So Christmas morning was not a feeding frenzy of ripping open package after package. Instead, we did this. We took turns opening gifts. And if it was a gift from you, you would have been the one to hand it to the recipient. Then we all waited as the gift was opened and properly admired and thank-yous offered. Then it was someone else’s turn. Once again we all waited and watched. Then again. And again. Until the gifts were all opened.
So what did that do? For one thing it made the whole process last much longer. By the time we finished, our neighbors were outside playing with the customary, “Is that all?” expressions on their faces, as something they had looked forward to so long had ended far too quickly. Usually they had more than we did, but it took us twice as long to get our little bit unwrapped, so Christmas lasted much longer for us than for them.
Second it took the focus off “me,” not only on that day but all through the year. We learned to pay attention to the needs and desires of others. We learned to listen to them instead of just preparing our own replies to what they were saying. We learned to think creatively. “Dad can’t hear well enough to hear the words to his favorite CD. What can I do for him?” Answer: find the lyrics online, print them out and wrap them in an appropriate sized box. You might not think it was a gift, but he did.
Which leads us to the most important benefit, it taught us to appreciate the effect of our giving on others. When the gift was opened, we sat, eagerly waiting, not another toy for ourselves, but for their reaction to our gift. When we really hit the jackpot, when sometimes a tear or two fell at our thoughtfulness, it was the best feeling in the world. It took away the “gimme,, gimme,” and taught us what the Lord said so long ago, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
That is what gift swapping should be about, not the grand free-for-all it has become. We heard someone describe their annual gift opening frenzy , a five or ten minute process wherein no one ever knew what anyone else had gotten nor others’ reactions to the gifts they had given, ending it with, “But how do you stop them?”
Well, for one thing, you don’t stand there passing them out one after the other after the other as fast as you can. For another, you talk with your children from the time they can even begin to understand, about doing for others, about how good it feels to make them smile, to know you have given them something they really want, that really means something, even if it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. You teach them about “priceless” gifts. Then you exert the parental control you ought to have and direct the process, reminding them when they are still young what the point is—giving, not getting.
Lucas said to me one time, “My favorite part of Christmas is seeing people’s reactions to the gifts I’ve chosen.” That is what you are aiming at. If we want to make generous Christians out of our children, it takes a little effort, but God expects us to turn them into servants who serve not spoiled ingrates who demand. This is just one way to help that process along.
A generous person will be enriched, and the one who provides water for others will himself be satisfied, Prov 11:25.