Why do we give gifts? Because, like Jesus, all are children of God


Christmas is the time to feel good. God wants us to feel good. He loves us. His son has become a human being, just as we are, and came that we might have true life.

To celebrate Christmas, we have developed traditions, among them the giving of gifts. Indeed, gifts are so much a part of the day that choosing them, buying them, wrapping them and presenting them are just an indispensable part of the season.

We give gifts to people we know. We give special gifts to those we love. Often, we try to make the gift special. Somebody in the family loves novels, so we look for a bestseller in fiction. Someone else works outdoors, so we shop for a pair of warm gloves.

Then, after acquiring the gift, we wrap it in bright, colorful paper, tied not with string, but with gleaming ribbon. Why? It is special. Why? The recipient is special to us.

Christmas gifts, and gift-giving, are deeply rooted in religion and in the Christian remembrance of the birth of Jesus, as it is told in the Gospel of St. Matthew.

Matthew’s Gospel is the only source that we have of our knowledge of the strangers who came from some distant, unnamed place to present gifts to the newborn Lord. All we know is that they came from “the East.” That could mean many places.

Nobody has ever truly defined who these visitors were. Seemingly, they were wealthy, because they brought very expensive gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some call them kings. When astronomy, the science of watching the movement of the planets and stars, was big, they were experts, so they were called “Wise Men.”

We know precisely, however, that they come to Bethlehem looking for the Son of God, and nothing, not even the scheming King Herod, could cause them to turn back. They knew their need for God, and they showed their belief that they had found God in presenting their gifts.

We give gifts to other human beings because each of us is a child of God, redeemed by the Son of God. Each person, therefore, is special. We give a gift to another, at least according to the roots of the custom, because we see God in the person.

The gift should be an acknowledgment that God so loved this person that Jesus was born and died for the person, and as Jesus loved, we love.

If genuine, any Christmas gift is given with love and in love — primarily love for God.

When I was a boy, one of the good Dominican nuns who taught me told this story, an old European legend. It has a very important message, and I have never forgotten it.

Once upon a time, in a great city, at Christmas, people presented gifts before the Nativity scene in the cathedral. The rich and mighty vied with each other to offer the most expensive gift.

A poor orphan boy dreamed of offering a gift, but he had nothing. One day, he found an old gold button that had fallen onto the street. He took it, scrubbed it, and laboriously polished it. Tiny, bent, broken and discarded, it finally gleamed — because of his unquestioning love for the Lord.

Christmas came. Admired by the whole congregation, the rich and “important” paraded to the crib and placed their gaudy gifts before it.

This cathedral’s tower had great bells. At times, without cause, they suddenly would ring. People said that the bells rang when God was pleased.

Ashamed of his paltry gift, the boy knelt in the shadows until Mass ended. Then, with no one watching, he laid his little button before the image of the Christ Child. Wonderfully, unexpectedly, the bells pealed more beautifully than anyone could remember.

God simply asks for our love — nothing more, nothing less.


This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


Catholic News & Perspective

Provides information on the Church, the nation and the world from OSV, America's most popular and trusted national Catholic news source


Opening the Word: John’s confession of faith

Friday, January 17, 2020
By: Timothy P. O'Malley During Advent, the Church listened to John’s the Baptist’s inquiry from prison. As John suffered in prison, he... Read More

A resolution: Renewing Catholic family life in 2020

Wednesday, January 15, 2020
By: Dr. Greg Popcak Pope Francis has said that “the Church is a family of families” (Amoris Laetitia, No. 87). More than a statement of... Read More

Realizing what we are affects our view of marriage

Monday, January 13, 2020
By:  Msgr. Owen Campion I should not have been taken aback, given the current, highly publicized demands apparently by many in the United... Read More

Opening the Word: Sharing in Divine Sonship

Friday, January 10, 2020
By: Timothy P. O'Malley In Matthew, John protests the baptism of Jesus, suggesting that it is Jesus who should be the one who baptizes John. Yet... Read More

What’s the state of the pro-life movement?

Wednesday, January 8, 2020
By: Russell Shaw As thousands of pro-life demonstrators fill the streets of downtown Washington on Jan. 24 for the annual March for Life, optimism... Read More

The uncomfortable history of Catholics and slavery

Monday, January 6, 2020
By: Msgr. Owen F. Campion The birds are coming home to roost. Georgetown University, this country’s first Catholic college, and first Jesuit... Read More

Opening the Word: The gift of ourselves

Friday, January 3, 2020
By: Timothy P. O'Malley Church-going Catholics know the major themes of the feast of the Epiphany. We know the Wise Men represent the Gentiles... Read More

Throwing ‘prayer darts’ at God: How to make short, intentional prayers a part of our everyday lives

Wednesday, January 1, 2020
By: Father Peter Schineller “Pray without ceasing” urges St. Paul (1 Thes 5:17). This doesn’t mean we should be on our knees or... Read More

Parents are called to be the primary teachers of the Faith to their children

Monday, December 30, 2019
By: Msgr. Owen F. Campion On a recent, rainy Saturday afternoon, in a sudden fit to rid myself of things unneeded, I found a treasure in a long... Read More

Opening the Word: The Incarnation of the real

Friday, December 27, 2019
By:Timothy P. O'Malley Secular critics of religion often offer the following assessment. They presume that religious people embrace their doctrines... Read More