During the four and one-half years my family lived in South America, we experienced Christmases that were very different from any Christmas we had celebrated in the United States.
For one thing, Christmas in that hemisphere occurs during the middle of the summer, so in many places Christmas trees are not available. Even where there are trees, they are more like poles with a few limbs sticking out than the bushy pines we were used to. All in all, Christmases there were very simple compared to what we usually experienced. Because of the economic problems among many people, the commercial aspect of the holiday was down-played.
We returned home to the United States from our South America assignment right at Christmastime. Going into the stores we saw a multitude of items for sale—watches, calculators, television games, snowmobiles, stereos, electronic baseball, talking dolls, model airplanes, garage door openers, video recorders, microwave ovens, and so forth. This sudden shift of emphasis was difficult to adjust to.
The question was obvious: “What is Christmas?” In dividing up the word Christmas we get Christ and mas. In Spanish the word mas means more. It seemed to us that perhaps to some people Christmas meant mas y mas y mas. The “Christ” part of it and the real gift of giving seemed to have been forgotten.
The true spirit of what Christmas is all about—commemorating the birth of Jesus and enjoying the spirit of giving and loving and caring for one another—seemed to be drowned, at least for us, in the hustle-bustle. We felt great pressure to go and buy gifts for others, perhaps more out of obligation than in the true spirit of giving.
During this period of adjustment, the following principles from the revelations weighed heavily upon our minds.
“He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack.” (Prov. 28:27; italics added.)
“Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls.” (D&C 56:16; italics added.)
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
“Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36–37; italics added.)
“I am the good shepherd: The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11; italics added.)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” (John 3:16; italics added.)
“Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you.” (Matt. 20:4; italics added.)
“Freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10:8; italics added.)
“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35; italics added.)
“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” (Luke 12:48; italics added.)
Giving Cheerfully and Not Grudgingly
“Let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7; italics added.)
“If a man … giveth a gift … [and] doeth it grudgingly; … it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift.” (Moro. 7:8; italics added.)
These teachings from the Lord seem to indicate that there really is a true spirit of giving and that the greatest gifts, the gifts of most value, are gifts of time or means or talent. In a very personal way, the greatest gift is a giving of self.
Family Guidelines for Giving
With these ideas in mind, we asked ourselves how we could put the true spirit of giving into Christmas (or birthdays) more than we normally did. We decided to use the following guidelines.
1. Few, if any, gifts may be purchased.
2. Most gifts must be made using your own hands or given from your own time.
3. Few, if any, parts for the gifts may be purchased. You must improvise.
4. You must give of your own time, talents, and self, really immersing yourself in the needs of the receiver.
This has been a great experience for our family. We have found that in following such rules we think more deeply about, even pray about the person to determine what his real needs and wants are. Working on a gift of real meaning many months before birthdays or Christmases arrive helps us internalize the spirit of giving. This method has also helped us realize that we can be more self-sufficient than we thought.
I remember one time when I was helping my eight-year-old son make a gift for his mother. He had determined to make a key holder from a piece of board. Following the guidelines of not purchasing anything, we found an old piece of wood. It took about three times longer than normal to sand it down, as it was not a quality piece of wood.
When it came time to paint, we found we didn’t have a paintbrush. So, we took some pieces of straw and bamboo from an old basket and made our own. I wondered whether it really would look that nice when finished, but to our surprise, the bamboo and straw together worked as well as any paintbrush I had ever used.
I wanted to buy the hooks needed to hold the keys, but my son reminded me that we couldn’t do that. We ended up using some headless nails which we patiently shaped with great love and dedication. They were shaped into hooks as beautiful as any that could have been purchased at the store. When it was all finished it really was a gift from our hearts to Mom.
One of my other children painted a rock with a funny saying on it that was especially meant for another member of the family. Another son used straw from an old basket and lovingly made an attractive llama that today is a family keepsake. These kinds of gifts come from the workmanship of our own hands. It’s amazing that, when we put our minds to it, we can create something by using wood, metal, glass, cardboard, paper, or cloth—and suddenly the temporal gift has great meaning because it represents the love of the giver. It is more than a present; it is a gift of self.
Gift Certificates to Neighbors
There are other kinds of gifts that we give to neighbors and friends. We call them family gift certificates. On a piece of paper we draw up a certificate that lists the person’s name and indicates a service to be given. Some of the certificates show the following:
—one free shoveling of snow from your driveway
—one free lawn-mowing job
—one free garage cleaning
—a free car wash
—a free piano recital from one of our children
—two free loaves of bread (not from Mom, but from the children)
—two hours of repair work for a widow
—a free fireside to teach the gospel
Once again, these personal kinds of gifts seem to carry extra meaning.
Gift Certificates to Family Members
These same kinds of gift certificates have been given to family members. We give such things as the following:
—make your bed seven times (exchanged between the children)
—do the dishes three times at any time you want to redeem the certificate
—one hour at the piano with Dad singing
—one mountain trip
—clean the garage for you
—six one-hour periods alone with Mom or Dad
—six one-hour times of peace and harmony (offered to Dad and Mom)
—twelve letters during twelve months (offered to a distant mother)
All in all, it seems that if a real attempt is made to give according to the Spirit of the Lord and the scriptural passages mentioned earlier, you find yourself giving more of yourself, thinking more of the receiver, expressing love from your soul, praying to the Lord for help in giving a gift that would be acceptable, and feeling a tremendous sense of self-fulfillment in having given in that manner.
As we practice the true spirit of giving, we will grow closer to the Lord. Elder David O. McKay once said “that man is most truly great who is most Christlike.
“What you sincerely think in your heart of Christ will determine what you are, will largely determine what your acts will be. …
“By choosing [Jesus Christ] as our ideal, we create within ourselves a desire to be like him, to have fellowship with him.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, pp. 93, 98.)
May we emulate more fully the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who taught us the true spirit of giving and loving. May we focus on Christmas and giving—not on more and more things, but on the spirit of Christ.
Let’s Talk About It
After reading “A Christmas Made at Home,” you may want to consider the following questions and ideas.
1. Does focusing too heavily on purchasing gifts at Christmastime detract from your enjoying the real spirit of the season?
2. What are some ways you can simplify your gift-giving and deepen its significance this year?
3. What are some gifts of service you could offer to family and loved ones?
4. During his earthly ministry, what kinds of gifts did Jesus Christ give to those around him?