Like many others, our family has been steeped in the tradition and value of giving over many generations. I can remember reading a letter from my great-grandmother who thanked her daughter for the $5 she sent to help them out – a princely sum in the 1930’s. Because so many struggled in those days, even the smallest amount was welcome; sharing what one had was a common practice on the prairies.
Christmas has become the time for really serious giving, from expensive presents for loved ones to food and cash donations for the less fortunate. Why do we give? Well, I give for a variety of reasons: I’m grateful for having plenty for me and plenty to share; I love the feeling I get when I give; I hope to make life a bit easier for those I give to, and I believe it’s the right thing to do.
One other thing that’s wonderful about giving is being reminded that everyone has a need to give, even those who are homeless or are in some kind of need. For example, one street person who was grateful for the money I gave him blessed me and asked if he could give me a hug. Being a lover of hugs, I think I got the best of that exchange! But I wonder what would have happened if I’d refused his gift of a hug? There are times when gracious receiving is the best kind of giving.
A young friend of mine whose family came as refugees told me a couple of days ago that he wanted to buy me a Christmas present, but that he would have to save up because his parents were having some difficulties. My first thought was to tell him not to buy me anything. Fortunately, before I said anything, I remembered his talent for drawing. I also remembered how I had treasured all my son’s homemade gifts when he was a child. So I told him that I treasured homemade gifts far more than anything he might buy in the store. He seemed just delighted with that idea and his opportunity to give to me.
In this age of overwhelming commercialism, it’s easy to forget that the most important gift to others is often ourselves and our time. My grandmother and I used to exchange long wish lists every Christmas. At the bottom of her list was the note: Of course, I really don’t need anything except some of your undivided attention. Hmm. How much more precious a gift is there than the gift of self?
The next time I wonder if I have enough in my budget to afford Christmas, please remind me that giving and receiving is all about communicating what’s in our hearts. Everyone can afford to give that and everyone deserves to receive it. May the joys of giving and receiving fill you up and overflow to all those you touch and whose lives touch you!