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How Do You Celebrate Christmas?

The tinsel and trees are up and carols are ringing through shopping centres. With Christmas just a few weeks away, we asked a few Common Grounders to share what the day means to them and how they celebrate it.  

PeliswaIn New Cross Roads, Cape Town

“Christmas is for family – it’s a family gathering. Some of us live in different places so it’s when we can spend time together. Christmas is when we bond. In my family, we all meet – aunties, cousins – at my mom’s place. Early in the morning we sit around and drink coffee together then we open presents. Each person’s buys a present for one person. Cheap stuff – not expensive things. In my point of view, Christmas is a time for giving. Even if we don’t have a lot, we all eat together and spend time together. It’s a special day.” Pheliswa

423209_751980315312_367089462_nIn Stuttgart, Germany

“We have a big Christmas Eve celebration. We usually go to church at  3pm and then the whole family – about 10 to 15 of us – gathers afterwards. My parents or one of my siblings will decorate the room so that no one sees the Christmas tree before dinner. Germany isn’t very family orientated so we invite people who don’t have anywhere to go for Christmas. The kids get to open one gift and then we read the Christmas story from the Bible. My dad usually says something really meaningful and then we pray and eat together.” Sarah

TerenceIn Grassy Park, Cape Town

“Growing up Christmas was always an exciting time because you’d get the one thing you wanted and we’d hang lights outside the house. I could never sleep the night before. But then Christmas was just about Father Christmas; now I understand that Christmas is the day that Jesus was born and that is the main reason why we should celebrate. I’m more aware of those who don’t have. I always try to give them something if I can afford it so that at least they have something. I do feel a little bit sad at Christmas time because it reminds me of my mom who passed away, but thankfully I have my sister, so she makes up for it.”  Terence

FreddyIn Kinshasa, Congo

“Where I’m from in the Congo, my parents are elders in their extended family so Christmas is a huge event. We normally invite all our uncles, aunts, and cousins. For the elders, they kill a chicken and they have traditional food, but for the kids we have French fries! We spend the whole day together until late. My dad, as the eldest, reads a story about Jesus from the Bible. He encourages those who’ve been through difficult times during the year to remain strong because Jesus came for our salvation. From 10pm to 3am, those who are Christian, have overnight prayer at church. During that prayer meeting, it’s not about preaching – it’s about praising God and dancing. It’s a very joyful event.” Freddie

156098_10151343760646281_797515950_n-001In St Louis, America 

“In America, Christmas is all about family traditions. In my family, we start the morning off by reading the Christmas story from the book of Luke with the sounds of our favourite old school Stephen Curtis Chapman Christmas album wafting through the air (it generally plays five times on repeat).  We then open gifts one at a time starting with the oldest and break halfway through for my mom’s famous egg casserole, homemade cranberry coffee cake and chocolate Lindt balls. The rest of the day is spent with extended family where the dads try to relive their childhood by putting together the little boys’ legos.” Lindsay

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Show loveChristmas isn’t a festive season for everyone. But you can make this year different by showing love to and making a real difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and in need. For more information on our ‘Show Love This Christmas’ campaign and how you can get involved, click here.


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. 

Photo Credit: Shandi-lee via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Shandi-lee via Compfight cc

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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Show love 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.

Give Hope with NETwork Computer Courses

Imagine opening up the doors of technology to someone for the first time. By purchasing the NETwork Give Hope card you can do so and empower those looking for employment.

Volunteer teacher Rogers Gake instructs a Beginners Computer class

Volunteer teacher Rogers Gake instructs a Beginners Computer class

Tucked away in the corner of the NETwork premises in Wynberg, Cape Town, is a room which from a glance doesn’t look too exciting – neat rows of desks, computers and chairs – but every day from this spot people, some who’ve never even turned a computer on before, are learning how to search the internet, type up letters and send emails.

These tasks may seem small to those of us who grew up with access to technology, but for these students simply learning how to surf the web or set up an email account could mean the difference between unemployment and a job with a steady income.

Student Sinazo Mwehle, 23, is hoping this course will help her to find a job

Student Sinazo Mwehle, 23, is hoping this course will help her to find a job

Imagine trying to get a job when there are often hundreds or even thousands of other equally eager applicants. Sadly, with an unemployment rate of around 30% in South Africa, this is often the case for entry-level employment opportunities.

