Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Gifts’

A friend recently asked me what are my family’s traditions for Christmas.  Besides a formal meal, we also purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, the latter usually to the backdrop of nostalgic Christmas songs and candlelight.  But the most familiar tradition, even an oft-lamented one in our materialism-saturated society, is the exchanging of gifts.  But I am convinced there is nothing inherently wicked with either the getting or the giving of presents.

Gift and give are newer forms of a presumed old, old root, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ghabh- meaning “to give or receive”.  Before it reached English, it appeared in the Old Norse with a definition “gift, good luck”.  For a while it was pronounced yiven, before the guttural ‘g’ resurfaced.  An initial ‘h’ sound is also associated with the root, developing into the somewhat opposite word have.  Isn’t it interesting that giving and receiving are so closely linked that they’re all mixed up with the same family of words?

Present specifically carries the notion of something offered, freely, but before it is received.  It is set in the presence of one, placed “before their face”.

The word receive has a more Latin than Germanic heritage, entering English c. 1300, about 200 years after the Norman French conquest of England, from the Old North French, meaning at that time “seize, take hold of, accept”.  I like the emphasis on the fact that a gift cannot simply be thrust on someone; the action is interactive, with the receiver willingly taking the gift.  In earlier forms, found in Latin, the word meant “regain, take back, recover, take in, or admit”.  There’s a sense of vengeance contrasted with the sense of hospitality.

Hospitality is, in Greek, xenia, especially referring to the “rights of a guest or stranger”.  There is a city in Ohio named for this word.  I think that is a lovely motto of which to be reminded every time one’s city is mentioned.  It is not so much seen in our country as in many other nations, including the Israelite tribe whose generosity to the poor and stranger in the land was mandated by the Mosaic Law (see also this passage).

Hospitality is also a French/Latin borrowing, also since the 1300’s.  It comes from a word meaning “friendliness to guests”.  Compare this to the word host, whose entry at Etymonline.com goes further than the longer form hospitalityHost goes back to the PIE *ghostis- which is supposed to have referred to both the host and the guest, with an original sense of referring to strangers, on whichever side.

In the 1993 movie, “Shadowlands”, based on the life of C.S. Lewis, there is a scene about Christmas in which he is discussing the fate of the season in their mid-century culture:

One [Inkling] laments, “I’m afraid Christmas, as I remember it, is rather a lost cause.”

Jack, as his friends call him, and sounding rather like his voice is echoing out of far-away winter-bound Narnia whispers, “It’s because we’ve lost the magic… You tell people it’s about taking care of the poor and needy, and naturally they don’t even miss it.”

To which his friend, a Roman Catholic priest, responds, “The needy do come into it: ‘no room at the inn,’ remember?  The mother and child?”

I do like to remember that.  I like that older songs remember that.  I like that my friend this year asked for suggestions of how to make our holiday reflect the truth of this verse, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” She wanted to know how to celebrate being made rich and to imitate Christ’s poverty-bearing, rich-making love.

There is a tradition of being charitable particularly at Christmas.  (This is in the line of other, biblical feast-days, during which kindness to the poor was encouraged in response to God’s blessings of abundance that were being celebrated, especially in the harvest-feasts of Firstfruits and Tabernacles.  It is a way to recognize that it is God’s undeserved blessing that provides enough to survive or feast.  If we, by pleasing Him, do not relinquish His grace, we are to expect His continued blessings.  And He is pleased when we remember the poor and have charity towards them.  We can give like the saints in Philippi, depleting our own storehouses, knowing that the God who is using us to care for the poor will faithfully provide for us as well.)

This responsibility to the poor is communicated by the history of the word generous, which originally meant “of noble birth” (same root as genus, referring to biological descent and classification into kinds or races or families) and only by implications of the duty, of those blessed with more, to share with those who have less did it come to mean “magnanimous”.

Benevolence, “disposition to do good”, is a compound word, from the Latin bene “well” and volantem “to wish”.

