Gifts

January 1, 2012

It’s better to give than to receive, according to the cliché, and it’s a sentiment that we — along with, I suppose, most parents — try to teach our children.

With our older children, at least, the idea that it’s at least as much fun to give as to receive seems to be sinking in. Both of them this year asked to be taken out Christmas shopping, one with money earned through allowances and babysitting, the other with birthday money, and both put hours into choosing gifts for their dad and me, for one another, for aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents.

Soon their lists of people to buy Christmas gifts for will be longer than mine.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that any gifts that came from them were paid for out of our pockets — including the wrapping. This year, all I was on for was transportation, and maybe a few extra dollars to get that something special for someone. They wrapped their own gifts, and even a few of mine.

They also got to experience the fun of seeing someone open a gift that was just what they needed (thanks for the hat, Frank!) — or even just what they didn’t yet know they wanted (Papa loves his calendar with the big squares to write in from Caroline).

That’s not to say they didn’t really enjoy the presents they got, too, and that provided most of the gift-related satisfaction for us as well.

But when it comes to enjoying gifts, Teresa provides the best example. She doesn’t tear through presents, going from one to another, barely stopping to register what she has received. She prefers to unwrap the present, then get someone to open the box and take out its contents. If it’s a toy, she has to play for a while before she moves on. If it’s clothes, she has to try them on right away. Even shoes and socks.

At one point Christmas Eve, she was wearing her new sneakers and winter coat, a new toy cell phone dangling from her arm, while walking her new baby doll in her new doll stroller.

It all sounds like too much, and maybe it is, but I guarantee that the relatives who bought her all of those things experienced as much joy watching her play as they did with any of the gifts they received. I wonder if that’s a bit of what God feels like, giving the whole world the gift of life, the gift of himself. Does it make him happy when we use those gifts well?

It makes me wonder about the three kings and the gifts they brought to Jesus. Gold and frankincense and myrrh aren’t toys, of course, and the infant savior couldn’t really play with them. We’re taught that the gifts given foretold the life and death of Jesus, king, God and suffering savior. (See reflections on Pages 11 and 14.)

But I can’t help thinking that there were other gifts for Jesus when he was a child — special treats, or child-sized tools to help him learn his foster father’s trade. They wouldn’t have been Christmas gifts, of course, but did Jews in first-century Palestine celebrate birthdays?