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.
Christmases there were simple compared to what we usually experienced. Because of the economic situations of many people, the commercial aspect of the holiday was downplayed.
We returned home to the United States from our South America assignment right at Christmastime. Going into the stores, we saw hundreds of items for sale—games, watches, stereos, televisions, snowmobiles, talking dolls, model airplanes, 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 to some people Christmas meant mas y mas y mas (“more and more and more”). The “Christ” part of it and the real gift of giving seemed to have been forgotten.
What the true spirit of Christmas is all about—commemorating Jesus’ birth and enjoying the spirit of giving, loving, and caring for one another—seemed to be drowned out, at least for us, in the hustle and bustle. We felt great pressure to buy gifts for others, perhaps more out of obligation than in the true spirit of giving.
We asked ourselves how we could put the true spirit of giving into Christmas (and birthdays) more than we normally did. We decided to use the following guidelines:
Few, if any, gifts may be purchased.
Most gifts must be made using your own hands or given from your own time.
Few, if any, parts for the gifts may be purchased. You must improvise.
You must give of your own time, talents, and self, 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 or her real needs and wants are. Working on a meaningful gift many months before birthdays or Christmas 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 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 it, we realized 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 that we patiently shaped with great love and dedication. They were shaped into hooks as beautiful as any that we could have purchased at a store. When it was all finished, it was a gift from our hearts to Mom.
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 a driveway
One free lawn-mowing job
One free garage cleaning
One free car wash
One 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
One free fireside to teach the gospel
Again, these personal kinds of gifts carry extra meaning.
We give these same kinds of gift certificates to family members, including the following:
Make your bed seven times (exchanged among 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, one per month, for a year (offered to a distant relative)
If you try to give according to the Spirit of the Lord and the scriptures (see sidebar), you will 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. 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.
The following teachings from the Lord indicate that there really is a true spirit of giving and that the greatest gifts, the gifts of most value, are gifts of time, means, or talent. The greatest gift is a giving of self.
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11; emphasis added).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16; emphasis added).
“Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you” (Matt. 20:4; emphasis added).
“Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8; emphasis added).
“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35; emphasis added).
“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48; emphasis added).
Giving Cheerfully, Not Grudgingly
“Let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7; emphasis 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; emphasis added).