A Couples’ Guide to Christmas Giving (Hint: He Doesn’t Want that Flatware Set as Much as You Do)

5 tips on how to express your love and gratitude on any budget

3.  DO ask your spouse what he or she would like. This is one way to avoid both of these problems. I’m sure this sounds excruciatingly simplistic. But how many of us begin our gift-getting by asking our loved ones what they would really like, or what they could most use?

For my part, after fifteen years of marriage and quite a few failed gifts, I’ve learned that if I start by asking what he’d like most, the list is usually simple and easy to fulfill: some new socks, a couple of boxes of Titleist ProV1s, and a little note designating some free Saturdays when he can book rounds of golf with no questions asked, and maybe even a smile from me on the way out the door – no guilt trip from the wife!

Here is an irony though: while wrapping up fresh socks in nice paper and booking some free Saturdays doesn’t feel like the gift I most want to give – I am undoubtedly looking for that kind of thoughtfulness in the gifts I receive. How many times I have I received some kind of "practical" gift when I was daydreaming about a totally useless, but beautiful, handbag?

4.  DO make wishes come true. And this brings me to a related point. Is it right to satisfy daydreams and wishes in our gift giving, as adults? This is a tricky one. Certainly there is real danger in compounding our desires into never-ending streams of disordered attachments. On the other hand, God created the good things of this earth and wanted us to enjoy them. Daydreams and wishes – even for material things – are not bad in themselves. They are the stuff of childhood, and to stop dreaming is to lose something important we are meant to retain.

The problem, I think, is not the dreams or the wishes – the problem is when we assume the posture of fulfilling them for ourselves – masters of our own universes. As in, now I book my time at the spa. Now I pick out my favorite fashions. Now I grab a new set of headphones. Now I head to the golf course because I deserve this after all.

Children, you will note, can’t get good things for themselves. They dream and wish in a posture of dependency – waiting expectedly for others to fulfill their dreams.

So a good rule of thumb for a Christian spouse might be: try to deny yourself as much as possible in the satisfaction of your own material wishes – not seizing good things for yourself but waiting for them to be given in God’s providence and through those who have care of you; at the same time, try to give every good thing to your spouse, fulfilling his or her wishes within reasonable bounds of Christian poverty appropriate to your state in life.

After all, the message of the Christ child is not that dreams are for children. The message is that the dreams of our childhood really do come true. There is a Savior. Monsters will be vanquished. Wrongs will be put to right. All girls are princesses. And our father is a King.

Which brings me to the final point of my Couples’ Guide to Christmas Giving.

5.  DON’T try to act like an adult. Try to act more like a child – in your giving, in your receiving, and in your embrace of spiritual simplicity. Ask for all things, and prepare to receive only – and all – what God in His goodness gives you. If you succeed at this, you’ll find more joy in Christmas than you have in a very long time – possibly even since the days when you worked up your Christmas list weeks in advance, and wanted to sleep under the tree to watch for St. Nicholas. And this, in turn, is one of the greatest gifts you can bring to your spouse – a youthful spirit of joy arising from spiritual confidence in God your Father.

Catherine Ruth Pakaluk 
is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University, a Faculty Research Fellow at the Stein Center for Social Research, and a Senior Fellow in Economics at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. Her research is focused in the areas of demography, gender, family studies, and the economics of education and religion. She also works on the interpretation and history of Catholic social thought. Dr. Pakaluk earned her doctorate in economics at Harvard University (2010). She lives in Ave Maria, Florida with her husband Michael and seven children.
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