Up until the 18th century gifts were not given at Christmas. Instead, the entire celebration was based upon feasts given by landowners to their workers to mark the end of the harvest period. It was an agrarian economy, not a market economy, so the host would provide fresh meat and plenty of drink in a public space. This resulted in a lot of over-indulging (especially of the drink), and was highly disapproved of by the Church! (Source: Joseph Walchelder, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23788118
Even after the Industrial Revolution in the later part of the 18th century, Christmas was not seen as a gift-giving holiday. Because the workers were now earning money instead of being given a place to stay and something to eat, the celebration started turning to private family gatherings instead of public ones. The idea of giving gifts was very limited. Most people still did not have a lot of money, so toys were not common. Instead, children would leave out stockings in the hopes that “Father Christmas” would leave some fruit or the like in the toe.
It wasn’t until 1798 that the idea of giving children “toys” came up. Maria and Richard Edgeworth wrote a book called “Practical Education”, suggesting that a toy would be a good tool to stimulate a child’s creativity and values. At Christmas, a child might receive a single toy – not the multiple presents that we think of today!
There were letters to the editor in the early 1830’s decrying the “commercialization of Christmas”, with increased advertising to get people to buy “the perfect gift for the one you love!” Many churches refused to celebrate Christmas at all, since there was no mention of Dec. 25th in the Bible, and some states even made it illegal.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Several years ago I was walking through Walmart and came upon a selection of Easter baskets. There was one that particularly bothered me – it was a basket filled with toy guns, soldiers, and other war paraphernalia. All wrapped up in cellophane, in a basket, just waiting for someone to come and buy and to spread the message of Jesus!
Is it appropriate to celebrate the passion of the Prince of Peace with war toys?
This caused me to look at my own celebration of Easter, and of Christmas. I began to ask myself, “Do the gifts that I give reflect what this season is truly about? The toys, the magazines, the DVD’s – are they in line with what Jesus would want?”
I began to give more thought to the presents I gave to others, and what I would ask for. Violent video games, movies, weapons – those were the first things to be reconsidered. Then I considered the other gifts – did they emphasize something positive and useful, or were they based upon superficial values and worldly accumulation?
“Oh, but that’s what the kids want!” some might cry. That is true – but we are not called by God to make our kids happy. We are called to make them faithful! Getting what you “want” may not be the best!
It takes more effort to find the right gift, but that shouldn’t stop us. Take time to ask, “What would encourage this person, but also honor Jesus?” For instance, the art set that we got for our daughter years ago she still uses today, and has made many beautiful drawings and paintings. The football given to my sister brought her hours of fun with friends and family. And my son still loves Legos – and creates masterpieces!
As a Christian, look to see if what you are giving honors God and honors the person. After all, it’s HIS birthday celebration, not ours!
- Rev. Bill