Christmas spending is down substantially this holiday season. So, too, is Christmas giving.
The International Council of Shopping Centers has declared it an "awful beginning to the holiday season." November revenues have fallen 7.7% from last year—Walmart being the notable exception. Retailers are panicking as people seem to be giving less this year. This comes as no surprise. Unemployment is up. Disposable income is down. Money is tight. And, unlike the fat cats on Wall Street and in the Motor City, most of us simply aren't too big to fail.
But instead of focusing on the negatives of this holiday season, perhaps we can use this time as an opportunity to recapture the true spirit of giving.
For years, Christmas giving in our culture has been driven by an almost chaotic consumerism. The most recent evidence of this is the Black Friday stampede that resulted in the trampling death of a Walmart employee on Long Island. Driven by Madison Avenue ad campaigns, frenzied consumers have flocked to purchase the latest retail fads. Each new Christmas has been viewed as successful only if it is bigger and better than the previous year.
But with the implosion of our economy, all that has changed. People are more circumspect with their purchases. While this change might leave retailers depressed, it provides the rest of us with an opportunity to reflect on the real meaning of giving during this Christmas season.
The practice of gift giving at Christmas arose by virtue of God's gift of his Son to a sinful and fallen world. Wise men from the East, realizing that the baby born of humble circumstance was God incarnate, brought gifts to him as an act of worship. (Matt. 2:1-11) Christians emulated their actions by giving gifts to one another as they celebrated their Savior's birth. Somewhere along the line, clever retailers recognized the boon that would accrue to them if they could motivate everyone to get in on the act.