Americans spend about $450 billion on Christmas each year. Astounding really. Way back when, about 12 years ago, when I expecting our first, we didn’t know this number. But, we knew we wanted to “do gifts” a bit differently for our family.
We decided we wanted gifts to really mean something. We decided we’d use gift giving as a teachable moment for our children. And, so, we give them 3 gifts. That’s it. 3 gifts. From us. Not from Santa. From Mom and Dad. These three gifts symbolize those of the wise men. And, each year, before we open gifts, we read the Christmas story and remind the children about the wise men and the gifts they brought to baby Jesus, the incarnate God, sharing the significance of each one individually before they open their three gifts.
The wise men brought Jesus myrrh.
Myrrh was a valuable gift of practical use–it was used medicinally for all sorts of ailments from coughs to open wounds. It was a good gift to bring a mother of a new baby. And, in addition to daily use, it was used for embalming and anointing the dead. And, so, it was a prophetic gift, already setting up the Gospel story from the beginning. God’s son would have to die.
Our children’s first gift is a practical gift, something they need and can use daily–a piece of clothing, some sheets for their bed, a bike helmet, something like that.
The wise men brought Jesus frankincense.
Frankincense is the purest form of incense and was primarily used in worship. When burned, the white smoke and sweet smell it produces is a symbol of our prayers going up to heaven and creates a meaningful experience for everyone present. It’s a symbolic gift too, pointing to Jesus fully being God, Emmanuel, God with us, the only one worthy of our worship.
Our children’s second gift, likewise, is an experiential gift, something not tangible but something meaningful to us as a family–tickets to a theater show, a coupon for a night out with Daddy for ice cream sundaes, a night out at the ball park, something like that. This gift may or may not cost a whole lot, but the value of it is precious. Typically, I make up some sort of graphic on the computer that is like a gift certificate for whatever their specific experience gift is and give it to them in an envelope along with a business card, ticket, or brochure for the event. These are the gifts our children remember year to year and often cost us the least.
The wise men brought Jesus gold.
Gold was as valuable then as it is now. It was a precious gift, one that some say financed the holy family’s trip to Egypt. But, it was also a very symbolic gift in that gold was given to princes when they were born. And, that is what Jesus is–royalty, a King in the line of David, King of the world, King of the whole universe, and King of our hearts. When we become a follower of Jesus, we are adopted into God’s family and we too become princes and princesses, heirs to the throne. We don’t deserve it; no matter how good we are, we won’t ever be good enough to deserve it. But, because of Jesus, God sees us like He sees His own Son. And, we become like Him.
Our children’s third and last gift is a gold gift, something they really really want (or we think they’d really want since they don’t make the traditional Christmas list). Sometimes these gifts are a little more costly–like a lego set or a sweet new scooter. And, sometimes, they really aren’t costly at all, but just something we know they really want, something that is like gold to them (this year, the boys’ gold gifts came from Craigslist and cost a grand total of $25 put together). It’s the gift that we just want to give to them because we love them and want to bless them. And, we tell them so before we give them.
Of course, they have grandparents, all of whom dote on our children. And, now that they are older, we let them choose small gifts for each other that they pay for with their own money (which is a teachable moment in an of itself). So, yes, they do actually get more than 3 gifts. Deprived they are not. Believe me.
And, we know we are doing what we can to set them up to better understand that Christmas is not simply about Rudolph, sparkly trees, cookies and milk, and boxes wrapped up with fancy bows.
It’s about Jesus.