Alternative Gift Giving

Alternative Gift Giving

December 04, 2012
Written by Daniel Hazard

Acts 20:35

"Remember the words of the Lord Jesus himself, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson

Heads up - tomorrow, December 6 - is St. Nicholas Day. The 4th century saint, Nicholas, is the patron saint of quite a line-up: sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children and students (by the way, who decides these things?). He is also a pre-cursor to Santa Claus, a.k.a. "Old St. Nick."

So gift-giving is associated with St. Nicholas, but gift-giving with a difference.

Nicholas had a thing about giving gifts secretly. He would slip a few coins into people's shoes while they slept - with no indication of who the gift came from.

One year our family decided to "keep St. Nicholas Day" on December 6. We were living in an apartment building then and decided to buy a Christmas wreath of greens to decorate the lobby. (This was not the kind of building where management decorated.) So we all went to the Public Market and picked out a most beautiful, large wreath. Later, as my sons kept watch, I hung the wreath in the building's small and spare lobby.

Subsequently, we had the treat of listening to people notice the wreath and comment. "Isn't that pretty," "I wonder where it came from?" and "What a beautiful wreath!" It was a sly joy to listen in. And it was also a challenge not to claim credit.

This experience brought home to me how often the gifts we give come wrapped, not just in bright paper, but in lots of other stuff: our needs for acknowledgment and affirmation, along with who knows what other "strings attached." It's all this extra wrapping that can make gift-giving such a fraught and complex matter this time of year.

So this year, consider an experiment. Keep St. Nicholas Day and give a gift secretly. Try it tomorrow or on December 25. Taking ourselves out of the equation, even just a bit, may allow for a renewed sense of the mystery and gifted nature of life itself.


O God, giver of every good and perfect gift, thank you for holiday traditions new and old. Amen.

About the Author
Anthony B. Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul's Letters to Timothy for a New Day, and he is also the author of the just-published Book of Exodus: A God is still speaking Bible Study. Read his weekly reflections on the current lectionary texts at by clicking on Weekly Reading.

Looking for a way to say "thanks" to someone at church? Click here to preview and order How Can We Thank You?, a new collection of reflections from the Stillspeaking Writers' Group.

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