December 8, 2006

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Gift giving reflects on the heart

I was on my way to a food drive last week when I found myself reaching for the spinach. I paused, paralyzed by a sense of déjà vu: I’ve been giving spinach to food drives since second grade.

My willingness to give, it appears, has been limited to the things I don’t like. I begrudgingly grabbed a can of wild rice soup and headed out.

Soon I was listening to friends discuss finding the right Christmas presents. “Gift cards all the way,” Hilary declared.

Preparing gifts can be a source of pleasure or stress, meaning or distraction.

We have more options than ever, and they’re all available at the click of a mouse. As a result, gift giving has become less of an art and more of a science. Less physical, more formulaic.

EBay recommends eight gifts for each of its consumer categories, based on age and gender. For “Trapped in the Past,” model airplanes. For “High Maintenance,” fur boots. A saxophone for “Casanova” and poker chips for “Just Impossible.”

But how much fun would it be to give the product of an external equation?

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Sally delight in gift giving. They deliberate over each purchase, then they hover by each recipient, studying her reaction and celebrating her satisfaction.

Receiving presents on Christmas, clearly, is secondary to the joy they get from giving.

One year, my Uncle John, who had a small income, gave my Mom, an avid tea drinker, an enormous sack of tea bags. He had been sweeping a social hall, and after each night the owner let him take a handful of tea bags. Like the widow who gave two coins, his gift carried great weight.

Then there’s the boy who donated five loaves of bread and two fish, only to see his meager offering multiplied exponentially. I had a taste of that experience last year when I created a memory book for my Mom’s 50th birthday, asking 50 friends and relatives to write a favorite memory of her.

I ended up with more than 50 stories and an education in my Mom, who had many wonderful friends and adventures, it turns out, long before I was born.

Soon a series of gifts from over the years entered my mind. Each one had a small price tag and a huge significance.

The time I was 5 and Mom cut her favorite purple bathrobe so it would fit me. The memory box my roommate, Staci, decoupaged. The music sheets my Grandpa copied for us to play.

Small gifts, big acts of love.

We live in a culture that spoils. TiVo records shows to match our taste. IPods creates playlists to please our ears. Sleep Number beds adjust to our backs. RSS feeds adapt to our brains. We’re each plunged into the center and made to be king.

Young adulthood can fuel that self absorption. We don’t have kids or parents to dress or feed or clean, so we can focus on ourselves—our wardrobe, our social life, our career.

That’s why being completely consumed creating a gift can be a joyful, even spiritual, release. “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (Jas 1:17).

Last Christmas Eve, I could feel the stir of the Holy Spirit when I stayed up late into the night to finish a heritage plaque for my Grandpa. The next morning, I had drooping eyelids and a leaping heart. I couldn’t wait to give Grandpa his gift. And his response made my Christmas.

That same spirit stirred in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born in a manger, transforming the mundane to the miraculous—the ultimate gift of God.

(Christina Capecchi is a graduate student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. E-mail her at †

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