Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

According to a recent Gallup survey, Americans plan to spend an average of $942 on Christmas gifts this year. This is the most ever since Gallup began measuring the trend. It’s shaping up to be a record year for retailers but often the pressure to give the perfect gift leaves shoppers frazzled with feelings of inadequacy.

It’s funny how holiday marketers have convinced us that in order to be truly happy, you’ve gotta have this gift and to win others’ approval you’ve gotta give that gift. Such expectations aren’t what the season’s about. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.

The commercialization of Christmas arguably started when Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the holiday shopping season by moving Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second to last Thursday in 1939. Critics derided the move, driven by economic pragmatism, as Franksgiving.

Queue Eartha Kitt’s 1953 classic Christmas hit Santa Baby. All she’s asking for is a yacht, convertible, and of course the deed to a platinum mine, not necessarily exhaustive or in that order. She’s been a good girl after all. So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Gift-giving is a fun part of the Christmas tradition, but when gifts are all-consuming they crowd out space we need to contemplate the holiday’s deeper meaning and spiritual significance. After the presents are opened and wrapping paper litters the living room floor what are we left with?

The “more, more, more” mentality and “me, me, me” mindset are both the antithesis of Christmas. Such thinking, even though implied and unspoken, really leaves us empty. This is because we’re more than just material stuff made to consume. There’s a spiritual side that the holiday centers around. It’s the side that addresses our hearts’ longing.

Christmas’ profound gift is the incarnation of God breaking into history as a human being to save people from their sins. It’s the story of Jesus born to a virgin in a stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. It takes the faith of a child to believe such a fantastic story and it takes humility to receive the gift of God’s Son. The story of Emmanuel– God with us– changes people. Not just our giving habits either.

At the heart of Christmas is spiritual awakening where peace, goodwill, and charity grow as believers embark on their journey with Christ. It’s the selfless acts of love and kindness toward our fellow man that revives our spirits. And while a material gift may warm our heart, it cannot meet the deepest spiritual need.

So in the spirit of celebrating God’s greatest gift to us in Jesus, why not rebel against the secular excesses that center entirely around gifting at the expense of the sacred? Why don’t you bless others who need more than just another gaudy Christmas sweater? There are many ways to do this. How about ring a bell for the Salvation Army? Or drop in an extra donation into the red kettle? Maybe volunteer to work in a soup Kitchen, or donate to Angel Tree which gives gifts to children with a parent in prison. In other words spread goodwill and cheer to those who need a bit of God’s love this season. It’ll bring a special touch of Christmas into someone’s life that no retail outlet can ever give.