This Christmas, my family tried something new. Instead of every person buying a gift for each of the other ten family members, we each bought one gift we thought somebody else would like, and played a game commonly known as White Elephant. It starts with the first person in the line picking a gift to unwrap. The second person can choose to pick another gift or steal the gift that the first person unwrapped. Once a gift has been stolen three times it becomes locked. Picking and stealing continues until everybody is happy, or all the gifts are locked. From the youngest child to the oldest grandparent, each person bought a gift within the price range, wrapped it with care in identical paper and placed it under our tree that we had cut down the day before.
We traded the electric blanket, nutcracker, popcorn machine and back scratcher. However, by the end of the game, a significant percentage of us ended up with our own gift, or at least had tried to steal our own gift. We had been told to buy something so good, we would be happy to get it ourselves, so when we picked our own gifts over anyone else’s, it was evident that we had followed these instructions. In short, we liked our own gifts the best.
The problem with the other gifts was that they were things that I didn’t buy, things I didn’t know I needed. Where would I have space to put it? What if I didn’t use it and it fell to waste, further proof of our Christmastide capitalist excesses?
But Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift to the world, was something we didn’t think we needed, someone for whom there was no alotted space. There was no space for his teachings among the rigid rule making of the Pharisees and Sadducees. A revolt risk in the form of the “Messiah” of the Jews was something the iron fisted Roman Empire never asked for on its wishlist. Gifts can be horribly inconvenient. If we look back to the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, Mary was respectably betrothed to a man and suddenly had a baby bump. When Mary and Joseph walked into Bethlehem, there was not a single spot in any inn for the saviour of the world.
Even for us living now, Jesus Christ is a gift difficult to accept and admit that we need. His teachings don’t slot easily into conventional living. Some would say that following Christ is only possible when one decides to make him the pillar of their whole life, and let everything else fall in around.
Though picking your own gift during White Elephant is not the end of the world, I wonder how many gifts, freely given to us, we miss out on because we are unwilling to accept something unexpected.
Dear God, I thank you for all your good gifts, seen and unseen, by human agency and divine. I pray that you would open our hearts to receive them and that you would give us the patience to let them into our lives. Amen.
Angela Eichhorst ’22 is a sophomore in Dunster House studying Classics and Comparative Religion.