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Why do we give gifts at Christmastime? After all, for years, our children told us it was the best part of Christmas!  I’m sure most children feel that way—the anticipation, the excitement, the WAITING! What would it be like to observe Christmas Day, and NOT exchange gifts?  And yet, that is exactly what the early church did.

Originally, gifts were exchanged on different days, based on cultural traditions. For example, in the past, some countries have given gifts to each other in honor of Nicholas of Pantara, the pastor who became known as St. Nicholas, or Sinter Klaas. These gifts were usually gifts or acts done in secret to help those in need. Other countries waited until January 6th to give gifts to those they love.  These gifts were given in honor of the treasures given to Jesus by the wise men, or Magi, who came from the East (China, India, or other lands, undisclosed in the Scriptures).  In the Catholic church, January 6th was set as the day to remember the wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem to find the Christ Child; otherwise known as “The Epiphany,” meaning “The Manifestation, or Appearance.” Historically, the feast celebrated on this day observed three events:

1)      The appearance of Jesus as Who He is – God come in human form, recognized by the Magi.

2)      The disclosure of Jesus as Who He is – God who works miracles and brings all things together for good for those who believe, recognized by the servants of the house and his disciples at Cana, when He changed water to wine (His first miracle- John 2 ; Romans 8:28)

3)      Heaven’s endorsement of Jesus as Who He is – The manifestation of God on earth, recognized at his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

In the first five centuries, the early church celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus in conjunction with Jewish Passover.  Next to that celebration, the most important became the Feast of the Wise Men.  Both holy days were remembered with prayer and fasting prior, and feasting and rejoicing on the day.  On the Day of the Feast of the Wise Men, many people were baptized, or even re-baptized, to renew their commitment to Christ during an age when the Church was just learning her identity. Also, during this feast day, the doorways of believers’ homes were sprinkled with water, as a symbol of the inner cleansing that occurs when a person gives all they have, and are becoming, to Jesus Christ in surrender. Over time, it became a practice to write over the doorposts of those homes, “C+B+M,” which meant  “Christ blesses this house (Christus bendicat mansionem).” Since the three gifts of the wise men were also remembered on that same day, someone decided to remember the Latin blessing with three initials – CBM.  Over time, these initials were given names – Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The names stuck, and so did the concept that there were three kings who came to the house in Bethlehem.  In actuality, there was a company of more than 50, who traveled in caravan for two years or more to arrive in Israel, led by the “star.”

After the Reformation, as the Protestant Church moved away from the more formal liturgies of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the concept of gift giving remained.  The quandary became, “when do we give gifts if we don’t celebrate the Feast of the Wise Men?”  For a time, the twelve days between December 25th and January 6th were known as “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  Gifts were given on each day, similar to the practice of Jewish Festival of Lights, or Chanukah, also celebrated at this time of year.  During the years when this was a widespread practice, it was a small reach to teach those in learning that the Incarnation, (the indwelling of Christ in human form), marks the beginning place of growth and discipleship for believers. Subsequently, then, came the second lesson: Our life on earth is a journey, through which we follow the Light we receive, and in the end, we offer all of our treasures to the One Who came to rescue us.

During the Middle Ages, the feast of Christmastide, became more universal, incorporating the practice of gift giving to honor and remember the Gift of Life in Jesus, even by those who did not yet know Him.  By the mid-1800’s, the general practice of giving gifts to loved ones on Christmas Day, as well as the custom of secretly giving to help those in need, had melded into the celebrations on one day rather than twelve – Christmas Day.  In America, many writers of fictional works have added to the Christmas culture, shaping our celebrations and adding other aspects to the holiday.

For me, the key to giving gifts at Christmas, is not about what day I give them; nor is it about keeping up with traditions.  For me, gift giving at Christmastime, and any other time of year, keeps my heart open and filled with gratitude.  When the Season becomes a dry practice, or feels like a chore, I have to remind myself to step back and consider:  Why am I doing this?

And then it comes:  An Epiphany – Because Jesus gave, and I want to be like Him.

 (C)2011 atg/dcg.  Duplication prohibited without permission.  Thank you for your integrity.

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Did you know?

 The busiest time of the year for counseling offices and psychiatric hospitals in the United States begins December 1 and continues through the middle of January each year.

 Why?

In the deepest part of us, we each have hopes and expectations, some life-changing, which are linked to this season of the year. It is the time of year when we are most vulnerable, and when disappointments we have experienced in our lives usually surface. 

The Holiday Season is the time of year when every adult becomes a child-at-heart, and when every child hopes for their wishes to come true.

So How Can I Experience Truly “Happy Holidays?”

 Determine beforehand (now!) how you will respond in given situations.  Listed on this page are a few common “Joy-Robbers” that can sabotage life’s meaning and fulfillment during the Holidays.

Stress                        

 Simply put, stress is Fear telling us that we can’t possibly do enough to gain the approval we feel we need…

Settle it now – it’s impossible to get everything done.  Let yourself off the hook.

Decide what you can reasonably accomplish, and then don’t push yourself to do more. Relax.

Make appointments during the Holiday to enjoy the time with your family. Let yourself have fun.

Conflict                  

Conflict happens because we don’t think about what our actions and attitudes are doing to those we  love.

Choose to refrain from having conflict during the holiday; this is not the time to settle deep issues, or  discuss areas of pain and                  disappointment.  Journal the things that you want to work through with your family – AFTER CHRISTMAS

Illness                     

The Holidays are no fun when you don’t feel good. Don’t push yourself.

Pushing yourself and your body past your limits decreases your ability to fight infection, and lowers your immunities—so slow down your pace. 

Make sure you get enough rest; research indicates we each need 9 hours of sleep each night to be healthy.

We each need 5 hugs a day to maintain emotional health.  Stay close to your friends and family. Studies show that a healthy community increases well-being and healthy living.

Wash your hands at least 3 times a day; – after restroom breaks, before eating, after contact with others.  Try to keep your hands away from your face.  Antibacterial cleansers are a great help. (Purel, GermX etc.)

Set your focus to search out and find the good things in the season. Look for the good in your family too. Try to focus on, and give thanks for those things.

 Financial Demands

 Determine beforehand how much you plan to spend on each person on your list, and don’t violate the amount you set.

 Plan at least one meal out for yourself (and your spouse) during the season.

 If you haven’t done so in the past, consider putting aside monies specifically for Christmas usage beginning in January.  Save throughout the year for the season, so that you are not pressured when it arrives next year.

Remember, the Holidays are about relationship; enjoy your family, and the gift of God’s Grace; don’t strive. Consider:  What homemade gifts could you give – without using a credit card?

 Depression          

Statistically, the busiest season of the year for psychiatric wards and hospitals is the Christmas and Holiday season. Most attribute this to the fact that creating the “perfect” family image tends to compete for our time during these weeks, conflicting with the realities we all experience. If this is true for you, take some time for solitude and spend it in prayer and meditation.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you things you can give thanks for, in every circumstance you find yourself depressed over. (You would not be the person you are today without those circumstances.) Then, find someone who is in a worse situation than you are. Determine to bless them during this season. Many people have literally “served their way out of depression” by serving someone else in need. If you need counseling, or a friend to talk to, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Let someone else into your life….

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