I have always tried to escape the U.S. for one-or-another non-Christian country at Christmas time. I detest the ubiquity of horrible music and bad good-cheer. But what I really loathe, above all, is the exchange of gifts.
I am not alone, of course, in decrying the crass materialism of Christmas. But how many Christians actually act on this seemingly widely-held revulsion and boycott Christmas giving? And how many non-Christians feel compelled to participate in the annual shop-and-swap madness?
Most succumb. Some will make charitable donations in the name of family and friends, which is a constructive variant on the tradition. A few will take the more personally engaged step of making a gift of service. But almost nobody seems willing to take a critical look at what passes for big-heartedness at this time of year. After all, what could be bad about giving?
In my view, the trained-seal munificence of ritual gift giving at Christmas time does not meaningfully teach or propagate the principle of generosity. Rather than engage in this annual orgy of forced consumption, materialism, and resource depletion, it would be heartening to see us practicing simpler forms generosity and compassion year-round – with our loved ones, with acquaintances, and with those we’ve never met.
There are eleven more shopping-days until Christmas – still plenty of time to catch a plane for Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Lahore, Mumbai, Bangkok, Kyoto, and a zillion other wonderful, Christmas-free locations.