Growing up, we always had presents under the tree. We had presents before Christmas, and more on Christmas, and sometimes, if there were stragglers, even after Christmas. Not having presents has never been a reality for me. And so, as a pastor, when I hear of families who won't "have Christmas" (meaning presents) it kills me and I do everything I can to make sure the kids have something to open to help them celebrate.
I know, full well, that the presents aren't the meaning of Christmas, instead they are (or at least should be) an outpouring of thanks for all the gifts we have received through Christ. So, in some ways, even though they aren't the focus, it's even more important that there are gifts...in the sense that they reflect how grateful we are...no gifts would then mean no gratitude.
I realize that part of me is caving to cultural norms, but part of me also knows that giving gifts is a way of blessing others, and we bless others because we have already been blessed.
As such, I have been buying and wrapping and sorting and counting to be sure I can deliver gifts to three families in need who came to me at the last minute. I want them to celebrate on Christmas. I want them to be blessed as I have been blessed.
That's the fun part...not the blunder.
The blunder came on Sunday morning during the Children's moment. I was trying to talk about anticipation and patience and wanted to talk about having to wait to open the presents under the tree. So, I asked, "Do you have presents under the tree?" And I got, "No." and then another "no" and another and another. I know not everyone puts the presents out early. I also know that not everyone has enough for presents this year and I could have kicked myself for not realizing or thinking about it ahead of time.
From my background, it's an easy mistake to make. But, knowing the families I do and working with so many in need, I should know that gifts under the tree aren't a given. (heck, this year, I don't have any under my own tree...namely because the dog thinks they are chew toys, but still, even I couldn't have said "yes".)
This may or may not be a relevant message for you, but if you do work in ministry, know that there are probably families in your parish who do not have presents under the tree and who may not be able to get presents. And to ask such a "simple" question can invoke sadness for the kids and shame for the parents and all of that could easily be avoided.