On finding the perfect gift… and missing the point
Presents, food, tinsel, more food and more presents. In a society where Christmas is driven by consumerism, Julie Williams shares how she and her family will go counter-culture this year by putting Christ at the centre of their celebrations.
If you’re hoping to find a blog post berating Father Christmas as the anti-Christ and linking his poor reindeer to hell’s apocalyptic horsemen, let me save you the time. Regrettably for you, this is not that post.
In fact, I am particularly fond of Christmas and all its pagan traditions. The Christmas tree, the gifts under it, the fake mistletoe, and good old Father Christmas. When I look back on my childhood, it is punctuated with happy memories of this time of year. Believing in Father Christmas (for a few brief years) did not make me lose all trust in my parents or create an inextricable pull towards the occult (that came later, after watching Harry Potter). Jokes aside, if I’m honest, I’m not so sure that everything that comes with the festive season is all together festive or healthy…
Like our collective irrational desire to get more. More tinsel, more of those nuts that everybody seems to have in their homes that you have to crack yourself, more crackers (seriously, has anyone in the history of forever, ever pulled something out of an over-priced cracker that was worth keeping? Even just until pudding?), more stuff we think we really need but really don’t, more stuff that our kids really don’t need, and a whole lot more food.
Like most of you, I also like to give more too… I write lists of the most thoughtful gifts for my loved ones and then spend loads of energy and time tracking those things down. And in the process, taking my credit card limit to new heights (or lows according to one less festive spouse, but nobody asked him to write a blog post fortunately).
I love it – all of it. Even the end of January toast and baked beans that are bound to follow. But over the last few years, as I skip around crowded shopping centres that seem full of irritable people, I have been wondering, am I missing the point? Worse still, am I perpetuating this missing of the point onto the next generation now that I have minions, I mean, kids?
I’m a Christ-follower, and I know what the real meaning of Christmas is, but in the actual day-to-day busyness of life, it’s difficult to see the wood from the trees. Or in this case, the Christ in the chaos. As someone who loves Jesus, this should primarily be a time to celebrate his arrival. That means putting down the fairy lights and shopping lists for a second and reflecting on what that actually means.
What should we be celebrating at Christmas? That God put skin on: That the Maker of the Universe who holds everything together, whose hands span the galaxies, let go of all of that to become a tiny, helpless babe. He gave up his riches to become poor for us. All because of love. Christmas is about celebrating the ultimate downgrade. It’s about reveling in the ultimate gift – not a flattering outfit or entertaining toy – but a person. A Saviour who satisfies our weary souls like no ipod, gift voucher or glazed ham ever could.
I’m really not wanting to rain on anyone’s festive parade. I’m just calling for a bit of perspective. Like the thin layer of icing above the fruit cake – all of our traditions should be small and inconsequential beside Christ this Christmas.
How will we practically do this? You get to work that out in your own life. But this is what we’re doing differently this holiday season…
A debt of love, minus the debt.
We’re going to spend less on gifts. Not because we love our family and friends less, but because going into debt to show how much we care is just really dumb. And because despite what advertising tells us, the perfect gift to give this Christmas doesn’t cost a cent – it’s our time and love. When it comes to our own kids and gifts, I stumbled across this list a year ago and found it super helpful. Our kids get four things each: Something to read, something they need, something to wear, something to play with. They really do need new shoes and swimming costumes, and cultivating a love of reading is a priority for us, so really, they’re getting one ‘real’ gift, but don’t tell them that! We think it’s also important for them to realize that everything they get is a gift and not a right, even the necessary things.
Santa’s our little helper, not the other way around.
We’re not hyping Father Christmas up as the hero of the story. He’s a side act to the real show. How do our kids know this? By virtue of the fact that he gives the smallest gifts every year. Not the biggest.
Christ-centred Christmas traditions.
We’re early in our journey as a family. But we want to better reflect Christ’s love in this time. So we spend time shopping and putting together Care for the Carer gifts, and on Christmas evening, we have a time of reflection together, we talk about the day and look at all the things we got given, than we pray together and thank God for our gifts, and especially for the BEST gifts of all, Christ and his great love for us. The day after Christmas, as a kind of detox, we give each of them a box and ask them to give away some of their good-quality toys and clothes to bless others.
This may sound very Brady Bunch, but the reality is, our kids will probably be climbing all over the couch while we’re praying on Christmas night, and wailing like somebody is wanting them to donate a vital organ when they have to part with some of their things the next morning. It’s not going to be all that festive, but then again, maybe that’s not the point. It certainly wasn’t Christ’s.
Julie Williams is a part-time freelance copywriter, mother of three and pastor’s wife. She serves on the Common Ground Church leadership team together with her husband, Terran.
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Like Julie, you too can make this Christmas more meaningful. Our ‘Show Love This Christmas’ campaign offers a few ways you can make a real difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and in need. For more information on how you can get involved, click here.