Alms is another term for this benevolence.   In Old English it was ælmesse, occurring also in German, and Latin, where it is spelled eleemosyna.  This was, in turn, borrowed from the Greek eleemosyne, referring to “pity, mercy”.  In modern English, though rare, it means a gift, especially of money or food, given out to the needy.

Charity is from the Old French, “charity, mercy, compassion; alms” from Latin, “costliness, esteem, affection”.  Isn’t it instructive, the impulse of expressing love by costly, sacrificial giving?  It can be satisfying, and blessed, to give.

Love is, by own definition, the giving of a treasure.  Treasure comes from the same Greek root as thesaurus, and it means “hoard, storehouse, treasury” – presumably of something worth enough to be collected and kept safe.  Can stores be shared?  What does it say when one is willing to disperse a hoard?

Donation is attested in Latin, donum, “gift”, from the PIE *donum.  The same word is found in Sanskrit: danam “offering, present” and in Old Irish dan, “gift, endowment, talent”.

In my family’s tradition, the focus is more on expressing love to one another than to those less fortunate.  Our gifts are an exchange, late 1300’s, “act of reciprocal giving and receiving”, from the Latin ex- “out” and cambire “barter”.  Cambire is supposed to be of Celtic origin, the PIE *kemb- “to bend”, developing in the sense of altering the current state, then specifically changing something by putting something else in its place.

At Christmas especially, the packages under the tree are almost always wrapped, so as to be a surprise.  Unexpectedly, this word used to mean only “a taking unawares; unexpected attack or capture”.  The roots are sur- “over” and prendre “to take, grasp, seize”.  It might be ironic that though we think of thinly cloaked gifts as surprises, at Christmas they are not always unforeseen or unexpected; who hasn’t made a Christmas wish list?  In fact, it is perhaps a disadvantage of our custom: that gifts come to be expected, or even demanded, by the recipients.

When the word wrap appeared in English around AD 1300, it meant “to wind, cover, conceal, bind up, swaddle”.  I think we do this to increase the ornamental feeling of festivity, not as a symbol of the baby Jesus being similarly wrapped before being placed in a manger.

Swaddle seems to come from a word meaning a slice or strip.

Ribbon, which often adorns our gifts, might have a similar historic meaning, if it is related to band, “a flat strip” and “something that binds”, a rejoining of two divergent threads of Middle English, distinguished at one point by different spellings, band referring to joining together and bande to a strip or even a stripe (where it likely morphed into ribane, a stripe in a material).  The original root of band is, PIE *bendh- “to bind”.

Something else we use to hold things together when we’re wrapping them?  Tape.  My cousin says, “tape, lots of tape.”  This Old English tæppe is a “narrow strip of cloth used for tying or measuring”.  It could be formed from the Latin for “cloth, carpet”, tapete, or it might be related to the Middle Low German tapen, “to pull, pluck, tear”.

(These words are so fun, the way they communicate the action by which the thing got to be – or the state that inspired and enabled an action.  What was life like for the people who named a strip of fabric tape?  Well, maybe they were pulling on cloth {reminiscent of one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Little Women”, where the ladies of the house spend time tearing old sheets into strips to be used as bandages for those soldiers wounded in the American Civil War}.  Why would they do that?  To have something with which to bind things together.  It’s a different world from our manufacturing-driven lifestyles, where tape and ribbon and string are purchased in packages off of shelves.  They’re things made originally for their purposes, not improvised from something else.  It’s like a history lesson in a word!)

The other reason we think of gifts during the holiday season in which we remember God’s entry into our world in human flesh is because His birth was honored by gifts from wise visitors from the East.  These men recognized that Jesus was born to be the King, the long-prophesied King of the everlasting kingdom.  And though this God-King could have turned stones into bread, and summoned armies of angels, He chose to experience poverty.  Though He experienced the lowliness of being born to a poor mother and living as a refugee, a stranger, in Egypt, he was honored by costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh when a very young boy.

