Many of us have fond childhood memories of Christmas. That, above all, seems to be the reason Western culture continues in the typical Christmas traditions such as gift giving and tree decoration.
But these traditions are becoming somewhat of an oddity. It is increasingly common to see the word Christmas replaced with any number of substitutes, such as festivus party, holiday tree, seasons greetings, and more. That’s in addition to the retail worship Westerners engage in and the obsession with Santa Claus – really, why is Santa garb EVERYWHERE? With the leftward march toward a more pluralistic society we curiously find “pluralism” to mean religiously neutral rather than tolerant. Believing in Santa is okay, but believing in God is just too much for our enlightened society. But that is an oddity in itself: a religiously neutral push in a society that is not religiously neutral.
I’m not talking about the growing theophobic animus (though that is an issue worth discussing – check out what religious plurality looks like in Hong Kong, for example). I’m talking about those who want to practice Christmas traditions in a way that is honoring to the real “reason for the season” rather than fall prey to consumerism. I’m talking to those who want to focus on the true meaning of Christmas – Jesus, the Christ.
And that brings us to the rub. While most people say Christmas is about something noble like spending time with family, they act like Christmas is really about gifts. And that’s not the only contradiction involved here. On the one hand we hear about greedy businesses staying open at odd hours (even intruding into Thanksgiving day); on the other hand many completely ignore the fact that PEOPLE WILL SPEND THEIR MONEY AT THOSE TIMES! Businesses are open for business because they know people will shop.
No one is forcing people to go out and spend their money. But many people pretend the “evil corporations” are making them do it (probably because blaming corporations is easier than being honest). In my family we refuse to shop on Thanksgiving day. It’s not difficult at all. Some of us don’t go shopping on Black Friday either. If you can’t stop yourself from shopping on Thanksgiving day it’s you who has a problem, not “capitalism”.
The mass hysteria that happens in the Christmas shopping season is a problem. The tragic stories of greedy shoppers should be eye opening. Greed is a part of the Christmas experience, especially in the United States. But so is giving. (What could be more Christian than giving?) If we want to redeem Christmas how do we get away from the greed but keep the giving? After all, every year I hear someone say it is better to give than to receive. And that’s true. And a mentality of giving is much better for society than a mentality of getting.
A friend of mine had a great idea about this, one which you could try next year. It’s a different tack on giving, but we still get to give. Imagine instead of being gift-based, the giving can be service-based. Here’s how it works.
Everyone in the household (or extended family, or other type of group) take a few strips of paper. On each strip, write one request you would like someone to help you with. A one-time gift of service can be of almost anything – within tasteful limitations of course. It could be helping to rake the yard, or learning how to cook a special dish, or learning how to change the oil in your car, cleaning out the garage/basement, setting up that annoying tech thing you can’t get to work, or anything you would like someone to help you with. You choose, it’s your request – a one-time gift of service written so anyone around the house during this time of year could serve you.
We all have varying skill sets. So keep than in mind when writing your requests. Chances are at least one of them can be met by someone in the household. Instead of putting gifts under the tree you can decorate the tree with acts of service that others could give to you. Imagine colorful service requests adorning the tree, where the “gifts” you receive have meaning specifically for you, and avoiding the stress of the commercial cattle run of shopping. On Christmas day you search the tree for acts of service you can give to others – and you don’t have guess about what they might want.
And you can modify this idea to your liking. One physical gift plus the gifts of service might work for you and your family, or what ever variation you want. Keep in mind, though, the purpose of this idea is to move away from the “getting” or shopping frenzy and move into a “serving” frame of mind.
Remember when I said many of us have fond memories of Christmas? If you’re capable of reading this chances are you’re aware the Christmas season can be a painful time of year for many people. If you can make the time, think of gifts of service you could offer to others outside your home. The neighbor who lives alone, or that person dealing with a stressful situation, or the retirement home you never visit, or the soup kitchen.
Imagine how Western culture could be different with adults who grew up with a mindset of service rather than a mindset of presents. You can start a new tradition, one which builds a stronger community. Think about it over the next 12 months. You might find next year’s Christmas has more “Christ” in it than you ever imagined.
culture, family, ideology, philosophy, religion