NETwork is a non-profit organisation addressing the unemployment crisis by providing a hub where people can connect to opportunities and enrol in a seven-day job readiness programme, as well as computer, English, business communication and waitering courses.

Individual attention allows the students to progress at their own pace

Individual attention allows the students to progress at their own pace

This year, over 411 people have already graduated from the job readiness programme and over 134 students have completed the computer course.

So what’s so important about computers? Well, other than the fact that you’re probably reading this article on one, quite a lot!

“Almost everything today involves the use of computers,” says Rogers Gake, who teaches the beginner computer class at NETwork. “You might be a cashier or a waiter but you need to know how to use technology. I receive so many emails from previous students who have found employment thanking me for the course because without it they wouldn’t be able to do the job.”

Thanks to a generous donation of 20 new computers from the Dell Development Fund more students can enroll in the course

Thanks to a generous donation of 20 new computers from the Dell Development Fund , NETwork can now accommodate more students in each class

“Before I was scared of computers because where I grew up we had no computers,” says Doreen Kasongo, 24, a computer course graduate. “I had fear in my heart of where to start, but now I’m very confident and it makes me feel good about myself. Everywhere you go they use computers and now I can use one too.”

The beginners computer course takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9.30am to 1pm, with the intermediate level happening on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-3pm.

The beginners course focuses on giving a basic understanding of how a computer works, including browsing the internet, using Microsoft Word, and setting up and sending emails via an email account. The intermediate level trains students in Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint.

In the beginners course, students learn how to browse the internet, set up an email account and use MS Word

In the Beginners course, students learn how to browse the internet, set up an email account and use MS Word

These skills provide students with a hand up out of unemployment by allowing them to type up their own CVs, browse online for job openings, and send their résumés to potential employees.

“The computer course is very important because lots of jobs ask you to use a computer,” says Sinazo Mwehle, 23. “It has helped me because I’ve been able to send out lots of CVs. Before I didn’t even know how to email a CV.”

“I’m looking for a job as a waiter and now I can look for work online,” Michael Mwachipoka, 28, computer course graduate. “It has also given me an advantage because as technology advances I will be able to adapt. There are so many doors the computer course has opened up for me.”

For more on how you can get involved at NETwork, email us. Read further for info on how you can support through Give Hope…

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Show loveShow Love This Christmas: Put someone through the NETwork computer course

This festive season, you can profoundly impact someone’s life by giving them the opportunity to complete the NETwork computer course. How? Purchase a NETwork Give Hope card for R150. There are also other cards available which all support Common Good initiatives. Click here for more info. On sale at Common Good involvement desks (Sundays) and at the Common Ground café.

‘Tis The Season To Be Generous

How can we put Christ back into our Christmas celebrations? We asked Common Good executive director, Sarah Binos, to share how she’s trying to do this with her family.

What would your challenge be to Christ-followers living in Cape Town this Christmas?

First of all, it’s important to say that I haven’t figured this all out! I’m still grappling with this in my own life! My challenge to myself and to other Christians would be to consider the implications of what we’re celebrating.

Christ’s birth was incarnational – he left the glory of Heaven to be born into poverty on Earth. Wow! It was the moment in history when the Saviour of the world came to rescue us. If that’s what we’re celebrating, how can we be more like Jesus in that way?

We’ve all been placed somewhere – in a neighbourhood, in a suburb, in a job – how can we be the presence of Jesus there? Christmas is an event that the majority of people celebrate, whether they’re believers or not, so how are we allowing the message of Christ’s birth to influence our immediate surroundings?

How do you think Jesus would celebrate Christmas if he were in Cape Town today?

I don’t think his emphasis would be on the Christmas jingles and jangles – he definitely wouldn’t be mall trawling! But I think he would still want us to celebrate by focusing on people and community, rather than on gifts (not that presents are bad!).

If we look at Christ’s life we see how he made everyone feel comfortable and included in his presence, especially those who were on the fringes of society. At a time when Christmas has the propensity to be quite insular, I’m challenged by the way Christ swung wide open the doors of his life to others.

