I wish you all a happy Christmas, and a merry and most blessed Christmastide. (This greeting is still somewhat premature, but my quarrel is more with the celebration of “the Christmas season” ending a day or so after it properly ought to begin than with celebrations beginning prematurely.)
Christmas, like every season of the Christian year, is a particular celebration and emphasis of one particular part of the Christian faith, gospel, and life: in this case rejoicing and the Incarnation. We celebrate that God has given us, who were his enemies, his Son, and through the Son have given us life.
How should Christmas, then, be celebrated? Following the command to “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children …” (though that’s pulling that verse entirely out of context), I think the giving of gifts is entirely proper, provided the motivation is right (love, not duty, envy, or pride) and (though, if the motivation is right, this should go without saying) the gifts are chosen based on what the giver and (more importantly) the recipient value rather than market values or cultural hype.
On the other hand, while there are any number of ways that the holiday and the season ought not to be celebrated (though reviving the old Saturnalia traditions en masse is the only one that leaps to mind), I very strongly doubt that there are any that ought to be obligatory. This is an area properly left to the believer’s (or the church’s) responsible freedom. (An important doctrinal term which unfortunately has become a buzzword and thence a joke in some circles.) There’s a very wise dictum (which I got, I suspect, from reading Charles Williams, but which may have originated with the Church of England or somewhere before them) that sums it up nicely: “All may, some should, none must.” Various symbols—trees, St. Nicholas, candy-canes, holly and ivy, even the giving of gifts—are helpful to some Christians, but are objectionable to others. (The complaints about these being derived from older pagan holidays are not without merit; I seem to recall that at one point accommodating new converts by co-opting some pagan symbols was the official policy of the Church. If I remember I’ll write more about this debate later.) And so we should let our conscience, the teachings and traditions of the Church, and (most importantly) the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit guide us.