Advent has begun and there are no clearer signs that Christmas is around the corner than watching holiday commercials on tv and hearing Christmas music piped into every store. That Jesus is the "reason for the season" is a given for Christians, but how is this notion reflected in our lives in a season filled with shopping, spending, stress, and hurrying?
We know that Christmas isn't about presents, but our actions tell a different story. One nonprofit group reports that consumers spent a total of $438.6 billion during the 2005 holiday season. And the previous year, nearly 60% of Americans incurred credit card debt when shopping for Christmas presents. Christmas has become so entwined with shopping that retailers' marketing campaigns and actions have become a central front in the so-called War on Christmas.
Yet 78% of Americans wish that the holidays were less materialistic and a similar percentage believe that gift giving is awarded too much importance. Many of us are uncomfortable with the environmental impact of buying so many things. Others worry about consumerism from an angle of stewardship, considering the wisdom of going into debt for presents or the appropriateness of spending so much money when so many of our neighbors are in need. And more people are anxious that too much time in the malls and big box stores leaves less time for prayer, reflection, and time with family. As Christians, how do we step back from a culture that defines Christmas by how much stuff we buy?
Many groups and individuals are working to de-emphasize the commercial aspects of Christmas and celebrate in a more meaningful way. Buy Nothing Christmas is an initiative started by Canadian Mennonites to reject patterns of over-consumption and embrace "a Christian lifestyle that is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the earth, and greater in giving to people less-privileged." Alternatives for Simple Living, a nonprofit that works with both Protestant denominations and Catholic dioceses on issues of responsible living, social justice and peace, launches an annual Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway? campaign that focuses on Jesus rather than consumerism at Christmas. (Both organizations have good resources at their web sites.) Some families focus on gifts of time together or homemade presents, rather than shopping. A few parents I know buy only 3 presents for each child (with the rationale that if 3 presents were enough for baby Jesus, they're enough for their kids). Many people volunteer time and give money to the poor and vulnerable at this time of year; serving meals, buying Christmas presents for needy families, or even writing a check to a good cause are all ways we can use our resources to support those in need.
How do you put more Christ and less consumerism in the Christmas season?