"This year the Christmas season seems even more commercialized than ever with new toys, new movies, and more-and-more stuff to buy. How do we get out of the consumer rut?"
This has become the predominate question people are asking about Christmas these day. There has been a movement, small but gathering momentum, to return Christmas from a season of retail profits to a holiday (better when pronounced holy-day). Unfortunately, we are all products of our culture and that enculturation runs more deeply than most of us realize. For instance, just try telling your kids that you will be skipping gift-giving this year! On the other hand, there is much we can do to for those who'd like to begin to turn the celebration of consumerism into a simpler, more meaningful holiday.
Although it's cliché, the slogan "Jesus is the reason for the season" is a great place to begin. According to recent surveys, 71% of the population plans to attend at least one religious service during the holiday season. If you've not been to church regularly (66% in the South and 93% in the Northwest don't attend church regularly), let me be the first to invite you to make this the first step in recapturing the meaning in Christmas. Most Churches are celebrating Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and are singing the traditional and familiar carols (many of the ones you're hearing on radio and television), so you'll even fit right in. There's something about remembering the birth of God into poverty that can help us keep things in perspective during the hustle-bustle rush.
To help stem the tide of consumerism this year you might want to consider exchanging gifts not on Christmas but on Epiphany (January 6th) which is the celebration of the wise men's visit to the newborn Jesus. This is actually the most logical day for showering one another with gifts, since this day commemorates the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh the wise men brought. Perhaps instead of spending time opening gifts on Christmas day you could do something really meaningful - like volunteering to help with serving at the Gospel Mission, Salvation Army, a homeless shelter, or visiting those in the hospital or a convalescent home.
For those who aren't ready to give up the Christmas gift exchange, there are ways to make gift-giving more meaningful. The average family will spend over $500 for Christmas gifts this year, some much more. Indeed, in a recent poll over 40% complained that they always overspent during the holiday season. So, how can we break the consumer trap? One of the easiest way is to set specific limits. I remember back when I was a teenager my girlfriend and I set a spending limit of one dollar. Even back in the dark ages of the 1970s one dollar was a ridiculously tiny amount, but it was amazing how meaningful those very simple gifts were to us. Another way to beat the retail conglomeration is to exchange names so that each person buys only a single gift. If nothing else, this keeps the spread of gifts beneath the Christmas tree more manageable. While we're on the subject of gift giving, there is one last way to help make the whole holiday season more meaningful. Far too often we get caught up buying each other elaborate and expensive gifts without so much as an acknowledgement that it isn't our birthdays. When was the last time you and your family celebrated Jesus' birthday? It was Jesus who was born over 2,000 years ago (yes folks, 'tis sad but true the real millennium passed between 1994 and 1996) and it is he who should receive our gifts. But how do you give a gift to one who has everything? In scripture we read: "'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And he answered them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me'" (Matthew 25.37-40). In our communities are many who will be alone on Christmas day - young adults, widows/widowers, singles, and more. If you really want to make this a holiday to remember, consider sharing your day with those who are included members of no other family besides God's.
May your Christmas be filled with meaning this year.