Jeff Jacoby

But whatever Micah may have lacked in style and taste, he more than made up for with the unfeigned delight he brought to the whole project. He couldn't wait to turn his little clutch of dollars into presents for the people he loves. He wasn't consciously trying to be altruistic or selfless; and he's never given 30 seconds' thought to the meaning of generosity. He was simply excited by the prospect of giving -- and indeed, when the moment came a few nights later to bestow his gifts on his recipients, he was practically bouncing up and down with elation.

If this is crass commercialism, let's have more of it.

Would modern society really be improved if the happiness of gift-giving were not an integral part of one special season each year? Granted, anything can be overdone, and materialism is no exception. And it is important to remember that the hustle and pressure of buying presents for loved ones doesn't reduce our obligation to give charitably and generously to the poor.

But how diminished our culture would be without that hustle and pressure. Children learn an important lesson when they see the adults in their world treat the joy of others as a priority worth spending time, money, and thought on. No one has to teach kids to be acquisitive and selfish -- that comes naturally -- but what an inestimable asset they acquire when they find out for themselves that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.

It is only a coincidence of the calendar that links Christmas and Chanukah; theologically the two holidays have little in common. But essential to both Judaism and Christianity is the principle of imitatio Dei, of striving to walk in God's ways, above all by being kind to others as He is kind to us. Isn't that what underlies the expense and scramble of our holiday gift-giving? In lavishing gifts on others, we reflect the openhandedness with which God lavishes gifts on us. Maybe that's not the entirety of the season's "true joy and true light." But if my 8-year-old's unaffected joyfulness is any indication, it makes a great start.


Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.