Kind Words and Christmas Gifts

Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? Have you even begun?

I finished my shopping this week, and except for baking up batches of my family’s favorite goodies, my holiday preparations are almost complete.

Every year at this time when I do my shopping, I always have in the back of my mind an article I read many years ago about how much money people spend on Christmas presents.

Written by Helen Anderson, the article appeared in a Christian magazine in 1892. It made such an impression on me the first time I read it, I saved it so I could re-read every year. It’s pretty frayed and fragile now, so I don’t handle it like I used to. Still, I always think of it when it’s time to buy a gift for a family member or friend, and I’d like to share the article with you.

As you read this, please keep in mind that when Helen Anderson wrote these words in 1892, fifty cents was the equivalent of $13.80 in today’s money. Ten collars then is now worth $275.

I am going to talk about Christmas presents. I believe in them; I hope the beautiful custom of giving and receiving at this season will never go out. But really and truly I am afraid it will have to, if some of us do not get educated to better ideas. Actually there are some girls, and perhaps some boys, who think that the value of a gift depends upon the amount of money it has cost. You think that shows ill-breeding? So do I, yet people whose mothers have tried to bring them up very carefully seem to be guilty of it.

I spent last Christmas week with some distant cousins, one of whom confided to me her anxiety lest she should not have a present that would be worth showing to the girls when the school term opened.

“You know we don’t have much money to spend nowadays,” she said, “and I am so afraid I shall get just some poky book, or something useful; and the girls at school do have such elegant presents, I shall be afraid to show anything that isn’t really nice.”

She has the dearest father and mother in the world, and I asked her if she really thought they would give her anything which was not “nice.”

“Oh, it will be something which I shall like well enough, of course,” she said, “but then, you know, I want something which I can show.”

The more I listened to the talk of that houseful of cousins, the more convinced was I that the sweet spirit which was intended to be fostered by these gift days was being lost in a wild desire to outshine one another, to give and receive the costliest, and at the same time apparently the most useless gifts which could be contrived.

I knew of a young miss of thirteen who cried for an hour, one evening, because her father could afford her only fifty cents with which to buy a Christmas offering for a friend of about the same age.

“What can I buy with fifty cents, I should like to know?” she said, with pouting lips. All the other girls will give her elegant presents, and I shall be ashamed to send mine.”

“Does she love her so very dearly?” I asked, when this conversation was reported to me.

“Love her?” was the answer. “Why, she dislikes her; but she belongs to our class, you see, and we all exchange presents, and of course she doesn’t want to give her something that will be made fun of.”

The cousin who was explaining things to me is responsible for the mixing of pronouns in that sentence. However, she and I knew what she meant, and I hope you will.

With my eyes and ears opened in this way I saw and heard a great deal.

“Only think,” said Nellie, on Christmas morning, “Ada Parson’s father gave her nothing in the world but a box of note-paper; it couldn’t have cost over twenty cents! Shouldn’t you think he would be ashamed?”

“Yes, indeed!” said her young caller, “I would rather have had nothing than such a mean little present as that. Why, my father spent as much as ten dollars, just for us children.”

I may have been unfortunate in my selection of a place to spend Christmas week, for I certainly heard a great deal of this kind of talk. Just what this thing cost, and how mean that thing was, and what fun Alice Jennings made of Bessie Clark’s presents, and how elegant Laura Burton’s gifts were, which must have cost more than those of any of the other girls. I assure you I was sick at heart before the week was done.

I wanted to call them all together and say, “Oh, girls, dear girls! What are you thinking about? Have you forgotten why we celebrate this day? Don’t you remember that it is a Christ-mass? Don’t you remember the spirit of the blessed Christ, how he gives freely, fully, gladly, because he so loves? How he receives from us even a cup of cold water, if we offer it because we love?”

Oh, the smallness and meanness of measuring a gift by the number of dollars or of pennies that it cost. Oh, the falseness of offering a gift at all, unless the heart’s best love and wishes go with it. Can it be that there are many who so disgrace Christmas Day?

I am afraid, so afraid that there are, because the air has been full of Christmas all around me for the past few weeks; and I have overheard many groans about the burden of making offerings because “it will be expected” of them; and about the amount of money necessary in these days in order to satisfy the demands of those exacting creatures, “the girls.”

It may have just happened so, but I have heard more about the girls than the boys.

“Anything will do for Harry,” a mother said to me; “he doesn’t care much for Christmas presents, anyway, and is always satisfied with whatever he gets; but the girls expect more each year.”

Dear, sweet girls, look to it, every one, will you not, that no such words can be said of you this Christmas-time? Look to it that your spirit of both giving and receiving glorifies the day, and the One for whom the day was named. What if you or I should put Him to shame on the anniversary of his birthday!

HELEN ANDERSON.

I still think of this little essay every year when I compile my list of gifts to purchase for loved ones. It’s a gentle reminder to me of the true meaning of Christmas, and of the gifts we give and receive.

What about you? Is there a guideline you follow when you shop for Christmas gifts?

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