Have you ever gotten the feeling that Christmas has become something that it was never meant to be? We’re pushed to buy more and more, bigger and better, sometimes turning family gatherings into giving competitions. We’re decking the halls all right. In fact, special days that revolve around buying— Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — outnumber the big day itself.
Then there’s always the must-have toy. It was a Red Ryder BB gun for nine-year old Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.” When I was a kid, it was an Atari game system, quite expensive at the time. When kids go back to school in January and have to face their friends without “the gift,” they often feel incomplete. And parents aren’t off the hook either, often made to feel less than adequate if they can’t provide it. The pressure, unfair all around, can easily steal the joy which is supposed to be central to the holiday.
Please don’t mistake me for the Grinch, but “the most wonderful time of the year” has become a big business relentlessly peddling a consumerism which overshadows the heart of Christmas.
According to the National Retail Federation, projected holiday retail sales in November and December will total $678.75 billion. That’s just the presents. Office parties which include food, drinks, and other manifestations of holiday cheer brought total Christmas spending last year to over $1 trillion according to Deloitte’s 2016 Christmas survey.
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Of course, there’s nothing wrong with gifts and parties and such, but when we confuse commercialism and mindless consuming with what’s really at the heart of Christmas, then it’s time to reassess and recalibrate what we’re doing.
The holiday tradition of giving arose from the story of the wise men from the east who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child born in Bethlehem. Yet, just as expensive gifts are part of the tradition, so is humility, even more so. God incarnate was born to poor parents in humble circumstances.
They couldn’t find a room at the inn, so they settled for a stable shared with livestock. We forget that the gifts meant to honor the newborn king would be used by his poor parents as family provision.
It’s easy to get caught up in the modern trappings of how we celebrate and lose sight of all that’s behind it. Of course, Christmas is about God’s gift of Jesus Christ who came to save the world from sin, yet finding contentment in this greatest of gifts might be a challenge today. So here’s a suggestion to free yourself from the largesse that might just become next month’s clutter.
Why not make a financial donation to charitable organizations?
The Salvation Army, Angel Tree and local churches that have soup kitchens and clothing closets for the poor are all worthy of our support. Such giving captures the Christmas spirit more than merely contributing to the bottom line of another Fortune 500 company that’s doing well enough without your help.
Volunteering as a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army or helping another charitable cause with your time might be the antidote to the consumerism bug. How about adopting a family in need and providing a Christmas meal and gifts for their children? Years ago, our church put together Christmas boxes filled with turkeys and foodstuffs for needy families. Participating in this was one of the most rewarding things we did when my children were young.
By all means give presents to your kids, decorate your home and enjoy the Christmas parties, but you’ll find that giving your time and helping others less fortunate might be one of the best things you can do to capture the Christmas spirit. After all, God incarnate gave the priceless gift of himself to needy people like us.
Richard Nelson of Cadiz is executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a nonpartisan, public-policy organization.