Why Do We Give Gifts At Christmas?
One of the greatest draws of the Christmas holiday are the gifts. Children go into gift frenzy as they anticipate (and pester parents into giving) the biggest most expensive toy, gadget or whatever it is that the media is promoting as the next big thing.
Couples start shopping for the “perfect” gift and it’s true that some couples will break up during this season. (It’s a long-standing joke that some couples break up right before Christmas and reunite after Valentine’s Day).
Before we go “gung-ho gifts” this holiday season let’s take a look at the origin of gift-giving.
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Shades of Saturnalia
Gifts were exchanged during the ancient Saturnalia feast. Early Romans believed that their generosity would bring them good fortune in the coming year.
Did you notice that act of selfishness? They gave, not out of a genuine heart or concern for others, but because they believed the favor would return to them.
Are we guilty of that same selfish gift-giving spirit? When we give gifts at Christmas, is it only because we’re expecting something back?
When Christians adopted the bastardized version of Saturnalia combined with Mithra’s birthday, gift-giving was rebranded. It became touted that gifts were given because the three magi gave gifts to Jesus at his birth. I have a few holes to punch in that theory:
1. The magi – or wise men – were heathens. We know this because we are told in Matthew 2:1 that wise men came from the east. The online dictionary defines magi – the plural of magus – as a member of a priestly caste of ancient Persia; a sorcerer.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him. (Matthew 2:1-2)”
That they came a long way becomes evident as we read more of the account in Matthew chapter 2. They brought gifts to Jesus because they saw him as king and came to laud him as such. It was a practice at the time to present gifts to royalty.
2. According to the account in Matthew, the magi did not actually give the gifts to Jesus at the time of his birth. They didn’t find the child until quite sometime later.
After this interview, the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!
They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:9-11 NLT).
Later Herod would kill all the male children two years and under, this tells us that Jesus could have been as much as 2 years old when the magi found him.
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance (Matthew 2:16 NLT).
Let me ask you something, would Jesus be able to participate in all the activities that we indulge in on his birthday? If the day is all about him, what are we doing to make him feel special?
What About the Greatest Gift?
The greatest gift that was ever given at any time of the year was the gift of salvation – now let me say here that I don’t believe that Christ was born on December 25.
What I do believe is that he was born, he died for my sins and because of that, I am able to come before him and confess my sins and accept the gift of salvation. That offer is available to you and everyone else who ever was or ever will be born and that’s a truly priceless gift.
What Can We Do Differently This Christmas?
Too often the holiday becomes a time of gluttony and excess. Yes, there is some generosity to the poor and needy but could we do more?
Instead of an extra serving of whatever dish is being served, could we give an extra dose of love?
Instead of indulging our selfish desires maybe we could spend some time reading the story of Jesus. After all, we’re celebrating his birthday.
Let’s take some time to worship him and give honor and glory to his name.
Let’s get excited about the virgin birth all over again.
Let’s get excited about fulfilled prophecies again.
Let’s get excited the Messiah has come to save us.
Hosanna! Blessed be the Lord of our salvation.
Linking up at #WomenWithIntention.