Such is the nature not only of love, to give sacrificially, but also of worship.  How remiss would any of us be, to overlook the presence of the Highest King?  Not only is His worth expressed by Kings giving Him treasures; it is demonstrated by the “sacrifice of praise” every person can offer:  The Christmas carols sing that the wise men have “come to pay Him homage,” Old French “allegiance or respect for one’s feudal lord”, from Latin homo, “man”.  Or in “What Child Is This?” we are bid to “haste, haste, to bring Him laud”, also Old French, “praise, extol” from Latin laus, “praise, fame, glory”.  A cognate, or brother-word in Old English was leoð, “song, poem, hymn”.  He is worthy of the richest treasures.  We owe Him everything we have, everything that is.  We also owe Him our allegiance, our praise, our songs.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Many thanks and credit to the resources of www.Etymonline.com and www.Dictionary.Reference.com in compiling these definitions and histories.  Also to www.BlueLetterBible.org for Scriptures.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Watch the video for the first step, then click here: How to Wrap a Gift Well

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

gift-wrapping-hard-shapes-and-ribbon

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

Don’t ever buy from Anthropologie again.  Buy Etsy, direct from the designers.  Support home-based industry.  Enable the little person, the small business, the artist. 

Looking for a unique gift?  Etsy is the place.  It’s the permanent online craft fair.  But we aren’t talking about the craft foam Christmas pins, or the surplus of bead-pets and keychains – these are crafts in the old fashioned sense of craftsmanship. 

For example, this week I bought a leather stick barette/hair cover.  Or you could buy candles, your next purse, a huge supply of independent fashions, quilts, jewelry, wallets, or those heatable/freezable bags with herbs in them that are so in vogue.  Find a favorite dealer or two, and check back on their products. 

Now – I’m not necessarily advocating you spend a lot of money.  But if you are going to buy a nice gift, or spend money on a new outfit, do Etsy.  If you’re worried about sizing, learn to do measurements; it’s more accurate anyway. 

I intend to move into Etsy soon with some handmade items from my inventory.  Stay tuned for an update! 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

“It’s because of the Jewish people that I know
that a holiday can be a holy day,
and still be rollicking good fun.
I’ve been to a Passover Seder,
where there’s so much liturgy, drama, food and family around the table
that children ask, “Why is this night different from other nights?”
It’s a night, like the weekly Sabbath,
when God gives us permission to close the door on the frenzied demands of the outside world long enough to sense His presence.”

Christmas Eve. I’ve lived through 22 Christmas Eves, and hope by midnight tonight to make it 23. In four different states, at least, I’ve attended Christmas Eve services. So the last few years, I haven’t been that interested in going. Tradition has its value, I guess. But if one is participating in tradition for its sake, I’d hope that the tradition was started because it meant something. The problem with my aversion to Christmas Eve services is that I have been unable to defend it. I haven’t known why I don’t want to go, or what I would rather do instead.
Now I think I have an answer. I don’t like Christmas Eve services because they are formal and liturgical, full of presentation and lacking in sincerity. Churches use them as times for evangelism. In my experience I’ve been instructed to leave quietly after extinguishing my candle, in solemn reflection on the incarnation. I don’t know about you, but I cannot reflect on the incarnation without humble jubilation. Winter may be for silence and meditation, but Christmas is for feasting and music and lights.
And I miss fellowship on Christmas. I know that traditionally Christmas is a family time. Your own or even your extended family gathers for gift-giving, music, candles, Christmas trees, conversation, and candy. I guess traditionally Christmas Eve is the time to spend with one’s church family. But I want to be laughing with them, asking them about their holidays, heightening enthusiasm, and dispersing the gifts I’ve prepared for them. Being sent to quietly retrieve my coat and exit towards my car prohibits that sort of community. But I don’t want to defy the instructions, or intrude upon others who appreciate the meditative hush of typical Christmas Eve.
So I like Elisabeth’s insight from Israel, on how the Jews (quite biblically in this instance) know how to have a holy day: it is also a feast day. Both a sabbath of rest and a reunion of merriment, even with the solemnity of meaning, sacrifice, atonement, and repentance. Jesus unites those things in His incarnation: King of Righteousness, Prince of Peace, Lord of the Sabbath, our Rest, and our Joy. That’s what I’m celebrating this Christmas Eve: a God big enough to be seriously happy, and who invites us to feast at His table.
This is totally unrelated, but another thing Elisabeth says in her article is, “Have you ever thought about how quiet light is?” I thought it was beautiful, and had to share that line, too.
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

