The best presents are given freely, not bought

Christmas brings out the best and worst of our way of life.

Crass consumerism runs rampant this time of year, as if owning things equates to happiness. If that were the case, then why are there so many miserable rich people?

Sure, it’s the season of giving, but it’s also for getting. People go into debt to buy things for those they love and are close to, and then they go into debt a little more to buy that special something for themselves. You know you do. I do too.

Christmas used to be a religious holiday, but if that’s still the case for you, it’s because you’re going out of your way to give it that kind of meaning. For most people nowadays, it’s little more than an economic incentive to give and get more stuff.

It’s good for the economy, so we figure it must be OK. Our livelihoods depend on all the buying and selling that comes with Christmastime. And since money makes our world go ‘round, we’d better keep it up or the unemployment lines will grow.

It’s crazy, this fabricated holiday. We spend, spend, spend, and hope nobody forgot to spend, spend, spend on us too. Then we call it a Christmas Miracle as if it means something special.

It’s just an invention of capitalism, and it pays off in money, not miracles. Christmas, bah humbug!

But then, at some point, if you’re lucky, it hits you. Maybe it’s in one of the holiday movies and shows, the one that brings a tear to your eye as you ponder how it really is a wonderful life, or how a Grinch’s heart did grow three sizes on the day he saw beyond the presents and pageantry. Or maybe it’s when Scrooge realizes that he must give back, that he must share his wealth with those around him if he’s going to any kind of decent man at all.

Maybe that’s when you realize there’s more to this busy holiday than meets the eye.

Or, perhaps it’s the original Christmas story, the one about a mother who had to give birth to her first child in a barn because they had nowhere else to go. That’s the kind of thing that poor and forgotten people go through; it’s amazing that anybody would even notice.

But three wise men did. They knew that there was something about this particular birth that it was important. They realized that this poor child was going to grow up and change the world—not as a conqueror, but with the only weapon he wielded, a brand new message about living and giving. He taught us that it’s better to give than to receive, that where you’ve been isn’t as important as where you’re going. He talked about a love so great that it isn’t limited to the realities of this world. His was an eternal message of blessings and forgiveness.

You can read the story yourself in the Gospels and extract your own interpretation, but for me it’s about more than giving and getting, it’s about what’s really important in life: Love. And, when I slow down long enough to ponder the meaning of this season, I realize that it’s much deeper than the superficial hoopla that surrounds this time of year.

As for me, I’m rich but, too often, I’m not happy. I don’t have piles of money sitting around, and I tend to bellyache about that, but I do have family and friends who love me and give my life meaning. And while I have lost loved ones to the “great beyond,” I’m rich with memories of the ways they touched my life.

This Christmas, I can’t afford to lavish expensive gifts on family and friends, and that frustrates me. It shouldn’t but it does. The holiday hoopla has gotten to me.

But the movies and the songs and the celebrations, and the original Christmas story, still get to me.

I suppose they speak to my better side. They remind me of the better things in life—love, imagination, living and giving—and that I’m better off counting my blessings instead of my money.

This holiday season, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, I hope everyone receives the greatest gift of all: true, unabated love. Thankfully, there’s no price tag on that one.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and now owns The Guadalupe County Communicator. He writes this column for newspapers around the state and can be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com.