As the holiday season approaches, there's an ironic sense of dread that hangs in the air. For Christians and non-Christians alike, Christmas has long been characterized by relentless commercialism and stress. The endless shopping lists and the pressure to find the "perfect" gift — ideally, as part of the equally perfect Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal — are largely to blame for this.
But what if we could reclaim the true spirit of Christmas? What if, instead of getting caught up in the consumerist whirlwind, we could recover peace and joy with giving that aligns more closely with the teachings of Jesus? Here’s how Christmas became associated with giving and how shifting our focus to non-material generosity and charitable donations can make Christmas more spiritually fulfilling.
The Origins of Christmas Giving
The tradition of gift-giving during Christmas has deep and complex historical roots. The story of how the Magi or Three Wise Men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to an infant Jesus is a familiar one. These offerings were not just valuable, but thoughtful and symbolic: gold represented Jesus' kingship, frankincense His divine nature, and myrrh His mortality. For Christians, it’s the origin story of how Christmas became associated with presents. In this sense, gift-giving can be seen as a way of celebrating the arrival of Christ our Savior.
But how did this concept inform holiday giving traditions in the US today? During the 1800s in New York City, it became popular for middle-class and wealthy Protestant families to give gifts to their children at Christmas. This was partly driven by early forms of commercialism and consumerism, but it also served as a way to shift the focus of the sacred holiday from public partying and indulgence to home, family, and innocence. Over time, the tradition has evolved into the practice of exchanging gifts with those we know and love during the Christmas season.
What Does the Bible Say About Giving?
Jesus' teachings on giving were profoundly different from the sales-oriented messaging that defines much of holiday giving today — especially the sense of obligation and stress that often come with it. 2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Instead, He emphasized the importance of what is now often thought of as Christian charity. This often entails giving money or material things to those who have fewer worldly resources than we do, but it can also mean showing love or compassion in other ways. In the often-quoted Matthew 25:31-45, Jesus stresses the importance of giving basic necessities, comfort, and companionship to those who need it — but not in a loud or showy fashion. The Bible tells us that acts of kindness should be done in secret, without expecting anything in return (Matthew 6:1-4).
This is important because it urges us to focus on the purpose of and motive for giving rather than on the nature of the gift itself. Giving should be an expression of love and compassion, not a transactional or obligation-based exchange. In addition, giving to others honors the legacy of Christ and all He gave the world through His life and death.
Why Charitable Giving Is Aligned With Bible Teachings
The Bible is full of verses that encourage believers to be generous and to care for our brothers and sisters in difficult circumstances or marginalized groups, a credo that Jesus exemplified on plenty of occasions. We can emulate this form of generosity by focusing less on gift exchanges in our own circles and more on giving back to our communities.
More specifically, we can accomplish this by supporting churches and nonprofits that do humanitarian work. These organizations are the most well-informed on the exact needs of the people they serve, and they also know how to use donations more efficiently and impactfully than any donor would on their own. (Think of them as the servant with the five talents in Matthew 25:14-30).
How Giving Benefits Christians, Too
Many Christians are familiar with the Bible-verse-turned-adage that it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Too often, we think of this in dour terms of religious correctness and piety, when giving should provide a real sense of fulfillment that comes from living out our faith in a tangible way. Yet charitable generosity comes with many other benefits for the giver, including the following:
Convenience. Donating to a church, charity, or nonprofit is an easy, fuss-free way of supporting God’s work without having to do all of it ourselves. Many organizations now allow you to give donations online, which means you don’t even have to leave your browser, much less your home, to do it, and it’s an action that takes only seconds of your time.
Satisfaction. The act of giving cultivates a spirit of gratitude and contentment, reminding us of our blessings and allowing us to use them for the good of others.
Community connection. Giving also fosters a sense of community and interconnectedness, as we realize that our well-being is closely linked to the well-being of others. Choosing an organization whose interests are closely aligned with your own can greatly enhance this sense of connection.
Empowerment. Now more than ever, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of crises and injustices happening in the world. Supporting a church or nonprofit’s work gives us the ability to actually do something about them and solve real problems. In short, no matter what you’re going through, you can find considerable comfort in comforting others with your donation.
Improved mental health. Generosity and empowerment can go a long way toward building hope. This is especially meaningful at Christmas, given that Jesus’ birth represented hope for mankind as a whole. In turn, having hope helps us to develop a more positive overall outlook on life, which can improve our mental health in a surprising variety of ways — including reducing stress. Who doesn’t want less stress during the holidays?
Improved physical health. Did you know that nourishing others can help you take better care of your own body? Our mental health has a powerful impact on our physical health. Studies show that giving can actually lower blood pressure and cholesterol, boost heart health, help prevent chronic diseases, and even help you live longer.
Beyond Cash Donations: Other Ways to Give Back This Holiday Season
While monetary donations are impactful, giving isn't limited to cash contributions. If you’re operating on a tight budget, consider these alternative ways to give:
Time. Volunteer at local shelters, food banks, community centers, or churches.
Skills. Offer your professional services pro bono to nonprofits or individuals in need.
Goods. Donate clothes, toys, or household items to charitable organizations.
As Christians, we are called to reflect the love and generosity of Jesus, especially during the Christmas season. By shifting our focus from commercial gift-giving to charitable donations and acts of kindness, we can experience a more meaningful Christmas that aligns with the teachings of the Bible. This holiday season, let's rediscover the true joy and peace of Christmas by giving in ways that honor God and uplift those around us.
Rediscover the Joy of Christmas Giving With Word of Life Church
Word of Life Church is dedicated to making the world a better place by spreading the Word and Love of God. Our mission is to create an authentic, welcoming worship community, and to empower people to live a life of faith and service in the name of Jesus — including celebrating the real meaning of Christmas and holiday giving.
Our church offerings include a variety of worship experiences, LifeGroups, youth programs, and service initiatives for individuals of all ages, all of them designed to offer community and opportunities to engage with God. However, we can’t do God’s work without you. Please consider supporting us by donating today!