I'm sure they meant well, but frankly, at the time I was hurt and outraged.
I would have preferred no gift at all.
What are Christmas gifts supposed to be about?
Was that the wrong reaction?
It was prompted firstly because I don't see Christmas gifts by family and friends as an expression of almsgiving (though given my own paid employment challenged and thus mortgage-stressed state...) but rather an expression of our interest, care and affection for each other.
It is not, in my view at least, contrary to what a new post on the ACBC media blog suggests, about whether we really need another bottle of wine or not (though a nice bottle for Christmas would certainly go down well, and my Amazon wishlist is quite long!), it is not about how much we have or don't have.
And I'm certainly not advocating spending vast amounts of money on useless consumer goods.
But choosing (or better still making) a gift that reflects our knowledge of the other's interests and concerns, however tokenistic, is a gesture of love.
Of course, we often guess wrong, resulting in those appalling presents that we quickly discard! Yet there can be something endearing even in a badly chosen gift I think.
While I suppose one could see a charity gift as such a misreading of the desires of the nominal donor, I'm afraid I'm far more inclined to view it rather as an attempt to assuage guilty consciences at consumerist lifestyles, rather than an act of love.
Choose your charity carefully!
The main reason for my outrage though, was at the presumption of acting in my name without my authorization.
Personally, I want to be able to choose where the alms I do give go myself.
I want to be sure that 'my' money isn't in practice being diverted to support vast bureaucracies, used to promote abortion, or otherwise fall subject to the ills to which certain types of aid organisations seem to be prone.
And then there is the choice of cause.
I was actually pretty tempted to respond in kind this year by announcing that the siblings concerned had helped support a nice traditional monastery through my offering for a mass for their conversion (neither are catholics)...However, like giving a goat to a needy village, I think this is one of those areas where it is better to just do it, rather than to tell everyone that you have done it.
Almsgiving for Christmas
That is not to say of course that we shouldn't make an extra effort to give alms at Christmas time - of course we should.
I'd be happy (though retailers would not be!) to see a push from our bishops and the various charities saying spend less on Christmas presents and give to Vinnies or Medicines Sans Frontiers (to compensate for another relative refuses to support them on the grounds that they refuse to get involved with contraception), or some other suitable cause instead.
But my take on it is, ignore the cutesy marketing push, this commodification of charity, and do it in your own name, don't presume to do it on behalf of someone else.
Unless, of course, you are really sure it is want they want and are on board with the cause.
But am I being unfair or missing something?