We Exchange Gifts, Does that Make us Materialistic?


I’m a loyal Christmas fan who happens to like the full word, “Christmas”, and has absolutely no desire to change it to “Xmas” or “Happy Holidays” to avoid offending those around me. This doesn’t mean I don’t fully recognize that other religions call this same time of year Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, and that I don’t enjoy learning about how other people celebrate. I’m just saying, I like how I grew up, and the simplicity of saying “Merry Christmas” and not having to deal with what is or isn’t offensive to those around me.

But I digress. Getting back to the whole materialism thing…

I’ve been talking to several different people lately who will be the first to tell you they are Scrooges and that they hate Christmas. Their reason? “It’s become all about presents and materialism and we don’t support that.” Most of these people don’t exchange gifts. They feel that to do so just feeds the shallow, materialistic feeding frenzy Christmas has become.

Although I thought I agreed with those I talked to about this problem with the holiday season, another part of me walked away from each conversation feeling for all the world as if I must be one of the most superficial people in the world. For, you see, I love to buy gifts, give gifts, and yes, even get gifts.

I love looking at wrapped presents under a Christmas tree and seeing my name on them and wondering what they are. Sometimes I think I get more of a kick out of that part of Christmas than I do actually opening the presents.

Well, ok, maybe not. I love, and I do mean love, to open presents. I’m one of those neat present openers. I like to take my sweet time… draw out the moment… savor it like a rich cup of specialty coffee; the guessing game continues right up until I see what the gift is. And then, that wonderful thrill of excitement to see that item I wanted, or needed, or the gift I didn’t even know I wanted but that was so perfectly picked out for me.

I also love looking at the pile of all my new stuff. With our current lifestyle, new stuff is rare in this household, but with Christmas, all of a sudden I have new clothes, new towels, new candles, some great books to read, music to listen to… I always feel like this rich, totally loved-on queen when I look at all my new stuff. What a feeling of contentment it brings me!

Now, lest that all makes me sound like the most self-centered woman in all the world, step back and ask yourself if you don’t feel just the tiniest bit the way I feel about all that. You do — you know you do!

Do we feel that way because we are greedy and shallow? Perhaps, in some cases that is why we get that feeling of excitement over our gifts. However, I have another concept for us all to consider.

Maybe we feel that way because it makes us feel loved, as if those closest to us really care about taking time to shop for, wrap, and present us with the perfect gift. I think it goes beyond getting. I think it’s more about feeling loved on.

There is the other side of the coin, too. How many of us love shopping for our loved ones? How many people get up at 3:30 a.m. on Black Friday and stand out in the freezing cold so they can get a great bargain?

I can admit, some of that is because we love a bargain, but deep down, it’s really because we know that if we can buy gifts at bargain prices we can make that holiday budget stretch even further. If we can make it stretch, then we can get more presents for the people we care about. Why would we want to get them more presents? Because it’s fun. It’s downright fun to give.

Don’t you just love the feeling of knowing that you got a gift that is going to make someone’s eyes open wide and have them give out a shout of “Yes! Oh man, I’ve been wanting this so badly! Oh! Thank you!” I get such a kick out of this that I can hardly wait for Christmas morning to arrive.

I drive my husband nuts sometimes, because for months in advance I’ll tell him, “I bought you the perfect gift. I can’t wait for you to open it. Don’t you want to know what it is!?” His response is always, “Stop. Don’t ruin the surprise!”

I get more giddy over the thought of everyone opening the presents I bought them than I do about opening my own presents.

Children especially are fun to buy for. Unlike me, they rip into their presents with a delight that has enough energy to light up the Christmas tree behind them. Watching kids jump up and down with excitement — there’s just nothing like it in the world. Observing them playing with the gifts you got them, later in the day — that brings more contentment than your own pile of presents does.

If I could redo my conversations of the past few weeks over again, I would do more than simply listen and give silent assent to the opinions of my friends when they speak out against gift giving. If I could do it over again, this time I would tell them that I think they are partly right, that I agree Christmas has become, and for some, always will be, only about materialism and getting.

But for others of us, it’s so much more. It’s about celebrations and families. It’s about times with old friends and taking trips down memory lane over eggnog. It’s the coziness of the lights turned off and the room lit up with Christmas lights from the tree.

Christmas Eve is about watching your children open that one present and then leaving the cookies and milk out for the Santa you all pretend exists, because, what would Christmas be without him? It’s about Christmas morning as a family and then traveling later in the day to see those you love, enveloped by warmth and love as you greet each other.

Christmas is about traditions and memories. It’s about the passion of giving. We don’t give because we’re shallow and materialistic, we give because we want to show how much we love each other, because we get true delight in giving.

Christmas is a celebration of love, which is why we came to celebrate Christmas in the first place.

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