Just about everyone is excited to receive a gift. There is something wonderful about knowing that someone cared enough to think about what you would like, shopped for it or created it themselves, and gave it to you.

There is also a special joy in giving gifts. When you find a gift that you know the recipient will love, it’s fun to present it to them. The recipient’s delight becomes a gift to you and inspires you to keep giving. But stop and think for a moment of all the gifts you’ve received in your life so far, and which ones have stood out.

You might have been beside yourself with excitement when you received the video game you were begging for, but does it still bring you that same joy after a couple of weeks? The gorgeous top you just “had to have,” how often do you wear it now?

There are a lot of Christmas traditions, and they vary by families, but it seems the one tradition most families share is gift exchange. Stores know this, so they prepare months before Christmas by flooding the shopping floors with potential gifts and pictures of happy people receiving the store’s wares as gifts. They aggressively offer deals, sale days, shopping rewards, incentives, and layaway plans in an attempt to earn your holiday budget. Everyone from the car dealership to the discount store offers ideas of what you can get your loved ones for Christmas.

I grew up in a missionary family, where Christmas didn’t equal an abundance of fanfare and gifts, either for me personally or for the average people I was around. The first Christmas that I had the opportunity to “go all out” and do tons of shopping for my loved ones and family, I was so excited! I spent days shopping at the mall, hours researching “best” purchases online, and more hours perfectly wrapping gifts and tying the packages with beautiful bows.

As Christmas drew near, I heard myself a few times saying, I can’t wait ’til this is all over. I had never felt anxious for Christmas to be over before! Sure, we were tired by the end of it, but I had never felt any dread associated with the season.

Now here I was participating in a “traditional Christmas,” and instead of it being a joy-filled time, it was becoming stressful. I realized I was surrounded and consumed by Christmas but had the feeling that I was missing Christmas altogether. I powered through anyway, right up to the most hectic Christmas Eve celebration I had ever experienced. Piles of gifts were exchanged and trash bag upon trash bag of wrapping paper and packaging was gathered. I sat there in the aftermath of “Christmas” feeling so terribly underwhelmed. I felt like I had missed the grand finale of a great movie and just skipped to the part where the credits roll. Where had Christmas gone?

All those thoughtfully purchased gifts? As the weeks and months rolled by, I happened upon various gifts I had given, stashed in the back of a drawer or sitting on a shelf gathering dust. I also found some of the gifts I had received were useless. We had collectively spent a lot of money on gifts, and a few weeks later, it seemed like no one was any better off for it.

Before I sound like the Grinch, I want to make it clear that I am not against the giving of gifts. I just hate to see Christmas eclipsed by a frenzy of shopping and stressing. On that disappointing Christmas, I learned that the real spirit of Christmas, the joy that makes Christmas special, is something you have to seek out. It doesn’t just come because it’s December and you’re buying gifts, decorating a tree, and listening to Christmas music.

Here are some of the ways I plan to spread the spirit of Christmas:

  • Sending Christmas cards to loved ones near and far
  • Sharing inspiring Christmas stories with my kids and friends
  • Posting thought-provoking, joyful, and meaningful Christmas messages on my Facebook page
  • Sending donations to mission works that are making Christmas special for kids and families in need
  • Practicing random acts of kindness in my community
  • Making Christmas treats for teachers and friends
  • Avoiding the mall
  • Keeping Christmas simple: less fussing and more meaning
  • Spending as much time as possible with family and friends

And the gift I am giving Jesus? Gratitude!

December is here. Join me in taking time before the Christmas frenzy is in high gear to think of how we will make this beautiful season meaningful, and how we will “find Christmas” this year.