I never did believe in Santa Claus. My parents rejected the materialism that is so often peddled in the name of Christmas and kept the holiday pretty low key. I’ve always been grateful for this lesson, and rather cynical about those wild-eyed Christmas fanatics running amok in the malls.

Since the thought of receiving gifts from a fat, bearded stranger seemed bizarre rather than festive to me, I didn't know how to react to my new in-laws, who take the role very seriously. This different style has been quite an adjustment to my practical, thrifty little heart. Yet, they have taught me so much. I have learned that the great joy of Christmas is not only the wonder of nativity, but the opportunity to practice generosity. After all, what other act is closer to the heart of God than the act of giving?

The Christ child we celebrate on Christmas eventually grew up, and when he did, he had much to say about generosity. In fact, Jesus spoke more about how we are to approach money and possessions than he did about any other topic. While his messages occasionally addressed prudence and responsible management, above all he extolled the virtue of giving. He told us to give generously; not grudgingly, but cheerfully.

At a time of year when giving can sometimes feel more like an obligation and a burden than the privilege it really is, how can we become the cheerful givers God intended us to be? The first step is to look for opportunities to give more and to give better. Feeling follows action, not the other way around. Here are a few thoughts to get started this Christmas.

Effort counts

Gift giving is much more than an obligation. It is an opportunity to love somebody else. Since we all have our own love languages, to really show love to another person takes a lot more effort than simply grabbing the first thing you see at the store that fits into your budget. In your quest to find that perfect gift, remember:

Less is more

There has never been a society in history with more stuff to give. We are swimming in it. Too often we don’t even use what we do have. Not only can you cut down on clutter, but you can fight the tide of consumerism by giving one of these unique gifts:

Get your kids in the game

I am almost losing count of the times kind adults have asked my children, “What are you getting for Christmas?” It seems so innocuous, but it sets the stage for the biggest pitfall of the season. It is far too easy for children (and adults) to believe that Christmas is about getting, not about giving.

Fight back! Whether or not you are a parent, you can bring the gift of giving to the children around you.

Be a secret Santa

Giving should not be about making ourselves feel good or drawing attention to our generosity. You will become more like Christ as you try these radical ideas:

Giving generously is a win-win-win proposition. It blesses the people who receive our gifts. It blesses us by taking our focus off ourselves and putting it on others. And it blesses God, because “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

“The more we give, the more we delight in our giving — and the more God delights in us. Our giving pleases us. But more importantly, it pleases God.” —Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle