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    Philosophy of Giving and Five Gifts for Littles

    November 28, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I‘ve been spending the morning wrapping Christmas gifts, drinking coffee, and generally enjoying the beginning of the season, and so I thought I’d write one my usual “gifts and philosophy of giving” posts a bit early this year. After all, everybody loves opening great gifts, no matter whether it’s Christmas or a Birthday. We’ll start with philosophy and end with gifts.

    Worthy of Celebration

    Kendra recently quoted a wonderful little piece by Nancy Wilson called Christmas Worldliness:

    Christian people are the only people on earth who can truly celebrate Christmas, even though we do so inadequately. But we can’t help ourselves. We’ve heard the angels singing and the shepherds’ announcement. We’ve visited the manager and heard Mary’s song. So we celebrate by making a great feast. We buy the best wine and cheese that we can afford, and our ovens are bursting with Christmas delights. And the gifts! The stockings are loaded, the closets bulging with gifts stored up for the day they go under the huge, glorious tree. The silver is polished, the linens are pressed, the china is standing by. And the month of Christmas seems too short for all the singing and celebrating we want to do. This is the way it should be for God’s people. Each year should be a better feast than the last, with more of Christmas each year, more food, more presents, more delight. We are growing in our sanctification and learning how to rejoice around our tables with more exuberance, more reverence and fear, more holy awe.

    I love this picture of rejoicing. It is a far cry from our tendency to think that because materialism is wrong, then material {meaning real, earthy things} is wrong.

    However, comma.

    There was a day when reading something like this would have been very discouraging. Is Christmas really for the rich?

    Or maybe a better questions is: What does a joyful Christmas celebration look like for a family of modest means?

    Even now, when I read the words above, a part of me is so happy to see Christians celebrate Good Things unashamedly, and the other part of me gets nervous. Bulging closets? Loaded stockings? Heavens, who’s going to pay for all that?

    That is my inner Scrooge speaking, perhaps.

    This is where Good Books come in. I mentioned before that the children and I are reading Little Women. This book contains a beautiful picture of celebrating Christmas in poverty. It maintains the balance of reality–that what is purchased is what can actually be afforded–with the superiority of the day–that Christmas is a day set apart, worth saving for, worth scrimping for, worth giving to one another for.

    But instead of a pile of gifts, the girls get…one book each.

    This is completely unexpected {it was thought there would be no gifts}, and the girls accept them with full hearts.

    Giving Needed Things

    I think I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again. Growing up, my mom always got frustrated with a family we knew because the children were never given any gifts to speak of. However, three weeks before Christmas, we would see them with something new they needed–a hat or gloves or something like that. These may be small things, but they are needed things that simply must be bought. For example, a friend bought a watch from WatchShopping the other day and loved it! If things that we must buy can be saved for Christmas, why not? This makes those stockings a little stuffier, does it not?

    A year or two ago, I watched with amusement a debate between mothers over whether or not necessities should be given for Christmas. I laughed, thinking that these folks didn’t know what it was like to not have enough money to buy gifts. Otherwise, they would not suggest that it was “unloving” to give children necessary items as a Christmas gift. Impoverished parents who think this way just might end up with…no gifts to give on Christmas.

    In addition to this, I might suggest that it is noble and laudable for our children to approach necessities as the gifts they are. When we wrap up, for instance, a pair of socks, we can remind them than God takes care of us in the little things.

    If our children are raised to think that only luxuries can be viewed as gifts, they just might miss all the simple, beautiful, everyday reasons for gratitude and joy.

    Avoiding Materialism

    I think we all fear that all this gift-giving will go to the heads–and souls–of our children. Every Christmas, I find myself wondering how we can fight the monster of materialism without throwing out generosity itself. Is there a way to give without corrupting the recipient? Surely there must be, for God commands generosity, and He does not corrupt.

    One of the things that helped me frame this was reading some advice in the book Teaching the Trivium. It was something along the lines of give your children toys with which to explore rather than toys to be adored.

    I have thought about this off and on over the years, and it seems to me that this is very wise. What is materialism but the adoring of things? If we select things for our children that are designed to command their admiration, we assist them on their way to materialism. But if we select things for our children which help them grow in some way, we direct their attention outward, into the world God created. The thing becomes a tool with which the child can grow and learn.

    We give our children three gifts each {unless they are babies, and then they get a single book for their new library}. I won’t go into this much because I have written about this twice so far. The gifts fall into three general categories: clothing, book, and toy.

    It is always the toy that I spend the most time thinking about. How can a toy help that child grow or develop talents? What toys will direct them toward materialism? What toys will also avoid the entertainment trap, which feeds self-worship?

    This year, for my two oldest, I decided to be inspired by Charlotte Mason and buy “toys” that develop the children in the area of handicrafts, meaning the ability for them to produce something good with their hands. These should have appeal on rainy winter days, and the focus becomes not the gift itself, but what they can make using their new tools. And what they make can even be given as a gift to someone else.

    Five Gifts for Littles

    Along this vein, I thought I’d share five ideas for children under eight that I think fit this criteria for gifts…just because it is fun.

    Potholders and Other Loopy Projects

    Klutz Book of Knots

    Lauri Alphabet Puzzle Boards


    Kumon Workbooks

    If all else fails, just give a little boy a box of plumbing parts and set him loose.

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