Written By: Carrie Nantais
Depending upon the type of person you are, Christmas shopping may already be a thing of the past. Maybe you start planning and buying in July so that these final weeks are filled with more home-time than mall-time. I desire to be that person, but ultimately, I’m not. I’m a December 20th shopper. And I write my Christmas cards out on December 23, because typically, that’s when it all comes together. I embrace the ‘Christmas season’ of our faith, thankful that I can elongate appropriate times for giving gifts and making visits.
This year, however, Christmas shopping has taken on a whole new meaning with my 2 ½ year old son aware of the meaning of presents, and desiring more and more. He doesn’t watch commercials on TV or read through the Toys-R-Us newsletter due to our parenting restrictions, but somehow, because of his being alive in this world, he is most definitely aware that he likes toys, and he wants as many as people are willing to give him. Can I blame him?! Who doesn’t like presents? Receiving a gift makes one feel special, acknowledged, and filled with pleasure. But now that grandparents, extended family and close friends want to buy for him, too, what is a parent to do to reign in on the commercialism and materialism so present (and accepted!) at this time of year?
A long time ago, I heard a family friend discuss this issue. It was a simple statement, based on a biblical story. These parents were attempting to clearly tie the Nativity story to the receipt of presents: since the Wise Men each brought one gift to Jesus, so these parents would buy three gifts for each of their children. As far as others giving gifts to their children, they welcomed them but did not have a ‘policy’.
I do like the simplicity of this theory and my husband and I have tried to use it with our son. But I also begin to wonder: isn’t there another way we can give and receive ‘things’ which aren’t wrapped in indestructible cardboard or with neon colors? How can we use this season of Christmas, where so much is given and received, as a way to form our son in the pleasures that extend beyond material gifts, such as engaging actions like service which can still impart those wonderful feelings of making one feel special and acknowledged. My husband and I have been searching high and low for a good service activity to do as a family (challenging to say the least because of our son’s age and relative self-danger level). We are also considering ways to make gifts as much as possible so that we can use our creativity and challenge our skills. Finally, we try to emphasize the importance of giving gifts as the really fun part, because it makes another feel so good. Our son loves to give gifts because we clap and dance and celebrate him for acknowledging another.
I’m sure that many of you thoughtful and just parents out there also have fabulous ideas, rituals and actions that bring alive your desire to make this world a better place! Can you take a minute now to share with all of us gathered in this virtual space so that we can continue to re-claim Christmas not solely as a season of giving gifts, but of giving oneself.
Carrie Nantais is a graduate of Boston College ’00 and Boston College School of Theology and Ministry ’05 and is currently seeking a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at the University of Detroit Mercy. She served as the assistant for social and international ministries for the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus from 2005-2011. Carrie and her husband Dave live in in midtown area of Detroit, Michigan, with their three year old son Liam.