Small daughter has just handed me the first draft of her letter to Father Christmas, and it doesn’t take me long to work out that Father Christmas either has to have won the Euromillions lottery and have a sleigh the size of a small country, or he has to make some adjustments.
Have you noticed that we encourage children to make a list and write letters, and we ask them “What’s Father Christmas bringing for you?”? As adults, however, our lists tend to be of what we’re going to buy for other people, and whilst you might have a few ideas of things you’d like for yourself, they’re generally not going to require a juggernaut-sized sleigh to get them to you.
A wise man once said that it’s better to give than to receive. Research has shown that this is actually true; people who give without expectations are less likely to suffer from depression or other mental problems and are, on the whole, happier and healthier than those who give only to receive something in return. Christmas is an ideal time to think about this, because not only do we give material gifts to family and friends, but we are more inclined to look out for neighbours or those more likely to be excluded from general day-to-day activities – it really is the ‘Season of Goodwill’.
Despite the fact that small daughter needs to give some serious thought to her own Christmas list, one of the things that she loves to do is to give something to somebody else. If we go to visit anyone and have presents to deliver, she always wants to be the one to hand over the gift. Big daughter also loves to give gifts. She makes fabulous chocolate fudge these days and all of her friends look forward to their birthdays when they know they will get a box of fudge that she’s made especially for them. I like to see my daughters take pleasure in giving, because that pleasure lasts far longer than the momentary delight in receiving something. I will never forget the story that a work colleague told me once about her little boy who unwrapped a mountain of presents on Christmas morning and then turned to her and said, “Is that it? I wanted more.” She was heartbroken, he was in the doghouse for the rest of the day and Christmas was spoiled for everyone.
So, this year, when small daughter is singing her own peculiar rendition of We Three Kings, I will think about those wise men travelling to give a baby gifts and expecting nothing in return. The joy that they received from seeing Jesus was worth more than all the gifts that they gave, and there is the lesson for us all. By giving without expectation, the rewards that we receive in return far exceed what we have given.
I wish you a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.