The Eighteen Gifts Of Christmas

Sometimes the people we have to deal with give us a hard time instead of their full cooperation. Our tasks become more difficult when the people we’re counting on give us a headache instead of a helping hand. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if everyone we dealt with not only gave us a smile, but gave us a gift? Of course, we cannot control the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others, so the only gifts that we can be sure of are those that we give to others. Since the joy is in the giving, why not become a bearer of gifts? As Christmas approaches, let’s think about 18 gifts we can offer to others, gifts that won’t cost us anything, yet are worth more than gold.

I’ll introduce the gifts by using the word CHRISTMAS as an acronym. Each letter of the word Christmas will be used to describe two gifts, making a total of 18 that we can give to make the world a better place. Before moving forward, here is a website where you can find some nice short Christmas wishes to send your loved ones along with the Christmas gifts.

The first gift is Compassion. It is more than mere caring or concern. It is love in action. For example, someone at work is stymied by a problem and you have a spare moment, so you immediately jump in, without being asked, and offer a helping hand. Other examples include offering our seat in the train or bus to another, holding the door open for a young mother with a baby carriage that is trying to enter a building. Yet another example is guiding an elderly or disabled person safely across a large street. Imagine the surprise and delight of others as we offer them these much appreciated gifts.

A moment’s reflection will reveal many other ways we can express our compassion. For instance, when someone else is trying to speak, we can offer the gifts of silence and a listening ear. Or when others are trying to express a dissenting opinion, we can agree with their right to have such a view, and use it to expand our own understanding, rather than try to convert them to our way of thinking.

What others have to say about compassion:

The second gift is Courage. You may be wondering how to give courage to others. Well, we do it by encouraging them, for our encouragement gives them the courage to try. Your gift may be all that is needed to change the life of another.

Consider what William Arthur Ward wrote, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I may not forget you.”

Teach those under your care to find the courage to say NO to the things and people that are not serving them if they want to discover their potential and live their lives with authenticity.

The third gift is Honesty. If it were a commodity exchanged in the Stock Market, its price would be on the rise because of its scarcity in the business world. We can make a big difference by helping to restore it. If we’re in sales, instead of trying to sell a bill of goods, we can sell service, support, and knowledge. That is, we can be a help, rather than a hindrance. If we’re asked about something we don’t know, we can be honest and admit our ignorance. And if it’s within our capacity to find the answer, we can make the effort to do so.

In our personal relationships, honesty means keeping our word, avoiding gossip, not exaggerating our accomplishments and recognizing the achievements of others. It also means being true to ourselves or practicing integrity. In other words, we align our actions with our values. For instance, don’t you think it’s strange that we sometimes hurt those we love? To do so is dishonest, for it is not how we feel in our heart. Don’t you agree that honesty is healing and dishonesty is hurtful?

What others have to say about honesty:

The fourth gift is Humility. Arrogant, proud, and vain people make us uncomfortable. They are like magnets that only repel. On the other hand, humble people attract us. That’s because they’re more interested in us than in themselves.

Meekness and humility are not signs of weakness. They are signs of strength. How do we react when someone insults us? Do we feel the need to strike back? If we do, it is because we are weak. How can a few words threaten us, unless we are insecure? The strong of heart willingly accept abuse because they have compassion for the weaknesses of others.

The humble are not boastful because they realize the successes that they have achieved were not entirely of their own doing. Didn’t they have the help of their parents, teachers, and friends? What about the inspiration they received from books, magazines, newspapers, movies, and TV?

The fifth gift is Recognition. People are criticized more often than they are recognized. As a result, they are starving for recognition. Because sincere praise is as rare as diamonds, it has great value.

When we offer praise, congratulations, and admiration, we are offering the gift of recognition. We are effectively saying, “The world is better off because you are here. You have value. I am honored to know you. You make my life more enjoyable.” How often do we express these sentiments to our family, friends, and coworkers? Isn’t it true that if we are silent, we are both dishonest and unloving?

What others have to say about recognition:

The sixth gift is Respect. Respect begins in the family and is important enough to be in the bible: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Why is it so important? Because it’s the foundation of a stable society. First peace and harmony in the home, then in the community, finally in the world. Imagine all the problems we could solve if we respected one another. If all boys respected their mothers, would they grow up to be men that abandon the mothers of their children?

If we respected our neighbors, regardless of their race, religion, or ethnic background, would there be so much bloodshed? If we respected others, would there be so many break-ins, assaults, rapes, murders?

Where did we go wrong? It all starts at home. Parents are supposed to be role models for their children. They are supposed to teach respect by their example. They are supposed to earn the respect of their children. Yet, instead of being respected, children are slapped around, yelled at, told to shut up, disciplined, and treated as prisoners. Children have enough to contend with at school. They have to deal with bullies, thieves, drug pushers, lies, rejection, and jeers. Don’t you think they need a safe haven? A refuge where they will receive comfort, security, encouragement, and love?

