3 Kinds of Gifts and What They Tell Us About God

“Give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Edward Burne-Jones, “The Adoration of the Magi” (detail), 1904
Edward Burne-Jones, “The Adoration of the Magi” (detail), 1904 )

Every year at this time, I buy Christmas gifts for the three different kinds of gift recipients in my family: the easy-to-buy-for, the hard-to-buy-for, and the nightmarish.

Included in the first category is the family member with a hobby. Whether his hobby is birdwatching, baking or basketball, the easy-to-buy-for giftee will be pleased with anything that is hobby-related. But hobbies can change by the week, so one must pay close attention in order to avoid giving a gift that is so “last year.”

I learned this lesson when one of my daughters became a collector of things pertaining to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. When gift-buying season came around, I ordered every book I could find on the “Man of the Beatitudes.” (Well, not every book. Some of them were in Italian.) Come Christmas morning, my daughter was thrilled, and I was delighted to see her reading about Blessed Pier Giorgio. Alas, by the time the next gifting occasion rolled around, the object of my daughter’s interest had been displaced by… Elvis.

The giftee in the “hard-to-buy-for” category is the one who has no interests whatsoever, and whose reaction to any and all gifts is predictably blasé. Once in a while, however, his indifference will be supplanted by a single-minded covetousness for an item that is, more often than not, beyond the means of the gift-giver.

Such was the case with one of my sons, who relied on his cell phone alarm to wake him up every morning. When his phone gave out, he asked Santa to bring him an iPhone whose features included “extensive alarm settings.” On Christmas morning, my son saw no iPhone under the tree, but he did see both a wristwatch with a built-in alarm and a box of eye-opening Bold Brew K-cups. What can I say? My son should have taken up birdwatching.

Although I normally relish the challenge of hunting down presents, my relish often goes sour when I’m shopping for my eldest daughter, the Bane of the Solicitous Gift-giver. The only family member in the “nightmarish” category of gift recipients, she has such peculiar tastes that she can have me crying “wish list!” in no time. Yet, like the broken clock that’s right twice a day, I have from time to time successfully gifted my daughter with stuff that even she didn’t know she wanted – like a Daruma doll.

A papier-mâché head with blank eyes and a weighted bottom, a Daruma doll is a motivational figure of Japanese origin. The owner of a Daruma doll, having settled on a worthy project, is supposed to draw in one of the doll’s eyeballs when he begins the project, and then fill in the other eyeball when the project is completed. For a couple of years, my daughter’s Daruma stared blankly from the top of a dresser, creeping out visitors and young siblings, while my daughter dithered over possible reasons to give the thing eyeballs. The Daruma, eyeless to this day, now occupies a place of honor in my daughter and son-in-law’s own home, where it is displayed alongside other equally disturbing — I mean, deserving — oddities.

It might be argued that one shouldn’t put so much effort into buying things of passing worth. But the consideration and care that go into the selection of Christmas gifts is to me a reflection of God’s attentiveness toward us. Our Lord Himself said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11) We can rejoice in the knowledge that, even when we find “the perfect gift” for a loved one, it is nothing compared to the gifts that God gives to us, his children.

Lord and Giver of all good things, during this busy season, help me to stay focused on the greatest and most sacrificial gift, that of your own Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.