Indigenous Gift-giving

As I Was Saying
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As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

When I was a child I absolutely loved when Christmas came. I always received a gift from each member of my family. At Christmas time, we had the Christmas lights, the tree, the stockings, and lots of food on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Life seemed to stand still for those three days. Christmas Eve was started for us at church with a special Christmas service, then the anticipation always grew the closer we got to home. As our extended families grew from marriages taking place, we would choose Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or Boxing Day as the day we would all open gifts together from each other. For me, the highlight was always receiving a gift and watching others get gifts from me.

As I grew up and met my biological family, who are Indigenous, I came to learn something about my people. They loved to give gifts. Parents often give gifts to their children on paydays, and this is often seen as a form of spoiling a child. Nonetheless, they love to give things to each other, especially family and friends. Before my biological mother died several years ago, she would just take something off the wall from her room and give it to me as a gift.

Within the Indigenous communities, there is a gift-giving portion of the round dance celebration. Near the end of the round dance, there are pre-selected people who walk around with gifts that were bought in advance and put to the side. They usually look for visitors or elders to give them to. This gift could be a blanket, a kitchen towel set, or some other household item. The gifts usually aren’t that expensive, but it’s still exciting to receive one of these gifts. It’s a way to say thank you for coming out.

Yet even before I met my Indigenous biological family, I learned I had a giving heart. One time, I got hit by a car when riding my bike and received $1,200 from the insurance company. I asked my adopted dad if he wanted the money. He kindly said, ‘No, that’s your money, you have it.’

As we look at the Christmas story in Luke 2:1-39, let’s focus on the aspect of gift giving. When the virgin Mary found out she was pregnant, and the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that was a gift from God to Mary that would be shared to the world. When a place in an inn and a manger was where Jesus was born, that was a gift, because it focused on the humility and low position that Jesus would take in his life and ministry.

When an angel appeared to shepherds and told them about Jesus being born, that was a gift to the shepherds. When it was prophesied that Simeon wouldn’t die until after he saw the Savior, this was a gift, and when he saw Jesus, this too was a gift to him before he died. When the prophet Anna spent all her time praying and fasting in the temple awaiting the arrival of Jesus, this was a gift she gave, and when she met Jesus, she received a gift to honor her sacrifice.

Jesus himself as fully God and fully man came as the ultimate gift for the entire human race. No matter what ethnicity, race, tribe, or geographical region we’re from, this gift of Jesus, the Savior of the world, is for us all. We must receive this gift with open arms and hearts. We need to become like a child again and see Jesus through those eyes. Matthew 18: 2-4 says we must become like a child to enter in the kingdom of God. Also, keep in mind that Matthew, who wrote this Gospel, left everything to believe and follow Jesus. Jesus’ gift to Matthew was a new lease on life along with the forgiveness of his sins and eternal life.

As I reflect on my childhood experience with gifts at Christmas time, or thinking about how my people love to give gifts to their family and friends, or when I reflect on the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, it all reminds me of Jesus. Jesus is the best gift that the world has received or ever will receive. This is a gift that has eternal benefits. Yet those benefits start the minute you believe and trust in Jesus.

Humans were separated from God, because of sin entering the world in the Garden of Eden. Then God sent his son into the world, through a virgin birth, then allowed that same son to die on a cross for all humanity. My family members would all give me a gift at Christmas because they wanted to. My biological mother would take a picture right off her wall and say, “Here please accept this.” My fellow Indigenous people love to give gifts all year round. Jesus came as a baby, wrapped in a blanket, ready to be given as a gift to all that would and will believe in him. Fully God, fully man, fully given to the entire human race. The reason Jesus is a gift is because you don’t have to do anything to receive him. Just believe and be saved.

About the Author

Parry Stelter is a doctoral candidate in contextual leadership with Providence University and Seminary who offers workshops on grief, loss, and intergenerational trauma. He is a member of Hope CRC in Stony Plain, Alta. His website is wordofhopeministries.ca.

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