It’s that time of year when people begin to consider what they can give as appropriate gifts to those they love. We make our lists and hope we will have everything ready and gift-wrapped, with loving messages attached, in good time. How did it all begin? This custom of giving gifts at Christmas is said [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

The season of loving and giving

Anne Abayasekara looks at the origin and true meaning of gift giving

It’s that time of year when people begin to consider what they can give as appropriate gifts to those they love. We make our lists and hope we will have everything ready and gift-wrapped, with loving messages attached, in good time. How did it all begin? This custom of giving gifts at Christmas is said to have its origins in the offering of gifts to the Christ-child by the three kings or wise men from the East, who followed a beckoning star that led them to the most unlikely place they might expect – a manger scene.

“Away in a manger, / No crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus / Laid down His sweet head.”
If the magi, as the three wise men were called, were taken aback, they did not show it, but knelt down to worship and to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the new-born Babe.

Much thought behind them: Volunteers take on the task of packing Christmas hampers

So today, we too first offer our gifts to Christ in many different forms of giving in His name, pausing even for a day to remember those who don’t receive gifts at Christmas or any other season. At our Sunday School Children’s Carol & Gift Service held at the beginning of December, the children leave their gifts at the altar. These are later distributed to children in difficult circumstances, young ones who don’t usually receive gifts, to bring them some Christmas cheer.

It shouldn’t be, for any of us, old or young, a time for getting rid of something we don’t want, but of giving from the heart; not of giving from a surplus, but of giving sacrificially. And all too often, we forget that we are expected to be loving and kind all year round, not just in December.

My daughter in Adelaide is Director of the social outreach arm of her church, known as CareLink. It gives year-round assistance to needy people who are directed to it after being screened by a Govt. agency. There is a roster of volunteers who come regularly to help. CareLink does something special every year at Christmas by the donation of Christmas hampers to people. They ask clients who come from October onwards, whether they would like to receive a hamper. It is not just an easy handout to families in need, for a lot of thought and preparation goes into this.

Details of each family are taken down and the sex and ages of children noted. This year, CareLink will be giving out 45 Christmas hampers to clients, and some to three schools in the neighbourhood, that have identified needy families who would benefit. Sixty-five Christmas Hampers in all, containing items like tea and coffee, Milo, fruit juices, soft drinks, Christmas cake and Christmas puddings, ham, potato chips, milk, shortbread, jelly, bonbons, and Fruit Mince Pies. All this is made possible by the generous donations in cash and in kind made by the church members.

Suitable gifts, according to sex and age, are bought for the children and every present is gift-wrapped. A gift voucher for $10 for fresh food from the supermarket is also put in. In addition, the church has gifted extras like Christmas stockings filled with goodies.
A Christmas card is written out for each family. Last year, a New Testament had been added. This year, a volunteer has written an article about what Christmas means to her and this has been printed as a little brochure that will also go into the hampers. Giving Christmas hampers is an idea which some of our local churches might want to emulate, even on a smaller scale.

There is a lovely story by O. Henry, titled”The Gift of the Magi.” It concerns two young, impecunious, newly-weds who are very much in love. Each yearns to bestow on the other a special Christmas gift, but neither of them has the means to do so. The girl, Della, has skimped and saved as much as she could for months, but all she has collected is one dollar and eight-seven cents. She weeps with frustration until she looks into the mirror and has a sudden flash of inspiration. Della has an unusually beautiful head of hair – long silky tresses that reached below her knees. Her husband, Jim, and she, both take pride in it.

The other prized possession they have is an impressive gold watch that had belonged to Jim’s father and grandfather. Della sheds a tear, but goes determinedly to a place that advertises hair goods of all kinds. She has her long lovely locks cut off and the lady gives her $20 for them. The deed done, she hurries to the shops. She knows what she wants for Jim – a fitting fob chain for his watch which has only an old leather strap. She eventually finds the right one – a platinum fob chain that is perfect. It costs 21 dollars and she goes home happily with 87 cents left in her pocket.

Della awaits Jim’s return from work with some nervousness, wondering whether he would be dismayed by her altered appearance. When he comes home, Jim stares at his adored wife dumbstruck. Space constraints compel me to omit the frills with which O.Henry embellishes his story. When Jim does get his tongue back, he shows Della the set of beautiful, expensive hair combs he has bought for the back and sides of her head – pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims. He had sold his precious gold watch in order to get the money for them.

O. Henry writes: “The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days, let it be said that of all who give and receive gifts, these two were the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi.”

At Christmas we worship anew the Christ who told us we should treat each other the way we would like to be treated; who reminded us that our neighbour was anyone in need of our help in any way, irrespective of race or class or creed; that forgiveness for wrongs done against us is at the heart of His message and that there is no room for holding on to grievances and hurts; that we should be willing to walk the extra mile with another; and that a kindness done to the least important members of society is done as to Him.
”Every time someone reaches out to help another—-

THAT is Christmas.
Every time someone puts anger aside and strives for understanding.
THAT IS Christmas.
Every time people forget their differences and recognize their common
humanity, THAT IS Christmas.”
May this Christmas bring us closer to the spirit of human understanding.

And may the Christ-child empower us to go out into the world as people who are loving and giving all 365 days of the coming year.

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