How are you and your family going to try to make Christmas more meaningful this year?

I’m feeling challenged around how we can celebrate Christ’s presence in our lives without multiple presents. In our family we celebrate by having a lovely meal together and giving each other gifts but I try to point everything back to Jesus.

The gifts we give and receive should be a metaphorical picture of all the other gifts that he’s extended to us. I want my children to understand that these gifts are just a picture of much bigger gifts – ones we can’t even touch or feel. The way God loves us, the way he died for us and rescued us – these are the real gifts.

I think we can use the cultural traditions we’ve developed around Christmas but completely spin them on their head for the glory of Christ. For example, when we take our kids down Adderley Street to look at the Christmas lights, it’s asking the question, why is this all happening? It’s always to be conscious of why we’re celebrating.

How can we balance the joy of celebrating Christmas with family and friends – and still be inclusive to people who are in need over this time?

I think it’s important to have special family time but there are ways that I can open my home. For example, there’s an old age home down the road, and even in my immediate sphere, I’ve got friends who don’t have family. I’m thinking of how I can include a whole range of people where everyone feels a part of the celebration.

Giving gifts to loved ones is a big part of Christmas time for many people. How can we make this more meaningful?

Christ was so generous in what he gave to us so we can still celebrate by giving each other presents but that needs to happen alongside radical generosity. While I spend money on myself and those immediately around me, I also need to be thinking about those who don’t have. What can I do so that the blessing that God has given me doesn’t just flow back to me? How can I be more generous, not just financially, but also with my family and with my home?

I’m going to try to look at how much time and money I’m spending on myself and my family this Christmas and then make sure that at least a percentage of that is flowing out through an appropriate channel.

How can we be generous this Christmas without hurting those we’re trying to help?

In communities where there’s a lot of privilege we need to find ways for resources to flow outside of ourselves but in a way that isn’t patronising or doesn’t build dependency. One way of doing this could be through Give Hope cards where the money raised will be used to empower people through really sound initiatives.

Another way is by giving where there’s relationship. I have a friend who is in a very different socio-economic bracket but because I have relationship with her it’s natural for me to give her a gift. It’s not going to be seeing as paternalistic because she’s my friend.

I think it’s being conscious of who are the people in your sphere who you can bless. Maybe for some of us these are our employees, or the people who work with us or around us, or maybe it’s even the person who guards your car who you’ve struck up a relationship with.

What’s Common Good’s Christmas campaign all about this year?

The Show Love This Christmas campaign is really about giving people an opportunity to see Christmas as more than just a time to meet our own personal needs. It’s about encouraging us to think of ways to put Christ back into Christmas.

This could be through Give Hope cards which will open up channels of generosity to flow to people who maybe don’t have resources, or through stewarding our time in a way that serves others. (The Christmas PlugIn sheet has some great ideas for how to do this.)

And then, of course, there’s Care for The Carer, which is a great way to celebrate those who on a daily basis make massive sacrifices to serve those in need. Christmas is a time where we can celebrate these unsung heroes who are rarely given any affirmation or encouragement. Many times they’re the forgotten heroes yet Jesus at Christmas would probably celebrate them.

And what about after the tinsel comes down?

Most of us think of Christmas as an event but Christmas marks the moment in history when Christ came into the world. As Christians, we have to see Christmas as a reminder of what the long road is about. This is a moment to freshly take stock of what our Saviour coming into the world means for the rest of our lives. It’s not about the event it’s about how the event informs our whole journey.

-Sarah leads the Common Good team and serves on the leadership team of Common Ground Church with her husband, Steve.

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Show love

For more information on the ‘Show Love This Christmas’ campaign and how you can get involved, click here.

Video: Live Under The Line

The challenge may be over but the journey has just begun.

After just three days of living under the line, many of us have a new perspective of what it means to live below the poverty line in South Africa. In our Live Under the Line feedback clip, three  Common Grounders share how their hearts have been freshly stirred by this campaign.

If your heart has also been freshly stirred, download our plugin sheet and our September calendar to find out more about the various ways that you can get involved in the restoration of our city.

P.S. For more Live Under the Line feedback stories read these blog posts here.


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