Like many of our traditions at Christmas it is difficult to know exactly how or where they began. However we often have glimpses that give us some interesting clues as to the origins of many of our current Christmas practices. The question for Christians is less about the origins of the practices but how do they help us to know more fully the God we worship? How do we utilize the traditions to convey what my magnet on my car says: “The reason for the Season is Jesus” or the popular “Keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas.”
Today I share some insight into gift giving. For Christians, gift giving reminds of the great gift of love in the life and grace of Jesus Christ. Every gift given and received should remind us of John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that God gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him might have everlasting life.”
It also reminds us of the gifts of the magi as they sought out the Christ child.
-Frankincense was perfume used in worship.
-God was associated with Kings and royalty.
-Myrrh was a perfume that was used in embalming. It was expensive but also reminds us of why Jesus came.
Finally, we are reminded that we as Christians need to be generous. One of the best examples of this comes from a few of our larger United Methodist churches who ask their congregations to donate as much to a mission they are involved in as they spend on their own gifts. Over the years Ginghamsburg UMC and Church of the Resurrection have raised millions to fight hunger and dig clean wells for families around the world. People in these churches often share how much more meaningful that gift is then anything they received or gave that was material in nature.
Gift giving in our Christmas traditions have not always been about the religious significance. Gift giving was an old tradition in many cultures outside of the Christian experience. Some show signs how giving has been associated with Saturnalia, a raucous Roman festival honoring the god of agriculture, Saturn. Gifts given to one another, the poor and to the gods are a part of many religions.
The modern gift giving with the presents in stockings, shoes or under trees really took off in the 1800s. Many also credit the Charles Dickens novel and Saint Nicholas in the rise of gift-giving popularity.