So have you completed all that Christmas shopping? If you are the type of person who starts shopping for next Christmas on Dec. 26 and are finished a full month before Christmas, good for you. But what about the other 90 percent of you? Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to get people you care about.
Does Uncle Ed really need one more Christmas tie? Do you want to give the grandkids something more meaningful than another video game? And how much time do you really want to spend at the mall now that it’s almost Christmas Day?
Think about creative alternatives. My children have found nice gifts for parents and grandparents at the dollar store. Each of them selects something that would be enjoyable for the recipient: a purple candle for Oma whose house is decorated all in purple, a spatula for dad whose pancakes she loves to eat, a mug for grandpa who starts every day with green tea.
Russ Senti, executive director of Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center in Oregon, Ill.,, tells me that he went to a Christian bookstore and found a nice small block of wood with the serenity prayer etched on it as a last-minute gift for a staff member who is in seminary.
One year when we were newly married and in seminary, my husband and I filled our tree with homemade ornaments made out of yarn and construction paper that we already had around the house. Patrick McGuire, a pastor in Chicago, recalls when times were particularly tight a Christmas Eve when he and his partner purchased a tree for $5 that was being thrown away. They borrowed Christmas ornaments to decorate it, as a special Christmas present to each other.
At my house, we also wrap up the baby Jesus (from our four nativity sets) and put them in our stockings as a reminder of the greatest gift of all. No one is surprised by the gift, but they still love it nonetheless.
For certain family members or friends, an I.O.U. coupon book is a great last-minute present. An offer to babysit or to cut their grass in the summer can go a long way for a single parent or an older adult. Or if you can cook or bake, an offer to prepare dinner or make a batch of brownies on demand can be just the ticket for a set of busy working parents. All it takes is some ideas, a little paper and a little imagination. My kids’ teachers even appreciated the plate of cookies that I gave them, which they could also take to a friend’s house for a holiday party hostess gift.
Or consider a gift from the ELCA Good Gifts catalog. These caring gifts are available in almost every price range, benefitting numerous organizations and causes throughout the world. They are also a great gift to give to the person who is hard to shop for or for someone who is trying to cut back on the “stuff” they accumulate.
And remember, the point is not to give the most expensive or most perfect or most special gift. The point is to celebrate Jesus’ birth and spend time with people we love. As Robert Ferro, senior pastor of Bethany English Lutheran Church an ELCA congregation in Cleveland, says, “Christmas will come whether we are ready or not. So just go with the flow and have fun. Three days after Christmas no one will remember if you did or did not get something done. Whether or not Christmas lives up to our expectations, it really isn’t about everything we do to make things ‘right,’ but what God has done in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to make us and the world right.”