Recently when I was talking with my husband, our discussion turned—as conversations usually do during this time of blessings and good cheer—to the topic of preserving joyful generosity in the midst of obligations and expectations. Specifically, the question arose of what—if anything—to get our children for Christmas. Again.

My suggestions ranged from the ever-popular lump of coal to an orange and penny, a la Little House on the Prairie. Despite repeated avowals that a lump of coal would just about fit the bill for some of the offspring, I didn’t actually intend to procure such a cheerless gift. I had proffered the suggestion as a sort of starting point to negotiations, in order to counter my husband’s undoubted exuberance whenever the topic comes up.

I love his generosity and good spirit, of course. I just cringe at the thought of going all-out where there’s a risk that the efforts may not be fully appreciated.  I don’t want to create an unrealistic understanding of commerce and value in our children’s’ minds, and I can’t bear the thought of upgrading and expanding our stuff every year to accommodate a growing collection of whims and wishes.

Last year, for instance, our oldest son had his heart set on Legos. I had no idea how expensive and specialized Legos were until I went shopping for them, but I gamely found a set and we proudly presented our son with it. He was duly delighted, and played with the set for a while. He gradually lost pieces and interest, however, until one day he discovered K’nex at the local discovery museum. Ah. That, surely, was the greatest toy ever! That was all he wanted for Christmas, and he would gladly sell his Legos in return for a K’nex set!

I expressed my frustration with the concept of creating an unmanageable set of expectations and an unrealistic idea of how the world functions in our children’s minds. My husband listened to my concerns patiently and then mentioned that he’d been pondering whether we should approach Christmas gifts for our children the way God gives to us, without regard to consequences or reactions but simply as a genuine and spontaneous expression of love and generosity.

My first thought was, “Well, I suppose it doesn’t always have to be about lessons and consequences.” But yes it does! We’re homeschoolers! There is always a lesson to be learned from something! However, maybe this lesson doesn’t have to be about economic exchanges, or labor and leisure, or even infusing future generations with a proper dash of gratitude, but simply about unexpected pleasures and undeserved blessings.

Now, it shouldn’t be such an eye-opener to consider the true purpose of our gift-giving by reflecting on the origin of the tradition in the first place. I do know, theoretically, that we give gifts in celebration and memory of the gift of salvation, the greatest gift of all. But it was just the change in perspective I needed.

After all, we don’t always fully appreciate Christ’s sacrifice for us. We take our salvation for granted far too often, and don’t share it nearly enough; and receiving the truly greatest gift of all time doesn’t stop us from still wanting more on occasion. But God continues to bless us with an abundance of boons including material comforts, physical health, safety and shelter, family support, and so much more—not because we need or deserve most of it, but simply because He loves us.

Surely there will be time enough on other days for correction, reproof, and modeling self-denial. Christmas is a time of feasting and celebration, and my hope is to have the grace and peace to give joyfully, share freely, and enjoy the scenes of heartfelt generosity without worrying about learning the wrong lesson or setting bad precedents. Wouldn’t that be jolly indeed.


Photo credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis. Following images courtesy of author.