Christmas Presents or Christmas Presence?

Steph_2 copy (2)This post by Stephanie Stamm.

In this season of stockings hung by the chimney, presents under the tree, and multitudes of ads telling us just what we need to buy for our loved ones or to ask them to buy for us, it can be easy to get caught up in trying to purchase the perfect Christmas. We ask our children to make Christmas lists, and we want to give them as many of the things they want as we can. We search for just the right presents, and we agonize over our choices (see Jennifer Flaten’s post on gift-giving anxiety here.) And many of us go into debt and spend the rest of the year paying off those Christmas purchases.

Some of that is understandable. We want to give things to the people we love. We express that love in a shower of presents.

But the overwhelming emphasis on piles of presents sometimes seems like too much. I wonder if the accumulation of packages means that each one loses a little of its value. I remember my parents talking about the joys of getting oranges at Christmas when they were children. That was the only time they had them, so the simple gift of that citrus fruit most of us take for granted was something special.


My favorite Christmas memories are about experiences, not individual presents. Like walking through the snow with my dad into the woods on our farm to cut a Christmas tree. Like looking for Stringing Popcorn from Abovebittersweet to put in a vase. Like painting sycamore balls or stringing popcorn with my sisters. Like making cookies with my mother. Like decorating the tree with cookie cutouts made using a regular molasses cookie recipe and having them drop off the tree one by one as they softened from the moisture in the air and broke at the hole for the hook. That was Oriental-bittersweet-produces-flowers-and-berries-along-the-length-of-the-vinemy worst Christmas tree decorating idea ever—and, yes, it was my idea. My mother just went along with me. My family laughed every time we heard a cookie plop. Of course, sometimes the experience and the present were rolled into one—like the year my sister gave me a big-pawed puppy. That experience lasted for years.

The real presents of Christmas are the presence of our families and friends, the memories of those we’ve lost but still cherish, and the peace and faith and love embodied in the season.

Wishing you the merriest of Christmases, filled with presence!



Popcorn picture from

Bittersweet picture from


18 thoughts on “Christmas Presents or Christmas Presence?

  1. Stephanie, you are so right. As I was reading your favorites, I went over my favorites too, and not one of them included a lot of gifts. We picked one gift that we really wanted and if we got that one gift we were happy, but I couldn’t tell you all the gifts now, but I can tell you about going over the hill to cut a tree. Cher’ley


  2. Kudos to you for one of the best titles I’ve ever read. Love it! Your post is so special Stephanie. When I saw the oranges in the bowl it brought back tender memories of our stockings filled with a big naval orange, a banana, some mixed nuts that had to be cracked and a few pieces of wrapped candy. Since we often didn’t have oranges they were a big treat. All the activities you mention could have been my childhood. We loved stringing popcorn and cranberries to put on the tree, eating and throwing it at each other in the process. We created construction paper chains and paper angels. My mother had accumulated some beautiful antique ornaments, but she never got ruffled if a child (or a certain cat or dog) happened to break one. The presents were great and we looked forward to them, but what I’ll carry forever in my heart is the presence of those special family Christmases, going to Church and reading the Christmas story from the Bible to my siblings as we waited for Santa to come. It was magic!


    1. That sounds wonderful, Linda! Those memories are so special. I miss those times with my family. It was fun to figure out different ways to decorate the tree–and to trek through the fields to find one. I miss that!


  3. Lovely post, Stephanie! I, too, angst over all the commercials, the buying and spending, when Christmas is about caring and relationships and memories. Although I dearly love giving gifts, finances and constant advertising make me groan, so I too focus on the relationships and joyful memories instead of “what to buy” and “how much to spend.” MERRY CHRISTMAS!


    1. I know. I like buying presents on the one hand. On the other, most of my family has pretty much whatever we need–or even want. So it makes more sense to give donations in each other’s names than to do lots of presents. I hope your Christmas was wonderful!


  4. Wise post for this Christmas season, Stephanie. I’m getting older, 63 for a month now, and memories drip from my mind like those cookies on your tree. Truly, Christmas memories are precious. So many of the people I celebrated Christmas with have stepped into eternity. Christmas isn’t a time of sadness for me… it’s truly one of joy as I remember those great times and make new joyful memories. This year is the first time I am celebrating Christmas with Sharon and her father. With her mom’s death, they’ve struggled financially, and with my arrival things are easier financially and it will be a better Christmas for them. That’s the newest Christmas memory I hope to see jell tomorrow.


    1. It’s so good to hear that Christmas is truly a joyful time for you, Mike, despite the loss of many loved ones. I hope–and trust–you did create some more good Christmas memories this year.


  5. Great title, lovely post. My best memories of doing all the Christmasy things with the kids – popcorn and cranberry strings, cookie ornaments (sugar cookies last), decorating the tree and adding a special ornament each year. I’m at the age where I don’t need “things,” much prefer special outings or just time together.
    Merry Christmas!


    1. Thanks, Kate. Yes, I think the things matter less as we get older. It is about the time together instead. I trust that you had better luck with your cookie ornaments than I did. 😉


  6. Could so relate. Strung popcorn and made cookie ornaments too. Also cut out pictures of toys and glued them on a handmade paper tree with flour and water paste. Christmas seemed to last longer and had more feeling. Good post.


    1. I love the idea of cutting out pictures of toys to make ornaments, Neva. Yes, Christmas did seem to last longer and have more feeling. Then again, time in general seems to move a lot more quickly now that I’m older.


  7. Spot on, Stephanie! I have a number of items that go ont he tree every year that were made by my daughters. They are lovely to me because they made them but actually in all honesty are the most ‘unusual’ and ‘controversial’ things on the tree. “what’s that?” regularly features. The gathering of my family is the absolute importance of Christmas to me.


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