Christmas Giving—A Time of Joy or Depression?
THE following letter addressed to Santa Claus is typical of many written by young children and given to parents and teachers on the promise that the letters will be duly mailed to the North Pole:
“Dear Santa Claus:
“How are you? I am fine. I hope you will have a nice Christmas. I hope you have a lot of nice toys because there are a lot of nice things I want. First, I would like to have a baby brother. My daddy says you don’t have babies at the North Pole, so you can bring me a puppy instead. I want a shotgun, a machine gun, a ten-speed bike and a tape recorder. Oh, by the way, Santa, this will be the last letter I will write you as I will not believe in Santa Claus next year. But I believe in Santa Claus this year.”
Do you recognize this letter? Does it have a familiar ring? Does it perhaps sound like one you wrote when you were a child? Millions of such letters are received each year at post offices in many countries from hope-filled children and addressed to that mythical purveyor of gifts they so fondly know as “Santa Claus.”
Few write the word “please” and even fewer write “thank you.” Some tug at the heartstrings, others smack of greed. The younger the child, the less he asks for. The older the child, the greater the number of gifts it takes to satisfy him, thus raising his expectations for greater and more lavish gifts the following year.
There are toys designed for every period of a child’s life. There are toys that teach, that test skills, that direct thoughts toward violence. There are toys that stand up to hard play and those that fall apart after a few days of use. There are safe toys and toys so dangerous that officials fight to have them removed from the market. There are toys that appear to be demon-inspired in design—balls with grotesque faces so dreadful they could cause nightmares, yet they were last year’s best-sellers, notwithstanding parental objection. For over two months before the event, children are tuned in to Christmas. Supposedly, the joy of giving and receiving pervades the air.
The Fall Into Depression
But alas, in a few days the thrill is gone. The child has squeezed all the fun and enjoyment from his gifts, be they many or few. The reality has not lived up to the expectations. Boredom has set in. The tinsel of Christmas and all the gifts received were not the cure-all he expected. Commenting on this, child psychologist Dr. Nancy Hayes says that Christmastime “is a period of the highest rate of depression and suicide among children.” She notes that many youngsters become depressed when Christmas does not provide the “magical solution to problems.” Imagine, too, their further devastation on learning that Santa Claus is only a myth, that their parents went to great lengths to perpetuate a lie.
So it is from infancy that children are taught to ask for, write for, and expect gifts at Christmastime—and it is not limited to children. Friendship among adults is sometimes measured by the value of the gifts exchanged. Often the bond is strained to the breaking point because one person gave a gift of greater value than the one he received. Possibly at no other time of the year does the expression “It’s the thought that counts” mean so little.
Credit cards approach the limit of their purchasing power. Checks written cause bank accounts to become overdrawn. Forays in crowded stores jammed with shoppers fray the nerves. The scene of clawing, grabbing shoppers literally fighting over disappearing items on sale can make even the stouthearted retreat. Aching feet, plus being in a quandary over what to buy, make this rite of winter a nerve-shattering ordeal. It takes its toll on Christmas shoppers.
Said one salesperson: “You see people running around, getting a present for so and so, and they’re really grouchy. People don’t give presents with joy.” Is it any wonder, then, that a clergyman called Christmas “the annual season of depression and neurosis”?
What compounds the frustration is the fact that many gifts are purchased and given as an obligation, often with selfish motivations. Said one professor of sociology: “The giver has not only the anxiety of trying to guess what the recipient would like, but also the added anxiety of projecting a suitable image of himself.”
What is the busiest day of the season? Often the day following Christmas. Then the stores are crowded to capacity with gift receivers returning their gifts, many for the cash value. Yet, had they been given cash as a gift, they would have resented it as a vulgar offering. Thus, the utter frustration, the jangled nerves, the weary bones, the grouchy crowds, the picking through literally hundreds of pieces of merchandise, the packing, the wrapping, the tying of bows, all has often been in vain. So many gifts received with so little appreciation!
For so many, Christmas is not ‘the season to be jolly.’
Giving Requires No Season
But what a joy it is when families get together and enjoy the companionship and love of each one! The bringing of gifts, too, can be an outward expression of heartfelt love. Jesus himself encouraged Christians to “practice giving.” And what Christian or non-Christian is it who does not often quote Jesus’ words, “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving”? (Luke 6:38; Acts 20:35) Surely, giving requires no season. But there is another reason why Christmas giving is questionable.
The real problem with Christmas is that it is founded on a falsehood. The season professes to represent the birthday of Jesus. How can this be, however, when the Bible does not give the date of his birth? In actuality, Christmas is timed to coincide with the “birth” of the sun—a ritual of sun worship.
In his book The Story of Christmas, Michael Harrison writes: “First of all, it must be noted that, despite the efforts of innumerable scholars, it has not yet been proved upon what day . . . Christ was born.” The Bible makes clear only the date of his death, and it is this date alone that Jesus commanded his followers, true Christians, to celebrate. Is it any surprise, then, that The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge makes this point: “There is no historical evidence that our Lord’s birthday was celebrated during the apostolic or early postapostolic times”?
Now consider these questions objectively: Would Jesus approve of a celebration that professes to honor him, yet is steeped in pagan rites and customs? Would he condone this festive holiday when more murders are committed than at any other time of the year and when non-Christian drunken bouts and lascivious living are an accepted way of life? Would he sanction a season noted for its depression, neurosis, and suicides? To true Christians the answer must be obvious.
Rather than setting aside a certain time of the year for giving joyfully to others, the generous soul will find that the giving that brings happiness to the giver and joy to the receiver is always in season. Gifts of our time, our energy, our sympathy; gifts of kindness and thoughtful words; and, yes indeed, material gifts that are needed—all such giving brings joy and happiness to both giver and receiver.