Christmas is awesome as a kid because you get cool stuff that you can’t get any other time. (Yeah, yeah, you can tell me that Christmas is awesome because we celebrate the Savior’s birth or because we get to serve people, but if you were a kid like I was a kid, it really just came down to presents and time off school.)
Now here’s my “kinds of presents” list:
- Stuff the recipient doesn’t want (like Christmas ornaments — who ever thinks, “I’d love a Christmas ornament”?)
- Stuff the recipient likes and would probably get for themselves anyway (like clothes)
- Stuff the recipient likes and could afford but probably wouldn’t get for themselves (like a spa gift certificate)
- Stuff the recipient doesn’t know she or he wants yet, but will think is awesome when they get it (???)
- Stuff the recipient wants but can’t afford (???)
Christmas is awesome for kids because parents are usually able to fulfill the #5 option, which is the most impactful kind of present. My favorite present each year was the video game or big Lego set, which were far out of my allowance-funded price range.
But as we get older, the power imbalances decrease. When you’re 8 years old, your parents might make 1,000 times as much money as you do. When you’re 12 years old, they make maybe 100 times as much. When you’re 16 years old it’s perhaps down to 10 times as much. That income disparity is what makes #5 gifts possible. But then you become an adult. Your wants become much more expensive, and your parents aren’t so capable of funding them for you.
If I were trying to connect Christmas gift giving to the Savior’s atonement (and I admit it’s a bit of a stretch), those #5 gifts are the ones that best capture the spirit of it. Salvation is the ultimate #5 gift — the one thing we most want and can least afford.
The atonement works because the power imbalance between us and the Savior is so great. And it’s an amazing gift for the same reason.
A couple Christmases back, I asked a friend in the ward if I could get him anything for Christmas. He said, “Not unless you can pay my mortgage.” The power imbalance had disappeared. The two of us, on relatively equal financial footing, couldn’t provide those #5 gifts for each other.
So now, when I get gifts for other adults, I try to focus on the #4 ones. It’s harder; I’d guess that about 1 in 3 of them actually turn out to be something the person ends up loving. But when it works, there’s something wonderful about introducing a person to a new world that they didn’t know existed before. As adults, I think that’s the power imbalance that we can work with — the imbalance of awareness. You know about wonderful things that I don’t know about. I know about wonderful things that you don’t know about. So, this year, instead of buying you a Christmas ornament, maybe I’ll see if I can find you a good book on astronomy or the history of the Balkans. And maybe you’ll discover that the world is fascinating in new and wonderful ways you’d never considered.