I don’t know what possessed me to buy it. I was in a store and I saw this kind of rolodex that cataloged all the Native Americans of North America. It contained the Pima Indians which is a tribe that Brandon and I worked with for many years. I saw it and bought it thinking that it was a perfect Christmas gift for Brandon. Had I put more thought into it, I would have realized that he had absolutely no use for American Indian flashcards. We had just started dating at the time so he had to act really excited to receive the gift but, as the years have passed, we laugh about how off my gift-giving skills were with this purchase.
We’re all guilty of it: buying gifts for others that we should probably have put more thought into.
I always find myself feeling a little irked when I receive a gift that is going to go directly to the give-away box. I just hate the thought of someone wasting their time and money buying something for me that I will never use. Like a candle or some flowery smelling body spray. I cannot appreciate gifts such as these. I can (and do) appreciate that person’s effort but I can’t help but be a little hurt that they don’t know me well enough to know that perfume makes me queasy and a little sad that they will not be able to use the money they spent on something more worthwhile.
That being said, I do love to receive thoughtful and purposeful gifts. My birthday was just this past week and I received a set of Pyrex baking dishes from a friend. I was so touched because months ago I had admired her set of baking dishes and mentioned that I was lacking this in my kitchen. She remembered. In my opinion, this fulfilled the two traits that make a good gift: 1) she cares enough to listen to me when we’re shooting the breeze and remember what we talk about; 2) she gave me something that will get plenty of use. I’m sure she didn’t think that some bakeware was really that special of a gift but to me it was.
It was difficult for me to articulate why I have always felt this way about gifts until a few years ago when Brandon showed me this video: Advent Conspiracy. It helps refocus our proprieties during Advent from consumerism to purposeful giving. As I was watching it, in my head I kept saying, “Yes! This is it! This is why useless gifts have always bothered me!” Not because I’m ungrateful and not because I just always want to get exactly what I want, but because that money could have gone to a program that sets up clean water in Africa, to a local homeless shelter, to getting a needed item listed on the Angel tree at church, even to buying a turkey that’s a little more expensive for the Christmas feast because it’s from a local farm. I know that money is scarce and I just wish that people that spent it on me would either really spend it on me well or just buy me a Dr. Pepper and donate the rest to the school that I work for.
Because of this video and because money is pretty tight around here, our gift-buying strategies have changed. We try to really put thought into what we give people and to make it a gift that is something that requires us to share our time. For my friend’s birthday I bought her lunch from her favorite restaurant and brought it to her at work; Olivia and I spent her lunch break with her chatting about which wedding dress she should get. For Christmas we are buying my mom tickets to see Harry Potter at the IMAX. Next time they’re in town, my mom, my dad, and I will go to the movies (leaving Olivia with Brandon for some daddy time) which we haven’t done since high school but was always one of our favorite things to do. Last Christmas, since the list of my aunts and uncles and cousins is so long, buying Christmas gifts for each one of them was pretty daunting. Instead of buying a bunch of cheap, little, useless do-das, we spent the money on designing and printing our family Christmas card and I baked an enormous amount of Mexican wedding cookies for everyone (which were a big hit). Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty of giving random gift certificates and ugly jewelry but this new way of gift-giving has really worked for us and people seem to enjoy it more.
I think gift-giving is important and can show a person how much we appreciate them or how much we love them but I think a lot of times we can get so wrapped up in crossing people off the buy-a-gift list that we end up wasting time and money on toys kids will never play with and dog figurines that will just collect dust on a random shelf. That time could go toward calling that person and catching up with them or that money could go to buying that homeless man on the corner a good, warm coat.
My point is, if I’m going to give a gift, I want it to be a worthwhile gift. A purposeful gift. I always have to chuckle when I think of the gifts the magi brought Jesus. There Jesus was, a newborn, hanging out with Mary and Joseph and some barn animals, and here come the magi with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Very symbolic gifts. Gifts for a Priest, Prophet, and King. But in the end, not very practical for an infant. I suspect the real gift was their effort and worship. Their travel from miles and miles away because Jesus was that important to spend the time and energy to find Him. That relationship was what was important. We could learn from that.