Christmas Hospitality : On Giving and Receiving… Frankinsense, Foot Spas and Fridge Kids!

Toward a Seedy Advent Spirituality #3:  Enough of Christmas or a Christmas of Enough!… On Gratitude and Giving (Part B)

Supposedly Christmas is a time of giving gifts and giving thanks but once again the reality is never a given.

Such is the gratitude of The Magi at Christmas to the gift of the Christ child that they respond with an extravagant and risky journey across cultural, social and political boundaries in order to offer the now rather famous gifts of their own.

I wonder how these foreigners and their gifts might have been received in the cramped quarters of a Bethlehem stable? How would you respond if a bunch of strange travellers showed up at your door, bearing gifts this Christmas Day?  I wonder whether the moment would have made great, spine tingling emotional, ‘reality’ television or just been a bit crowded and socially awkward?  That tension feels like Christmas to me!

Emma Jane in the Australian muses:

THE giving of silly Christmas presents has a long and biblical history dating back to the three wise men’s bizarre idea that gold, myrrh and frankincense were appropriate gifts for a newborn.

Gold, admittedly, has a universal appeal (even pre-verbal infants dig sparkly, clinky stuff). And maybe myrrh – which was used as an embalming oil – could have helped with the nappy rash.

But Frankincense?

This was a family who had just gone through the disconcerting experience of a virgin birth, and whose baby arsenal did not extend beyond basic farm supplies.

Nappies, nipple pads and a rattly chew toy to help the Messiah develop his gross motorskills and ease the discomfort of emerging holy molars would have all been welcome. But nowhere in the scriptures does it mention Joseph tucking straw round his boy child and sighing, “Jees, if only we had a few rocks of perfumed resin.”

And one can only imagine Mary’s awkwardness during Bethlehem’s Boxing Day sales if she tried to return or exchange these odd offerings for something more practical.

“Look, it’s just that I received way too much anointing oil this year. Oh, God, no, sorry, I don’t have the receipt.”

Three silly men, more like it.

It was her response to a survey and article byThe Australia Institute’s executive director, Richard Denniss, suggesting that unwanted presents at Christmas time represented a staggering $798 million waste of money, time and resources.

He states

”The growing culture of obligatory giving only brings joy to the big retailers and the big banks whose credit cards are largely funding the annual splurge,”

The survey also found about one quarter of Australians expect to give presents to people they would prefer not to. And about a quarter of these reluctant givers were unable to pay their credit card in full each month.

”Around 1 million Australians are spending money they don’t have to buy presents they’d rather not give,’‘  Dr Denniss said.

The survey’s findings suggested there was plenty of room to cut down on the waste and ended up suggesting that four out of five Australian people would be happy to receive a donation to a charity instead of a gift. He concluded…

”Millions of unused foot spas require enormous amounts of resources to manufacture and transport,”

As I suspected when reading it reaction to the report was strong.  Sally Morrell was less than impressed at what she saw as an assault on the Spirit of Christmas and the nature of hospitality.

The survey was clearly designed to make us feel guilty about how commercial Christmas has become, how it’s only the big retailers and the banks that benefit, and all that usual Scrooge stuff.  But it only confirmed to me what I’ve always known — you get out of Christmas what you put in.

Giving to charity simply dosent do it for Sally who is one of those people who have a problem with ‘goat giving’ for Christmas. (Read about the politics of Goat Giving 101 here.)

Gifts carry meaning and values.  The elements of power at play in any offer of hospitality are intriguing.  The giving can be more about projecting our own needs, desires or piety.  Hospitality came shame, guilt and obligate others as much as it liberates them.  It can also expose the true motives and feelings of the giver.  Lets face it, does anyone buy a foot-spa for someone they really care about?

Trying to negotiate the often unstated but deeply felt obligation, even competitiveness around Christmas giving is one of the things that makes me throw my hands up a say I’ve had enough of Christmas.

I remember the values clash of giving a goat one Christmas.

I had had enough of Christmas and conspicuous consumption and wanted to spend my hard earned money in a different way.  It was obviously too much about me and the response was painful.

People felt hurt.

Like I was parading my social conscience at their expense.

Like I valued some poor people I didn’t know more than the people who were in the room.

The message was clear that they would have much preferred a status gadget like an ipod.

I felt equally misunderstood.

That my values were under-appreciated by those who said they were close to me.

I figured the only way I could hold both tensions and celebrate the abundance and hospitality I believed in was to double up and buy an ipod and a goat.  Of course this risked my bank balance and once again ‘shaming’ my friends with the sheer amount that I had spent.  So I have never managed to follow through with it.

Like my usual practice of hospitality, I settle for a bit of give and take, something slightly awkward and in between.

Toward a Seedy Advent Spirituality #3:  Enough of Christmas or a Christmas of Enough!… On Gratitude and Giving (Part C)… The Spirituality of Enough and a ‘Chronic Christmas Eve’


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