I have promoted anti-consumerist campaigns like “Buy Nothing Christmas” that discourage shopping for Christmas gifts. For evidence, check out some previous blogs on this site! You could have accused me of being a bit of a Scrooge or a Grinch. Yet my children have taught me how meaningful and relational the practice of giving gifts can be. The thoughtfulness in the choice and/or creation of gifts and the depth of emotion present at our family gift-exchanges have convinced me that the giving of Christmas presents is a good tradition.

As an example, let me tell you about a few gifts I received from my young adult kids this year. They honour me by giving gifts that display how deeply they know me and love me; and, we all want to be known and loved. They all know that I have three musical obsessions: the Beatles [British rock’n roll], Johnny Cash [American country], Bruce Cockburn [Canadian folk]. The Beatles and Bruce Cockburn have been featured in previous years’ gifts so it seemed this year was Johnny Cash’s turn. I got a home-made “Johnny Cash” signature in bronze on a black T-shirt. I received a copy of his novel, Man in White, weaving together the story of the Apostle Paul with his own life. I also got two albums: the ahead-of-its-time 1964 concept album about indigenous rights, “Bitter Tears” and the tribute album on the 50th anniversary of its release when finally people were paying more attention to the issue.

Tied to the subject of the albums, I also have a personal interest in Canadian history, in particular all things Louis Riel and the struggle for Metis and indigenous rights. I received a home-made artistic piece with a Louis Riel saying and the infinity symbol on it as well as a brand new collection of previously written essays by historian, Jean Barman: On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space, and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia.

And my summer hobby of attempting to live more simply by cultivating a suburban garden got a nod with a cute hand-made ceramic beets wall ornament and a beautiful book of pictures, recipes, prayers, and reflections: Taste & See: Seasonal Meals for Sabbath in Southwest British Columbia by a former co-student of my son’s at Regent College.

Our kids did the same for each other and for my wife. (We generally do not give each other gifts at Christmas and focus rather on the kids and our grandchild.) My wife enjoys shopping for gifts for the kids and this year I painted a personal watercolour for each of them recalling a memory and attempting to reflect their characters and passions. We also make a donation (We usually try to match or exceed what we spend on them.) in their honour to an organization that does work that they feel passionate about and write it up in a card to them. Our kids also insist that we open gifts one at a time with a personal acknowledgement of love and gratitude after each one (only virtual hugs this year). Even though half of us had to be present online this year, our hearts are full with love and gratitude.

Sometimes the most meaningful gifts are those that are completely unexpected. As a college professor I do not expect a lot of gifts from poor college students—like what my wife receives from her kindergarten students! Thus, it caught me by surprise when a few days before Christmas the doorbell rang and two students—married to each other—presented me with a beautiful hand-crafted charcuterie board made by one of them, along with a gift card from a local market where the other works. I felt deeply honoured.