Every year, we watch ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ and decry the commercialization of Christmas. But how do we take the commercial out of Christmas?
Similar to my earlier suggestions about finding meaning, the way to make Christmas less commercial might not lie in eliminating gift giving, but in transforming the way we think about it.
When we think about giving as filling a list of demands or an entitlement, we miss the opportunity that it could provide–the chance to practice empathy. Elder Henry B. Eyring gave a talk almost 20 years ago about gift giving. He suggested three ways we can become better givers:
1. Practice Empathy. Really think about the person you are giving to–how they feel, what is going on in their life, what they need. What people seem to need more than anything is to know that someone understands them and cares. It’s not what you give, it’s why.
2. Give Freely. Shift your focus from the exchange to the look that you’ll see on the other person’s face. Your only objective should be their happiness.
3. Count Your Sacrifice a Bargain. The principle of sacrifice is as old as the bible, but has become something we do only when necessary. This is not to say that we should make Christmas giving a financial hardship, but we should cultivate the type of attitude that makes the practice meaningful: “[a]nyone can feel deprived as they sacrifice, and then let the person who gets a gift know it. But only an expert can let you sense that his sacrifice brings him joy because it blesses you.”
As we implement these three suggestions, we can become more like the best gift givers: “God the Father gave his Son, and Jesus Christ gave us the Atonement, gifts of unfathomable depth and value for us.” Note Eyring’s three suggestions in the Atonement: (1) he felt what we feel–“surely he hath bourne our griefs,” (2) he freely made a sacrifice, and (3) he finds joy in His gift–“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7.)
There is another great illustration of this principle in the last chapter of the Gospel of John where John decided to go fishing and several of the Apostles and other disciples went with him. After fishing all night with no success, they were certainly cold, tired, frustrated, and hungry. The resurrected Savior appeared on the shore and told them, as he had so many years ago, to cast the nets on the other side of the ship. They pulled in so many fish that they were unable to draw it. “As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.” This was the resurrected Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, with power to light and extinguish the stars, to command both the heavens and the earth! And yet, when He saw their suffering, he made them . . . breakfast. That is the perfect simplicity of a perfect gift from the perfect Giver. This is Christmas giving at it’s finest!
One of the sure signs of a person who has accepted the gift of the Savior’s atonement is a willingness to give. The process of cleansing our lives seems to make us more sensitive, more generous, more pleased to share what means so much to us. I suppose that’s why the Savior used an example of gift-giving in describing who would finally come home to him:
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. …
“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:34–36, 40.)
And that, I suppose, is the nicest effect of receiving great gifts: it makes us want to give, and give well. I’ve been blessed all my life by such gifts. I acknowledge that.
. . .
I hope that each of us this Christmas season will be touched by the feelings of others and give freely, without compulsion or expectation of gain. I hope we experience the joy of sacrifice, of giving something of ourselves. If we do so, we will learn this final lesson about giving—that those gifts are truly great which are given simply for the joy they bring to another heart.
–Henry B. Eyring
Think about these things this year as you ask yourself: “what shall I give?” Maybe we can use Christmas to become one of the things the Savior is–a giver of good gifts.