Fighting the holiday gift game

I still remember my sister and I counting and re-counting the presents under the tree as a kid. Nearly every December morning, my sister and I would pull the presents out from under the tree and find each one that had our name on it and compare--just in case Mom and Dad added a present or two while we were sleeping. Inevitably, my parents would always shout back at us that counting didn’t matter, and one gift could be more expensive than 2-3 of the others. So counting shouldn't “technically” matter. In essence, the total amount spent per kid was equal.

As parents of two children, my wife and I are careful to keep things balanced because we understand the thought-process of children. We’ve been there ourselves (although I think our kids doubt that we ever were). But what strikes me is not so much the “balance” of presents per kid and keeping that straight-–but the balancing weight between giving and receiving. For whatever reason, I struggle with knowing how much my family gives to my kids and my wife and I--and how unable we are able to reciprocate those gifts.

I want to reciprocate

I’m going to be frank and honest here about my own anxiety in gift giving. I still want things balanced even though I know they aren’t. I want to be able to give back to my family as much as they give to me. I want to be able to balance the scales amongst the family. I want people to be able to pull out all the presents, find their name and see my family listed on that “From” part of the tag. And I want to be so generous that they see it more than once. But we simply can’t afford that. And I know my family gets it, and I know they don’t expect us to give gifts in the same way, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother me. I don’t want to be out-given.

Gift giving is a poor focus

We are a society that likes, and expects, to show our love with stuff, proving affection by how much we give. The more we give the more we love, the more we love the more we give. And what I find difficult is that I know this is not a Biblical perspective on life. I know the “reason for the season” and yet I succumb to wanting to show my love and appreciation by providing stuff. I know that my family isn’t expecting it and yet I still feel this tug to provide it.

What is really difficult, as well, as that as soon as Thanksgiving is over every commercial on TV, every banner seen on websites, and every ad run on the radio has to do with stuff. Show your spouse you love them by buying them a new ring. Show your husband how much you care for him by buying him a new car--and make sure there’s a giant bow on the top so that all your neighbors can SEE how much you love him. Make sure your kid has the best gadget from this store, newest kicks from that mall, and threads with this name-brand emblazoned on the back. So even though we know this isn’t why we celebrate Christmas, even though we know that this isn’t how we celebrate and show our love to family, society sure doesn’t make this any easier!

Pushing back

I wish I could flip open my Bible and go to texts that speak of pushing back against this Christmas-consumerism mentality but I simply cannot find any. We cannot find texts that speak into buying + giving more = loving more. But what I do find spoken often is NOT conforming to the temptations and workings of this world.

1 John 2:15-17 reminds us not to love the world or the things in this world. That the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions is not of the Father. Do we believe that God shows his love to us by giving us more stuff? Do we go around asking friends and family, “How many things has God given you this holiday season? Only 10…well, I got 11 which obviously means God loves me more than you!” NOT AT ALL.

The love we’ve been shown by God isn’t measured in “things.” The love we’ve been shown and given by God has, ironically, been the same gift--over and over and over again. The gift of grace. Grace by the Son, grace by the Spirit, grace by the Father. One gift--seen and felt time and time again in many different facets. And we never complain about that! We always want more. We never feel we’re getting the raw end of the deal. Why? Because we know love doesn’t work that way. Not God’s, and not ours.

A better plan

I know this is a struggle that will not go away overnight, but it’s one that I am determined not to succumb to fully (notice I said “fully” because I know that the thoughts will always be there). I wish there was a list of things I could create to hold me accountable and focus these feelings in the right direction--but I haven’t found it yet. But I know that I can play a part in uprooting the idol of consumerism.

  • Spend time doing fun things with loved ones--time invested is worth far more than money. Do something outrageous and crazy, and make memories. 
  • Engage in regular conversations with our kids about the true meaning of Christmas.
  • Helping our children to notice and appreciate all that they already have cultivates habits of thankfulness.
  • Being honest about the limitations of the budget and finances will go a long way in helping to create understanding.
  • Model that people matter more than stuff.
  • Make Christ and worship an important part of the day.

Practicing these habits we can work toward breaking the cycle of consumerism in our home. And in the end I know that having conversations all year long about true “gifts” from family and how they do not show up in boxes, or with giant red bows, or stuffed in stockings will ultimately lead them down the right path as they grow up as well as chip away at my own internal holiday battles too.

About the author — Rev. Kelly Vander Woude

Kelly Vander Woude is always looking for something yummy to put on his smoker…and then getting friends and family to enjoy it with him. When he’s not smoking food he can be found playing and hanging out with his two kids, wife, and their dog, as well as preaching at Immanuel CRC in Fort Collins, CO. Oh…and he’s usually trying to learn some new musical instrument with the hopes of one day mastering at least one of them! You can find more of his writings at

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