Last week we received in the mail a catalog that is to our girls like the Sears catalog was to me when I was a kid. Remember that big catalog and the pages and pages of toys? Like Ralphie with his Red Rider, I’d take a Sharpie and circle everything I wanted from Santa, which for me was a train set. I always wanted a train set when I was a kid.

One particular Christmas I’d become as dogmatic about a train as Ralphie and his B.B. gun, but my grandmother talked Mom, who my older brothers had told me was actually Santa, out of the train, saying that a bike would be better for me. I wasn’t happy with the change on Santa’s list. But it’s ironic, considering how much I enjoy cycling today. To be sure, I’d still love to have a train set. Micah likes trains too, which is why we enjoy hours of assembling tracks and running his Thomas engines.

Well, the catalog I was referring to when I began this post is not the Sears catalog or one from Aeropostale but the World Vision Gift Catalog. We love flipping through the pages and seeing all the things we could buy for families in need across the world. Lindsay and Jacque circle things like goats, dairy cows, chickens, ducks, and other animals. We could provide mosquito nets or even pitch in to dig a well for a village. There are various funds to contribute to, like the one to help protect and rehabilitate young women and girls rescued from sex slavery.

The past few years at Christmas we’ve taken some of what we’ve saved all year for gift-buying and designated it for the items we will have circled in the catalog. We’ve never spent much at Christmas — $75 to $100 for each of the girls. In the past, we’ve used some of our Christmas savings for events like taking in The Nutcracker. Micah just might be old enough to enjoy it this year.

One of our daughters asked me the other day, “Dad, could you take whatever you were going to spend on me at Christmas and buy things from the World Vision catalog?” This, in addition to what we’d already been set to give.

My first thought was, But we want to give you some things too, and we wouldn’t be able to. Then my second thought was, Wow! She is seeing real need and wanting to give to it rather than get for herself. She may at times demonstrate a typical teenage attitude, but there’s a tender heart inside.

I’m not saying we’re going to do this, but what if we didn’t purchase any gifts for our children this year? (Heaven knows, grandparents send more than enough anyway.) After all, there’s nothing in Scripture about Christmas being a time where we give each other gifts. But Jesus and the apostles and the Old Testament writers spoke a lot about generosity — all year long. What if Cindy and I were to honor our daughter’s wish, one born out of a heart of generosity? Maybe we could get one gift for the family, something like a new board game or a game for the Wii. We could go to something like The Nutcracker, since it’s been a few years, instead of buying trinkets, most of which lose their sparkle even before February.

As it is, Christmas morning is different for us as a family. Last year, for instance, we didn’t open gifts until late afternoon. At church we had a Christmas Eve service, and because Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, we had a morning service. Then I made brunch at noon. Micah certainly needed a nap. So we didn’t open gifts until after he woke up. So, gifts hasn’t been the focus of Christmas anyway. It may not be that difficult a transition to an almost entirely giftless Christmas.

This would seem like a no-brainer. An opportunity to give to those in need or one where we spend on ourselves. We could show the girls — and Micah when he gets older — that there is no treasure to be found under the tree but instead in a heart of generosity born out of love for Jesus and for those in need.

Plus, we wouldn’t have to shop.