by Jewelle Mendoza-Reyes
During my childhood, I grew up in a tradition of receiving a gift from “Santa Claus.” I was probably six when my mom and my sisters started conniving to make me believe that Santa Claus will drop by our place to leave my gift while we were all out for the Christmas Eve mass. I commend them for their efforts to make it more believable like setting up props. One time, upon arrival from the church, I remember finding a half-filled glass of soda left on our dinner table. And so I innocently thought, “Maybe Santa got thirsty along the way!”
I was in my 6th grade when they finally revealed the truth about the jolly white-bearded man dressed in a red suit. Being the youngest of four, I am the last recipient of this family custom. I would say that the tradition, which ran for six long years, was part of the fun of my childhood and growing up!
As I grew older and had a job, I developed a personal gift-giving tradition. As early as September, I would start buying Christmas gifts for family, colleagues, and friends. Perhaps like Santa, I keep a loooong list of my giftees: from guards, messengers, telephone operators, office staff, warehouse personnel to managers; from community leaders to ministry friends; from parents, siblings, in-laws to youngest grandchildren. I have to keep my list in an Excel sheet for easy monitoring!
Gift-giving at Christmas time has become our inevitable gesture. It’s like our second nature! Come to think of it, we give a gift to at least one person year after year. Regardless of the size or value, we will always have something to hand to someone.
The tradition of gift-giving for us Catholics can be traced back to the Feast of the Epiphany, with the magi coming to worship the newborn King at Bethlehem. They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Perhaps that is why it works as the ultimate deadline for some Filipino Catholics when they are far behind their gift-giving.
Eventually, secularization commercialized this religious origin. Thus, the hustle and bustle of shopping malls and bazaars as early as November. People are running from store to store looking for the perfect gift. Along with the Christmas rush, anxiety about what to buy heightens.
In the face of all the consumerism around us, have we ever wondered why we actually give gifts? Is it because of the pressure of exchanging gifts at Christmas parties? Is it because of the 13th month pay giving you extra cash to finally buy a loved one a gift on his wish list? Is it to impress someone with the value of our gift? Is it to return a favor? Is it an expression of gratitude to someone? Or is it because you’ve found a much deeper sense of doing it?
Every year, my mother can’t help but ask me why I would buy a lot of gifts. Over the course of those years, and as my faith evolved, I figured that the deepest and most powerful reason for me is the three letters: J-O-Y.
It gives so much delight to give presents to others. Unreciprocated or not, it doesn’t really matter as the giving is joy in itself. But where does this joy spring from? It is the joy of the wonderful gift of Jesus. The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we celebrate at Christmas, is the beginning of God’s plan of salvation. The prophecies of a Savior became flesh on that one holy night. God unconditionally gave us the greatest gift of His only Son. There is no gift greater than His son whom God sent to dwell among us and lay down his life for us.
This 2020, we will celebrate Christmas differently. Our gift-giving tradition will be bounded by physical, health, financial and other reasons caused by the pandemic. Perhaps this is an opportune time for us to take a moment to dig deeper into our giving. What is the underlying reason for our Christmas gift-giving in the context of our faith?
An author, Therese Mueller, in her pamphlet Family Life in Christ, has this to say about the giving of gifts:
As far as Christmas gifts are concerned, let us emphasize their true meaning, now so generally forgotten: overpowered by God's generosity in giving His only-begotten Son as the Redeemer of mankind, Christians feel urged to imitate in a limited manner God's great love and liberality by spreading happiness among relatives and friends through gifts. Only if our gifts — small though they be — are borne along on a wave of true charity will they be worthy to lie beside the crib, which represents the real Gift, the Gift of all gifts, without which we should still be sitting in darkness and in the slavery of Sin.
The next time we do Christmas gift-giving, may we take inspiration from this personal moment of pondering. May it bring a profound spirit behind our efforts to give gifts. May it give this tradition a deeper sincerity and much greater faith-based purpose.