“Frank Woolworth discovered the demand for Christmas –

he was known as the Christmas man.”

– Jim Morrison as quoted in the November/December edition of the new Victoria Magazine

A dime store Christmas museum display about which the article was written contains ornaments, candles, Santas, toys, tinsel, ribbons, and lights. All this began over a hundred years ago. I’m holding Frank Woolworth personally responsible for all the Christmas junk overflowing every garage sale. Jim Morrison, curator of the National Christmas Center, credits Woolworth with merely meeting a demand already existent in the culture. The consumer-driven Christmas is not new.

In fact, it has sufficiently come of age to be opposed, rejected, and replaced by many people who are dissatisfied for one reason or another with the insistent “Buy, buy, buy!” chanted over the sweet chime of silver bells each December. Some recognize that a country built on debt is in serious trouble, and that luxury on credit is multiplying the disaster. Others want Christmas to be innocent and sentimental, and are unhappy that Santa is in PG-13 movies, advertising addictive substances, and hawking whosever product the companies want him to. There are the Christians who notice, while standing in lines of epic length wrapping around the department store, that there is precious little about Jesus. Angels and stars are the most religious articles with which most stores are comfortable. If Jesus is recognized, He is considered just another icon to be marketed. Finally there are families who are sick of kids seeing the world as a vending machine. They want to emphasize other values.

A friend from church discovered Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catologs this year. They contain suggested gifts for needy children and families around the world. Give a goat to a community, a week of food to a baby, a month of care to an orphan. At Christmas especially I like to give to charities. If you’re interested in spreading the good news of Jesus’ birth around the world, consider letting the missionaries from Samaritan’s Purse deliver a gift in your name, and share about Jesus at the same time.


Or you can do what my friend did, and send the gift in the name of someone on your Christmas list. Check off grandma and aunt Susie, your boss, and your Sunday school teacher by sending gifts in their honor. Let them know what you donated and why. What do you get for the person who already has it all? Look at the catalog to find out.

A documentary filmmaker creatively spun his category by touring the country with a gospel choir warning against the shopocalypse, and asking What Would Jesus Buy?  His presentation can be a little extreme, but the discontent with our materialistic Christmas comes through loud and clear.  Their website also has a suggested list of alternative gifts. 

One of my good friends and I are in the same boat this Christmas: we can’t decide what to put on our own Christmas lists, let alone what to get for our friends and family.  For us there is no conscious rebellion against the gifting tradition; we’re just out of ideas.  Don’t worry.  We are brainstorming. 

Credit for this post goes to my friends, because yet another one commented on this blog to inform me of a group called Advent Conspiracy which is trying to replace consumption with compassion this Christmas.  Their website has information on: what not to do, how not to do it, why not to do it, what to do instead, how to spend instead (supposing you actually had extra cash for Christmas, and weren’t going to simply expand your debt to buy smiles).  I haven’t studied the theology of this group (or of the documentary team); they’re a good resource to challenge you to think about how you celebrate Christmas. 

If you have already thought about how to center your Christmas on Jesus instead of property, what are your ideas?  Do you know any other programs or resources we can use?  Leave a comment.  Let us know. 

Thank you, all of my friends who are willing to make me think about radical Christian living, embracing sacrifice, and true compassionate giving. 

To God be all glory. 

Read Full Post »