What a disappointment when they learn that instead of being picked up and embraced, they are dumped on by their own parents! How can they have respect for their parents? They can’t and they don’t. Not experiencing respect, they grow up to become cold-hearted adults.

Parents should realize that peace and harmony in the family flow from respect, not from rules, discipline, orders, policy, and demands. They need to understand what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Men are respectable only as they respect.” Or what John W. Gardner wrote: “If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.”

The problem isn’t only between parents and children. It is also between husbands and wives. What happened to the vows they made to love, respect, and honor each other? Can respect coexist with snide remarks, cold looks, frowns, and complaints? Can children respect parents that do not respect each other? One’s spouse not only deserves the same respect that any human being is entitled to, but much more. If we are guilty of disrespecting a family member, we need to change our behavior, remembering that honor isn’t only about making the right choices; it’s also about taking responsibility for our actions.

The seventh gift is Interest. What do you imagine is the worst thing you can do to someone? It is not to hate them, for hate is sparked by jealousy or fear. Although highly negative, such feelings at least recognize others. No, the worst thing you can do to others is to ignore them. To deny their existence. To have no interest in them.

While the gift of recognition honors others for what they have DONE, the gift of interest honors others for what they ARE. And what are they? They are fellow travelers on the journey of life. They have as much right to be here, as much value to the world, and as interesting a story to relate as anyone else. All we have to do is give them an opportunity to tell their story. Each person is but one facet in the gem we call life. When we express interest in them, we give them the opportunity to sparkle. Be especially aware of those diamonds in the rough that you have at home and call your children.

What others have to say about interest:

  • Those who are at war with others are not at peace with themselves. William Hazlitt
  • There are no uninteresting things, there are only uninterested people. Gilbert K. Chesterton • A man’s interest in the world is only an overflow from his interest in himself. George Bernard Shaw • Taking an interest in what others are thinking and doing is often a much more powerful form of encouragement than praise. (Robert Martin) • Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself. Henry Miller
  • The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out by Ogyen Trinley Dorje
  • Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

The eight gift is Intimacy. Don’t just be a friend; be a close friend. Be someone others can trust and turn to when troubled.

To be intimate is to be vulnerable. It is to say, “Here I am. This is what I am really like. These are the things that inspire me. And these are the things that inspire fear in me. Here are my dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Here are my doubts, worries, and concerns. Here are my beliefs and values. Here are my weaknesses and faults. Can you accept me for whom I am and help to bring out the best in me?”

It takes courage to open up and speak frankly to others. After all, many of us have been damaged by past criticism and have lost faith in others. Once our weaknesses are exposed, we fear rejection, betrayal, ridicule, humiliation, and loss of control. Yet, we can regain our trust in others by gradually tearing down the walls we erect to protect ourselves. If we were to reveal everything about ourselves at once, we may overwhelm and frighten others, causing them to distance themselves from us. So, a good rule of thumb is to proceed by baby steps, so that you and your partner slowly and carefully build a solid foundation of mutual trust.

The ninth gift is Sincerity. When we act compassionately, we grow joyful. When we are honest, we are at peace with ourselves. When we shower others with recognition, they recognize us for our kindness. When we express interest in others by asking them to tell us about themselves, we discover the wonder and beauty of life. So, each gift we offer has its own reward. But one of the greatest gifts of all is that of sincerity, for it is a beacon. When we act out of sincerity we act without desiring a reward. We offer each of the above gifts with no motive other than it is the right thing to do. Sincere people do not try to improve others, they just try to better themselves, but in doing so, they improve the world. Rather than trying to grab from life as much as they can, they try to add whatever they can.

What others say about sincerity:

The tenth gift is Surprise. We don’t like to be shocked, but we all welcome unexpected, delightful surprises. It can come in the form of a warm embrace, a pat on the back, an encouraging word, a gracious smile, an offer of help, a listening ear, or an act of kindness. The more we offer the gift of a delightful surprise to others, the more life will return more of the same to us.

The eleventh gift is Time. It is a priceless gift, for it is the only one that is a non-renewable resource. In each of our lives, there is a limited allotment of time. Once used, it is gone forever, never to be replaced. Since time is the stuff our lives are made of, when we spend it with others, we are giving the greatest gift of all, ourselves. When we encourage others and cheer them on, we infuse their life with meaning; we make their life worthwhile. What greater gift can we offer?

What others say about time:

The twelfth gift is Thanks. Richard looked into the eyes of his son and said, “If someone you knew were to give you a million dollars, and tell you to spend it anyway you want, what would be the first thing you would buy?” “That’s easy,” his son replied, “I’d buy a Thank You card!”

After the performance, a little girl asked the concert violinist for his autograph. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but my hands are tired from playing.” The little girl replied, “My hands are tired too. Tired from clapping.”

There’s a big difference between the two stories, isn’t there? One is a tale of thanks and the other of ingratitude. What a pity the concert violinist, talented as he is, chose to be unhappy at the time the little girl spoke to him. For you cannot be ungrateful and happy at the same time. The surest way to always be happy is to always be grateful.

