According to a recent survey conducted by the The Conference Board, U.S. households plan to spend, on average, $390 on Christmas gifts this year. That's down from last year's estimate of $418. Considering the economic turmoil many Americans faced during 2009, I'm not at all displeased with the 6.7% decline in spending from last year.
Regardless of what the average American spends on Christmas gifts, it's exponentially higher than what I'll spend. Over the last few years, my annual Christmas gift giving budget has hovered right around, say, $0. I don't do Christmas gift giving – at least not in the conventional sense.
This hasn't always been the case.
Once I made the decision to sit out the circus some refer to as the “holiday shopping season,” I broke the news to my loved ones gently:
“Don't expect nothin', 'cause you ain't gettin' nothin'.”
Not even the children were spared from this ruling. Although I love my family and friends dearly, they already have enough stuff. I've never worried whether they'd have access to nutritious food, clean water, habitable shelter, or, dare I even say it, decent health care. They have everything they need.
The last Christmas gift I gave my mother was $300 cash. The year before that was a chicken rotisserie oven and the year before that was a vacuum food sealer. Only the cash was ever used! The other gifts are buried, never to be seen again, in one of two rooms specifically designated for crap my mom won't ever use.
And so it went every Christmas until I decided enough is enough. I'm wasting my valuable time and money on a fleeting moment of fulfillment for people whose homes are bursting at the seams with stuff they have never and will never use.
I couldn't help but ask myself, how does this type of giving glorify Christ?
Although most people spend the bulk of the days leading up to Christmas and the day of giving gifts to one another, I have to admit this seems odd. I've never thought to exchange gifts with my mom, brother, significant other and friends on my dad's birthday without getting him anything. I imagine my dad would've been pretty hurt if he was shut out of his birthday celebration.
Matthew 25:35-40 indicates how you can honor Christ on the day that represents His birthday.
Jesus: “For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes; naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison, and you visited me.”
The Righteous: “Sir, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you anything to drink? Or a stranger, and help you? Or naked, and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?”
Jesus: “When you did it unto the least of these my brothers you were doing it unto me.”
5 Less Conventional Ways To Celebrate Christmas
Keeping with that theme, here are 5 less conventional ways to celebrate Christmas:
- Drop off items you're no longer using to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. It won't cost you anything to give away gently used (or unused) bread makers, musical instruments, exercise equipment, or whatever else a momentary state of delusion led you to purchase. If you haven't used it or sold it in all these years, it's highly unlikely you ever will. Goodwill uses the sales proceeds from donations to fund job training programs and placement services for people facing various employment challenges. The Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Centers are funded 100% by the profits of their stores.
- Sell unused gift cards and donate the cash to your favorite charity. Plastic Jungle offers up to 85% of the balance on your unwanted gift cards. You may also want to try unloading gift cards on Craigslist, eBay, and Swapagift.com. Not sure which organization is deserving of your spoils? Research the efficacy of over 5,400 charities at Charity Navigator.
- Maximize the value of a dollar. Planning an international vacation isn't the only time the strength of a dollar deserves consideration. Case in point, for less than the price of many iPhone apps, you can feed 4 Tanzanian children a healthy breakfast by donating $1 to GO Campaign. A $5 donation to Feeding America provides 10 bags of groceries for hungry families living in the United States. Your $25 gift to Save the Children will help health workers deliver lifesaving malaria medication to 10 Malawian children.
- Give anonymously. You might know someone who's financially struggling to the point they don't have enough money to meet their basic needs. There's nothing wrong with wanting to help. Unfortunately, cash gifts aren't socially acceptable among many cultures. Through Giving Anonymously, you can send a gift to a friend without the recipient knowing it came from you.Facilitate charitable giving. For the person who has everything – and it seems many of us do – give a charity gift card. A GiveNow Card from JustGive.org allows the recipient to choose from nearly 1.5 million charitable organizations. You'll pay a $5 fee for each gift card mailed, but 97% of its value will end up in the hands of the charity chosen by the gift recipient. Three percent goes to cover processing fees which is about what you'd pay if you used a credit card to donate to any charitable organization.
Not only does it feel good, but you couldn't possibly quantify the investment return charitable giving produces. What you do this Christmas for someone who is truly suffering could save or substantially enhance the most precious gift many of us too often take for granted: LIFE.