When I was a little girl, my mother would take me and my five siblings to Grants, a long-gone discount store. We did this the first week in December every year, shopping for each other using money we had earned and saved. Running down the aisles, touching everything, brimming with excitement, and bursting with secrets, we pondered, prattled, and preened our way to the checkout register.
We shouldered big secrets in our little souls, guarding our arms with shouts of “Don’t look!” Arriving home, we immediately began wrapping in various places throughout our tiny house, knowing our treasures would soon be given away. The anticipation, giggles, scrambles, and copious quantities of tape make me now wonder how my mother could stand it. But stand it she did, and in so doing, she taught us necessary lessons in gift-giving.
Of course, there is the recipient to all this gifting, but herein lies the secret: When we have good examples of sacrificial giving, our joy begins to come less from what we receive and more from what we give.
In all the years that I joyfully bought and wrapped gifts for my family, a religious view grounded my parents’ instructions in Christmas shopping. They believed that the Savior came from heaven to earth to be born in Bethlehem, and this belief formed their commitment to raise a group of hooligans into adults who would think of others more than themselves.
If my parents were alive today, they would say that they were continuing traditions taught to them when they were mere children by ancestors wise and wonderful.
To illustrate this, my namesake grandmother told me once about giving away her best dress to fill the missionary barrel at church. Though said in passing, her words were profound. They stuck in my young mind, and I became determined to give something away as well. But not my dress—no, not that, as I couldn’t part with the fur muff attached to the red velvet waist just yet. I still had some maturing to do, and it came in the form of a friend arriving at my door on a wintry cold Chicago day.
Declining the invitation to come inside and have a cup of coffee, she was in a hurry to hand me her casserole: a lovely gift that would form our dinner that night. I was overwhelmed by the act of unexpected kindness, and I thanked her, hugged her, and complimented her on her glorious coat of navy with banding of brown cloth strips around the cuffs and hem.
With a speed such that time seemed to slow down, she stripped off that coat and threw it to me as she bounded down the steps and raced to her car, shouting that she didn’t need it. I was astounded by this act of unfettered and unencumbered sacrifice.
Her gift of a much-needed coat, thrown off on a freezing cold day with nary a thought to her own comfort, has become my beacon for gifting. You see, we need both the story behind gifts (the story of Christmas) and the examples of others to show us how to lovingly give.
So, from the examples of my ancestors and friends to my parents’ yearly guidance and grants, I learned invaluable lessons about giving. Those around me wanted me, even as a young child, to reflect both the wise men who came to honor the Christ child with gifts and the Christ himself, who—in the Christian belief system—offered his life as a gift for all.
With that, I honor the examples others have lived to show me how to give. Their testimonies settle into my soul and launch my own giving traditions that I pass on to my children and children’s children. And I invite you, dear reader, to join me in this tradition this Christmastime and year-round.
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