Many years ago, I was chatting with a friend about buying baby gifts. It was just a regular, pleasant conversation until she mentioned the pressure she felt to ensure that her more affluent friends needed to have a pricey, name-brand baby gift while another couple from a lower socio-economic group would be easier to buy for. She happily stated that a gift from a simple, generic store would be “fine for them.” The impact of the unintentional discrimination inherent in that conversation resonates with me still.
I know my friend was simply stating, with relief, that her more humble friends would be appreciative and happy with something similar to what she would buy for her own child; however, I couldn’t help thinking that if she could actually afford an extravagant gift for the baby that “had everything,” couldn’t she likewise give the child with less material wealth the best of what she had to offer? In my mind, the couple with less would probably have appreciated a gift of something they would – or could - never buy for themselves, much more than the couple who always shopped in fancy stores.
With Advent on its way, the gift-giving frenzy begins. Whenever I buy gifts for donation hampers or the food bank, I think of my friend’s comments.
While I could definitely buy more items for less at the dollar store, why would I buy large quantities of items for someone who probably does a lot of their personal shopping at the dollar store? If they are in need, wouldn’t they appreciate quality socks or gloves made to keep them warm, toys similar to those owned by “the other kids” or the same type of chocolate I’d enjoy myself? I try to imagine myself in a similar situation, and how much I’d appreciate receiving something nicer than I’d be able to afford on my own.
On the Feast of Christ the King, we heard Jesus’ message of charity in the Gospel of Matthew: “‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me’” (Mt 25:35).
I try to make this message even more personal for myself by not only feeding the hungry, but offering them food that I would really love to eat, and clothing the naked with clothing that I’d really like to wear. Of course, I won’t have the same taste as everyone who receives my donation, but at least I know that I’m trying to please someone, to value someone, and to give the best that I am able to offer.
I don’t shop at extravagant stores to start with, but if something is good enough for my family members and friends, then it’s the type of thing I’ll buy for a donation drive. I always like to find sales and deals, but I don’t choose quantity over quality.
I’m not suggesting that people should purchase gifts beyond their means, but I do suggest that everyone consider the recipients of their gifts, whether they are loved ones, or strangers. It definitely is the thought that counts, but that doesn’t mean that just the idea or the act of giving is enough; it means that there needs to be thought – sentiments of love and care - in the selection of a gift.
The Wise Men didn’t discriminate in their gifts for the Baby Jesus. Mary and Joseph weren’t royalty and the infant didn’t know the difference, but the Magi knew that even though a humble gift would have been appreciated and absolutely “fine for them,” they wanted to offer the best they could.
Whether we give a good quality garment, a trendy toy, a homemade scarf, a favourite type of coffee, or even a friendly smile, let us see Jesus in the recipients of our gifts, as we lovingly and thoughtfully give the best we have to offer.
“And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Mt 25:40).