Advertisers work to make us insecure, feel that our lives won’t be good enough until we buy more things. Technology is designed to be obsolete within a year, to be replaced by expensive new products. Clothes go out of fashion by the next season. Consumer goods break down before the next holiday rolls around. Many gifts are practical jokes and tossed into storage or the trash before the kids are even back in school.
George Monbiot, in “The Gift of Death“, demonstrates how obscene this trend has become. Our world screams, “Consume! Consume! Consume!” until every facet of our lives, even our religious celebrations, become focused around consumption and spending.
We live in a world addicted to greed, and Christmas is our high festival of consumerism. Christmas is ostensibly about Jesus, but in most places it has a lot more to do with Santa Claus and shopping and spending and materialism. Instead of bowing down to the God of consumerism this year, I wanted to share some ideas for something different. What would Christmas look like if it wasn’t focused on possessions?
We can make Christmas about relationships. Give your time to your loved ones. Plot out how holiday time can be quality time. Don’t try to have the biggest events with the most people and the fanciest foods and the most impressive gifts, all of which makes you stressed. Find space for fun experiences together, or sharing, or songs, or anything else that your particular family will enjoy that doesn’t revolve around acquiring even more possessions. Remember that love is at the center of Christianity and figure out how you can love each other more. Develop in your own life what it means that Christ came to dwell in it, to model to us what it really means to be human, and bring that meaningfully into your family’s Christmas practices.
Give to the poor. Give money, but far more important give time and relationship. Spend quality time with people who aren’t in your economic bracket.
Spend time with God.
Instead of buying more possessions, gift your family and friends with meaningful experiences, meaningful books, or something you created for them. Use anything other than a price tag to demonstrate your love.
For the last five years I have worked to make Christmas videos for my family that strive to entertain as well as share my care. I search for books (paper, electronic, or audio) that I think my friends and family will appreciate. Sometimes I’ve been able to send my parents on trips, planning out their trains, hotels, restaurants, and sights to visit. And I make donations to charities, families, environmental groups, etc. in each of my family members’ names, picking causes that they can relate to.
In some ways it takes more time (I’m much more careful about picking the gift), but in others less. No malls, no shopping centers, no wasted hours of work to make enough money to buy something that will be useless in the end. Fewer societal costs of pollution in production and shipping and less wasted space in landfills.
Those kinds of gifts have worked for me. Other creative presents could include:
– any artistic project, poem, story, song, painting, craft, woodwork, or other personal product that relates meaningfully to the recipient *
– a handmade recipe book or anything that allows you to transfer the wisdom you’ve gained in some part of your life to someone you love
– a self-made video to share, especially with far-off friends and relatives who haven’t seen you in a long time *
– seeds or other supplies (dirt, even compost!) for a garden. Also plants, herbs, or small fruit trees that keep on producing in a life-giving way. *
– a collage of your relationship, year together, etc. This can also be made into a calendar for the next year *
– donations to worthy charities made in the name of the friend/family member *
– homemade coupons for your time – babysitting, chores, massage, treats you will make, etc. *
– offer to spend time giving lessons or teaching a skill, or tracking down someone else who can *
– create some sort of Christmas exchange, where people bring anything they own which has value but they no longer need, and exchange with others for their things that they no longer need!
(starred entries indicate ones that I’ve already tried)
Don’t fall prey to the latest fads. We Americans have much more money, technology, and possessions than we did in the 1950s and 1960s, yet are less happy now than we were then. People with the newest technological fad do not have better lives as a result. The latest toy gets boring just as fast as the old ones. Resist the temptation of advertising or the need to measure up to everyone else.
Many of these gift ideas came from Buy Nothing Christmas, a movement begun by Mennonites who wish to celebrate life. You can find suggestions for how to celebrate Christmas, alternative gift ideas, etc. on their website.
I believe that modern Christmas does more to drive people away from relationship with God than it brings people to Him. That’s sad because Christmas should be a reminder of the enormous step God took to come into relationship with us. Do what you can to help yourself and the people you love come closer to God this Christmas – and get material possessions out of the way.