I thought I was done with this series, but then the looming High Holy Days of Consumerism made me realize that this is the time of year that people wrestle the most with the conflict between the faith of consumerism and their faith as Christians. So, I want to try and write something helpful rather than just something to make you feel bad. I tried to paint a brief picture of the alternative economy of God in which all members of the household have their needs met, there is meaningful work for all and creation is sustainably cared for. It’s a nice picture, but far from the reality we live in.
There are lots of things we could do, but I’d like to focus on some ideas that pertain in particular to the Christmas season. I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. There’s a part of me that loves the cultural Christmas. I have a ridiculously large Christmas music collection. I love winter and snuggling up with some eggnog and a fire. I love Christmas movies. I love the magical feeling that our cultural Christmas myths stir. I love that there’s a general feeling of trying to get along and be nice to each other, to overcome our differences.
BUT with all of that also comes the guilt about what presents to buy. The list of people to buy something for. The sense of obligation rather than joy in giving. The mad rush to get more stuff and the feeling that having more will make you happy. The expectation of receiving presents and the disappointment of not getting what you wanted. These are also the values that the season brings with its cultural myths not in spite of them. So, what do we do with this time? How do we embody God’s economy in the midst of these powerful myths surrounding the High Holy Days of Consumerism? Here are some of my ideas.
The best, but often most difficult, thing to do during this time of year, is really lean into the Advent season. Both Advent and the Consumer Christmas are about waiting, but what we’re waiting for in each case is very different. Remember that this is the New Year in the church calendar. The way that the church marks time is important and can often serve as an anchor in the midst of our culture and maybe never moreso than during Advent.
Try to live into the readings, the themes, the thoughts of Advent more than the bustle of the Holidays. See if there are ways you can let Advent lead you through the season. Lighting an Advent wreath helps mark time and frame the season. Use some of the resources from the Advent Conspiracy.
Simplify Gift Giving
This seems to be one of the hardest things in my own experience. It sometimes takes a lot of patience and grace to gradually move your family who are committed to the Consumer Christmas away from spending so much money and making it all about the presents. You can still give presents, but limit to one and put some limits on the amount everyone agrees to spend. The trick is to agree together with the people you’re exchanging presents with. If your family still insists on a big production, explain why you value an alternative way of approaching the season and let them know about the kind of gifts you’ll be giving.
Here are some ideas for alternatives to buying gifts: Make something. Food is a great gift to share. Here’s some ideas for food other than Christmas cookies. Some more ideas from Homegrown.org. If you are going to buy something here’s some tips and ideas from grist.org.
Tell the Story of St. Nicholas
About three years ago we were faced with what to tell our three year old about Santa for the first time. We decided to tell our kids the story that surrounds the historical figure of St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra in Turkey. This approach has the benefit of having to duck questions about whether or not Santa is real. He is real and this is the story about who he was and what he did. The actual story also turns the madness of consumerism inside out as the story is about someone giving out of their abundance and caring for the poor and marginalized. Read the story and find more resources from the St. Nicholas Center website.
How to deal with Santa is something each family has to figure out. I’m not suggesting this is the only or best way, but it is an approach I was not aware of before and might be a good option for you.
Share Meals and More
Finally, trying to embody God’s alternative economy means practicing sharing. So, find ways to emphasize sharing meals, being together with friends and family, practicing radical hospitality. Share responsibilities for preparing meals or other things that burden us during the holiday season. Making presents with others is way more fun than just doing it on your own. Share equipment for canning, knitting or whatever else you need to make something special.
Share your thoughts and ideas for practicing God’s alternative economy during the holidays in the comments.