The Sacrifice of Christmas Shopping

8:11:00 PM

I know a family that doesn’t buy Christmas presents. They say it is Jesus’ birthday, not ours. Why should we receive any gifts? They think gifts belong to the commercial side of Christmas. So while we are busy choosing and buying and wrapping presents for everyone, and spending money and getting a little bit stressed out about the whole business, they are concentrating on what is really important. (Or so they say.) On Christmas morning they go to Mass and pray and when they return home, they have a special meal together. But there are no presents.

I think about this. Perhaps this family has the right idea. Too often we get loaded down with worries as we prepare for Christmas. What gifts shall we buy? Do we have enough money? Who should we send cards to? What if we forget someone important? If we didn’t have to do Christmas shopping, perhaps we would spend more time preparing spiritually for the birth of Jesus. It is a tempting thought.

There was one Christmas 12 years ago, that I wanted to forgot all about the Christmas preparations, especially the shopping. I had no desire to leave home and browse shops looking for the perfect gifts. I didn’t want to think about what I should buy. I didn’t want to give gifts nor receive any. Gifts seemed so unimportant compared to the recent loss of our son.

But I only had to look at our children to know I couldn’t do as I wished. Although we were a family deep in grief, my children needed the joy of Christmas. And I knew part of that joy would come from ripping wrappings off specially chosen gifts on Christmas morning, and so I knew I would have to make myself go shopping whether I felt like it or not. I couldn’t retreat inwards and be alone with my sorrow.

It took me many shopping trips that year to do the Christmas shopping. I’d stand looking at something for a long time trying to make up my mind if it was the right thing to buy. Then I’d return it to the shelf and walk on, not able to come to a decision. I remember walking down aisles of clothes and toys, and tears appearing in my eyes as I thought about baby things I might have bought. Finally, I’d return home with my shopping bag almost empty, telling myself I’d do the shopping another day.

With Andy’s help I did eventually manage to buy presents for all my children. I wrapped them and hid them away and our children became excited and tried to guess what they would receive. And I tried to smile and pretend to be happy but inside my heart was so very heavy.

I look back now and I am really glad I did all that work to ensure my children had a wonderful Christmas. The photos show happy faces. We had many more months of grief ahead of us, but for a little while my children were transported into a different world.

I also now realise that all that effort, shopping and wrapping and preparing helped me to survive. To avoid falling into despair I had to make myself get up each day. I had to put one foot in front of the other and keep going, regardless of my feelings. Preparing for Christmas gave me real goals for each day, when I might otherwise have drifted along aimlessly. Having to focus on my children’s happiness, instead of my sorrow, kept me moving forward.

So there was a real reason for shopping for gifts that year. But what about this year and next year and the one after? Couldn’t I make a new family rule? Couldn’t I eliminate the stress of Christmas shopping, and couldn’t we focus solely on the spiritual side of Christmas?

I remember  this extract by Eugene Boylan in This Tremendous Lover:

… consider for a moment the sacrifices the parents have to make, to make Christmas all that tradition says it should be for their children. The expense, the worry, the trouble, the patience, the fatigue, the bitterness of financial limitations to one’s power of gratifying a child’s dream – the list is endless.

Think alone what is involved in Christmas shopping, where a large family and a small income are involved. And the thought can easily arise, especially for the ‘detached’ Christian: Is it all worth it? Of course, it is all worth it. It is done in memory of Christ; it is done to build up an idea of Christ; It is done for Christ; it is done to Christ! Amen, I say to you whatsoever you did to these my least brethren, you did it to me. When the New Year brings an end to those halcyon days for the children, this service done to Christ is the consolation that the parents should have in facing the expense…”

And I realise that every Christmas is an opportunity to make sacrifices for others. Christmas is not about reducing the workload or stress for myself. It's about doing things out of love, making others happy and putting smiles on little faces. This is part of my spiritual Christmas preparation.

So I have done the difficult job of choosing just the right gifts within my budget for all my loved ones. I have hidden them away out of sight of excited children. I will wrap them carefully, and on Christmas Eve I will lay them under the tree.

On Christmas morning my children’s eyes will light up with anticipation. They will tear off the wrappings, and arms will thrust themselves around me in tight hugs and I will hear the words, “I love you, Mum! Thank you!” And all the work and sacrifice will be worth it because it was done out of love, for those I love, and especially for Love.

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