Since my first visit to Knoxville last June, I have occasionally murmured how our house's 3 front steps really need a railing or bannister. Sure enough, this morning I slipped on the ice-covered steps. (I'm somewhat sore, but otherwise I suspect I'm OK). The result of the ice storm, however, has been the cancellation of just about everything - including, regrettably, our parish staff Christmas party, scheduled ages ago at a Knoxville landmark restaurant. Since that restaurant is soon to go out of business, that's one Knoxville landmark I may never get to see!
Naturally, I felt really bad about having to cancel our parish staff Christmas party, but there didn't seem to be much alternative. (Hopefully, we will soon find some other suitable occasion to be together without a work-related agenda). Meanwhile, I am spending the day here at home, doing very little. At least I've mailed most of my Christmas cards already!
I still enjoy sending Christmas cards. Christmas presents are another story. I used to like buying presents - especially when my nieces were little and I could get them fun toys or really nice children's books. But now they too are grown up - grown enough to have their own tastes and preferences. So increasingly in recent years, the few gifts I give are just money (or at best a gift certificate, which is essentially the same thing but at least has more of the appearance of more personal effort having gone into it. Yet, while that certainly makes sense (and is certainly more convenient) I really do sometimes miss the experience of actually wrapping and giving a real present. There is something about gift-giving that just seems so congruent with this season.
Of course, there still remain opportunities to give gifts to people who really need them. I think that is why "Giving Trees" have become so popular in recent years. In a world in which most of our charitable giving has been bureaucratized into cash donations (as with my personal gift giving probably the most efficient option really for both giver and recipient), "Giving Trees" provide an outlet for giving that is organized and efficient, but still preserves some sense of the personal.
In the religious version of the secular "War Against Christmas," it is fashionable sometimes to denounce the "commercialism" and "materialism" underlying so much of our Christmas giving. Yet, as with much of our modern secular Christmas, there is something fundamentally good about our custom of gift-giving. "Giving Trees" and other such holiday practices help us anchor our annual shopping and buying spree somewhere closer to the heart of what this season is supposed to be all about. Surely one way to give thanks for God's Christmas gift of his Son to us his helplessly needy creatures is to give gifts ourselves not just to those who will respond with presents of equal or comparable value but especially to those who not only actually need the gifts they get but, being anonymous, will never even thank us, let alone reciprocate with more presents we really don't need.