Talk in our house this past weekend inevitably turned to the “chore” of what to do about Christmas presents for the kids this year. And by kids, I mean growing teenagers and twenty-somethings who haven’t played with an actual toy since the movie “Trolls” was popular.

But, as any parents know, just because the kids have outgrown the toy stage, it doesn’t mean parents still don’t feel some pressure to produce the next great gift the kids will love. And by no means, does the pressure of gift giving end with the kids! There’s the rest of the family to buy for too, and friends, neighbors, and a list of others important in our lives. … Remember last year when the fad was to leave something for the package delivery folks to thank them for their continued hard work?

If we are truly honest with ourselves, the rampant consumerization of Christmas, or other similar religious holidays, has drained away so much of the joy and majesty of the moment, that many of us have begun to look at the holiday rituals, including gift giving, as just that: chores.

We know deep down it doesn’t have to be this way. However, when we are bombarded with the constant societal message of “things = joy” … well, it becomes excruciatingly hard to fight back against the desire to shower our loved ones with gifts so that we can elicit that momentary glimpse of happiness. Besides, everyone else is doing it!

But joy, as all faiths tell us, doesn’t come from things. Joy comes from the heart. Joy comes in knowing our loved ones are safe and healthy. Joy comes from sitting down to a meal together, and hearing the laughter of growing siblings reuniting with each other after a long time.

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In writing this column, I was reminded of my absolute favorite Christmas ever: Surprise! It had nothing to do with gifts that year. The celebration happened after Christmas, in fact, when our older son and his girlfriend were home during their winter college break. There was a winter storm, and it “trapped” us in the house for days. So for a couple of days and nights, our entire family was together, grazing on snacks all day, watching movies and playing games late into the night and peacefully sleeping late in the morning. I’d give anything to experience those three days again.

That was joy. That was what Christmas is about. And it never cost me one extra cent in interest on my credit cards.

I recognize that I write this from a privileged position. Should we want to, my wife Shelley and I could give our kids just about anything they wished for this Christmas. Many others aren’t so lucky.

But I do have to wonder, if for a moment, we all stopped listening to the cash registers ringing, the Amazon trucks speeding away from our doors after having dropped the latest round of packages and the sound of last year’s Christmas presents going to the trash, if we might be able to hear what God’s message actually begs of us this Christmas: peace on earth and goodwill to men.

Devlyn Brooks, who works for Modulist, a Forum Communications Co.-owned company, is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Church of America. He serves as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Wolverton, Minnesota. He can be reached at for comments and story ideas.