The more we are thankful for what we have, the more we will have to be thankful for. How is this possible? Well, the blessings were always there; we just didn’t see them. Gratitude clears the haze that obscures the gifts surrounding us. To be enlightened is to live a life of gratitude. Or, as Johannes A. Gaertner wrote, “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.”

The thirteenth gift is Magnanimity. The word comes from Latin and means great soul. Here’s how the 1828 Webster’s dictionary defines the term, “Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquility and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects.” In simpler terms, a magnanimous person is bighearted, generous, and forgiving. Such people act as a balm soothing the pain of those around them. Confucius believed that magnanimity is also one of the five qualities that makes up a virtuous life (the other four are earnestness, sincerity, kindness, and gravity {solemnity, seriousness})

What others say about magnanimity:

The fourteenth gift is Meaning.

Some young students worry that they may never find meaning in life because they are overwhelmed by the number of occupational choices and the extent of the skills that are needed. They often are confused because they don’t know what to become. But life is not about becoming an occupation; it’s about becoming useful. It’s about serving the community. And we can do this is any number of ways. The secret, then, is not to search for an occupation to study, but to look for a way to help others.

When we redirect our attention from our own needs to the needs of society, we are more apt to find our place in the world. A sincere wish to contribute to society coupled with a willingness to respond to opportunity as it strikes will lead to finding one’s purpose. All young people have to do is follow their heart, as long as it ennobles them. The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.

Some cry, “How can we find meaning in a world of suffering?” But doesn’t suffering point to needs? Don’t needs provide an opportunity to serve? And doesn’t service give meaning? Being good isn’t good enough. We need to be good for something. What greater meaning can we find than lessening the suffering of others? It is for this reason that all religions teach compassion.

The fifteenth gift is Altruism, an unselfish concern for the welfare of others. Volunteers working at food banks and homeless shelters are examples of altruistic people. Altruism is something we all need to practice because it is aligned with our true nature. Although we may have grown jaded over the years, we were born as loving beings. Yet, altruism should not be done at the expense of neglecting one’s own spouse, children and obligations. That is, charity begins at home. A major point to consider is what we do for ourselves dies with us, but what we do for others remains as our legacy.

What others say about altruism:

The sixteenth gift is Apology. Why is it that our prisons are full, countries and groups are forever waging war, and wherever we go, we are exposed to mistreatment? Is it because we were made from clay, and like pottery, we are fragile and imperfect? No matter how magnificent a ceramic work of art is, it remains delicate and must be handled with care. Are we any different? Won’t a harsh word, a critical look, or angry shove shatter the person it’s directed at?

Because of our imperfections, we occasionally say and do hurtful things. That’s why the two most important words are “I apologize.” True, an apology cannot undo the harm already done, but at least it can restore the dignity of the victim.

Some are fearful of apologizing, believing it to be a sign of weakness. They don’t want to appear submissive or hand over power to another. But when they committed their hurtful acts, weren’t they aggressive, and didn’t they usurp the power of the victim? So, it is only fitting that they reverse roles by sincerely expressing their sorrow for acting inappropriately.

When one offends someone, they’ve done the wrong thing; not to apologize is to refuse to do the right thing and compound the offense. Refusing to apologize is not a sign of strength but weakness. After all, one who refuses to say they’re sorry acts out of fear, but one who admits they were wrong and asks for forgiveness acts out of courage.

The seventeenth gift is Service. By service, I simply mean helping others. It is appropriate that this gift comes at the end because it is the bow that wraps around the other gifts, holding them together. This gift is the reason why we are here. We are here to serve one another. Here’s how Khalil Gibran describes this gift, “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” Noble as service is, here again balance is called for. After all, isn’t it better to teach someone how to fish than to make them dependent on your occasional handouts? So, the best way to help others is to help them become self-sufficient.

What others say about service:

The eighteenth gift is Silence. Used rightly, words can comfort, soothe, and console. Unfortunately, however, they are often used to belittle, demean, and hurt others. For this reason, it may be better to remain silent than to speak. Heed this sage advice from Buddha:

If it is not truthful and not helpful, don’t say it.
If it is truthful and not helpful, don’t say it.
If it is not truthful and helpful, don’t say it.
If it is truthful and helpful, wait for the right time.

So, there you have it, 18 gifts that cost you nothing and are priceless because they cannot be purchased. Each gift is not meant to be thought of in the abstract, but is meant to be lived. Not in the future, but now. Their primary purpose isn’t to help those in desperate need thousands of miles away, but to lessen the fear and pain of those in our immediate circle of family, friends, acquaintances, and, yes, those strangers we meet each day as we go about our daily business. We have good reason to act, for we will never be what we ought to be until we help others become what they were meant to be.

As you go along freely distributing your 18 gifts of Christmas to all you meet, you may occasionally run into an ungrateful, rude, or mean person, but don’t let that upset you. We need troublesome people, for how can we practice forgiveness unless we interact with people needing it? Finally, paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson, let your life be an opener of doors for those who come after you.

Wishing you the blessings of the season and the 18 gifts of Christmas.