In one family, a favorite humorous Christmas story involves an aging aunt whose tradition was to send each young child a card stuffed with $10. One year, in her hurry, she forgot to include the money. Each child received an empty card inscribed with the handwritten note, "Go buy yourself a present."
The story is amusing because, without the accompanying $10, the note took on a completely different meaning than the aunt had intended.
Unfortunately, the story has a broader application to people in general but in an opposite way. By focusing too much on material gifts, we can easily change the meaning of Christmas in ways we never intended.
The Christmas tradition of giving can be a powerful reminder of the gifts Jesus Christ has freely given the world — repentance, resurrection and a pathway back to our Heavenly Father. The scriptures make it clear that the Savior accomplished this through much tribulation, sacrifice and indescribable suffering, and that He decided to do so voluntarily, long before the world began.
Abraham described the scene when the plan of salvation was unveiled and the concept of a savior presented.
"And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me."
Moses also described it, making it clear that Jesus saved us not only from sin, but from Satan's desire to rob us of our agency.
"And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine only begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying — behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.
"But behold, my beloved Son, which was my beloved and chosen from the beginning, said unto me — Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever" (Moses 4:1-2).
This incredible willingness to accomplish such a remarkable act of love should be at the heart of any meaningful Christmas celebration. The gift that Jesus gave the world through His Atonement can be discerned only through the Spirit. "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God," wrote the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 2:12).
We cannot repay this gift. All that is asked of us is to obey the commandments and willingly give service to each other.
Put in this context, the annual frenzy to buy the latest gadget or to act with aggression and incivility in pursuit of discounted goods in limited supply seems out of focus. So does the practice, by some, of using consumer debt to buy presents they can't afford.
There is nothing wrong with giving store-bought presents given with love and forethought. But for much of the world, Christmas has come to center on worldly possessions, rather than on a celebration of the birth of one who saved us from the world.
At the recent Christmas devotional, President Thomas S. Monson said, "I, with you, have witnessed during the past few days and weeks what has become over the years the annual commercialization of Christmas. I am saddened to see Christmas becoming less and less about Christ and more and more about marketing and sales, parties and presents.
"And yet, Christmas is what we make of it. Despite all the distractions, we can see to it that Christ is at the center of our celebration. If we have not already done so, we can establish Christmas traditions for ourselves and for our families which will help us capture and keep the spirit of Christmas" (First Presidency Christmas Devotional, Dec. 2, 2012).
At the same devotional, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, said, "The carols of Christmas remind us of the shouts of joy when we learned that we could come to this world and be given a Savior to redeem us. Someday we will sing those songs with the hosts of heaven."
And President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said, "My heart grows tender and warm as I think of the gifts our loving, gracious and generous Father in Heaven has given us: the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, the miracle of forgiveness, personal revelation and guidance, the Savior's peace, the certainty and comfort that death is conquered — and many, many more."
The forgetful aunt unwittingly was onto something. A meaningful Christmas celebration is something only we can get for ourselves. Once obtained, however, it can light the way for everyone around us.