Recently, the History Channel had a program entitled "The Real Story of Christmas." Overall, it was a fair representation of how the Christmas Story became what we now experience as the Christmas holiday. The latter having become one of several, which coincide with the last week or so of December.
The dualism we experience in all this has roots in a long ago decision to declare Dec. 25 as the birth date of Jesus Christ. This day was already being widely celebrated by various "pagan" peoples, most likely because of its association with the shortest day of the year and first day of winter. The result of that decision was the development of what in truth are two different things celebrated on the same day: Christ Mass Day and the Christmas holiday.
To be fair, perhaps Christians should simply celebrate Christmas Eve as the traditional day of Christ's birth and accept the Christmas holiday for what it is, whatever that is. By-the-by, many local churches celebrate Christmas Eve, you can look it up.
The root of gift giving supposedly is in the gifts brought to the young child Jesus by wise men. Out of this came the tradition of honoring Him by giving a gift of oneself to someone you loved. My understanding of what was related by the History Channel is that gift giving became commercialized in this country around the Civil War, and exploded into the mess we have today in the boom years following World War II.
What this limited observer of life sees today is not gift giving, but shopping. Shopping, I am persuaded, is one of the reasons God created women. Men may give gifts. They sometimes even buy it themselves. Only the foolish go in where angels dare not shop.
I have two "rules" in buying gifts:
* First, if I give a gift it seems to me it should be something, which has been thought out, something I just want to give. If there is anyone in my life to whom I must prove my love with a gift, I am of all men most miserable, and
* Second, something which bothers me is the whole idea of "what do you/I want?" This, it seems to me, is irrelevant. If I want it, why don't I just get one? If I want it and can't afford it, do I need it?
This year, in the one and only gift I actually purchased myself and gave, I went against both of my "rules." (For the record, Kay did a lot of shopping for gifts "we" gave).
At the request of the local Celebrate Recovery group I have for several years been corresponding with a young man currently confined to an Indiana correctional facility. Officially I'm his "sponsor," exactly what that means I am still not clear. I write to him mostly in response to his letters to me. As he knows I am totally powerless to affect his situation, I take what he writes as true.
Recently, this young man asked me for a gift. Such a request is probably not something encouraged by the program in which we're engaged. But, knowing something about his circumstances, it is unlikely anyone else in his life would hunt down such an item as he requested. What he wanted was a particular edition of the King James Bible.
This year I gave a gift the Magi might have approved. There is one other on my agenda, but that's next week's blog.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.