Tis the Season. . .

The past couple of years Jason and I have been pondering what we want our Christmas to look like as we grow as a family. Now that Jude is here, we want this time of celebration to be meaningful and to create traditions that are going to foster a sense of sacrifice and giving instead of consumerism and greed. We ultimately don’t believe Christ came and died for us to buy lots of things and go in debt to celebrate his birthday. We also think he could care less if we have lots of stuff. That being said, we certainly feel the societal pressure to buy the perfect toys (especially since I’m not fond of the cheap plastic toys and sustainable wood toys tend to be a bit more pricey, but hey, that forces us to live with less, right?), to rush around making appearances at friend’s Christmas events, family Christmas events, and while none of those things are bad, sometimes we feel like we get too wrapped up in those things instead of truly embracing what Christmas could be.

Just because we live in America and Jason has a job, we are among the wealthiest in the world. We make more than a $1 a day. That’s all it takes. America spends $480 billion each year from black Friday to Christmas. $480 billion. That is an absurd amount of money. That money would end world hunger. It could end certain diseases. Now again, I don’t think buying gifts for people is inherently a bad thing – I personally LOVE figuring out gifts for people. It’s part of how I show people that I care. I think back, though, to the message in What Would Jesus Buy and how it impacted me and then my post about voting with our money. In those moments, I am sold out to the idea of shopping locally and really paying attention to what I’m buying, but realistically speaking, as time passes I let these ideas slip and I’m back where I started. . .

I think, for us, it comes down to living with less, being ok with giving less and refocusing on what we are actually buying and where it came from. I am not good at this. For short periods of time, I am, but then I cave. There are moments where I am fully ok with not getting everything I want (or giving everything I want), and then there are moments that I feel like a two year old. ‘I want it! Give it to me!’ For example, last year, Jason and I asked our family to not give us gifts and to donate money instead to World Vision or Blood:Water Mission. This was received warmly by some and questioningly by others, but I get that. It’s kinda weird in our culture to not ask for anything (and I don’t share this to ‘toot my own horn’, believe me – I am no better than anyone). But this year I feel my heart desiring things. I don’t want to not receive gifts. I want new music, I want new books, new kitchen gadgets. Again, not inherently bad, but my heart turns it from something that could be blessing into greed.

Our church right now is going through the Advent Conspiracy, so these ideas are at the front of my mind again. Replacing consumerism with compassion. We are being challenged to buy less, give less, ask for less and to give out of our abundance to buy goats for developing nations. What appeals to me most about this is that we’re not just giving handouts to people in need, but providing them with a sustainable source of food and income. Goats provide milk, cheese and yogurt – much needed nutrition, but they also provide more than one family will need, allowing them to sell the excess. And once the goats breed, they’re providing more goats for the families to sell which in turn helps other families support themselves. All of that for $75 per goat. It’s pretty genius. We are praying in how to participate in this blessing that our church is helping to heap on these people that we will never meet in this lifetime.

I guess this blog post is my pondering of what is going on in my heart right now regarding consumerism and Christmas. Again. Every year I come back to this and must revisit what state my heart is in. I want this Christmas to about more than presents. I want to enjoy and invest time in my relationships with my family. That time is precious – we will never get it back. I want my heart to change so that it is softened to giving out of our abundance to people in desperate need and to desire less. I want an open heart, not a heart that hoards.

So all that being said, I want to hear about what you guys are doing this Christmas. It doesn’t have to relate to this post at all, or maybe this post will challenge what you currently have planned. I’d love to hear about it.

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21 Comments

  1. elliek
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 10:15 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve always thought heifer.org was a great non-profit- I don’t know how you guys are doing the goat thing, but they do the same thing – providing gifts that will continue to produce income.

    • Posted December 10, 2009 at 10:37 am | Permalink | Reply

      I think it’s through World Vision. I’ve never heard of heifer.org – I’ll have to check it out. Thanks Ellie!

  2. Posted December 10, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink | Reply

    I think this is a struggle every year and only gets harder as the kids get bigger. We started trying to simplify our Christmas a few years ago. I have shortened my gift list and our extended family has decided just to give gifts to the kids. It is still so easy to slip into the “I wants…”

    We have a charity we always try to get the kids involved in. When my older kids were young we always had them shop for a gift they wanted and then gave it to the local firefighters or toys for tots. With our younger kids we have been doing Operation Christmas Child. They get to fill a shoebox with things they would enjoy. We also give Tim’s mom and aunt a share in an animal though the Heifer International (heifer.org) for their birthday. Their birthdays are in the first week of Jan.

    Just some of the things we try to do to remind the kids of the real reason for Christmas. Some years we are better at it than others! I am so glad there is Grace for us!!!

    • Posted December 10, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink | Reply

      I love Operation Christmas Child! We did that in college. And yes, I am so thankful for grace. There is so much need for it in my life! Thanks for sharing Kari!

  3. Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Sadly I can’t say that I’m helping others to produce income, but I’m trying to help out on a local level by helping others to even have a Christmas. I support the Denver Rescue Mission which helps out the homeless while spreading the Good Word. I was a bit skeptical at first because I know that especially in Denver there are so many people that profit off the idea of being homeless and aren’t even remotely in that situation, but I realized that instead of giving to the person begging on the street (which I still have mixed feelings about) I can give to the DRM and know that my money is helping those that are truly in need. As for the commercial part of Christmas… that’s still tough because there are so many people in our families that just don’t understand THAT part of giving. They’re good people, they give from the love in their hearts, but it always seems that it must be something tangible or at least something that they know the person they are giving it to wants. Then they get the warm-fuzzy feeling of knowing they made the receiver of that present happy. Although the intention is good and heartfelt, I still feel in the pit of my stomach that it’s commercial induced and not 100% genuine. Am I bad for thinking like that?

    • Elizabeth
      Posted December 10, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Nope, I completely understand that. Sometimes it feels like people give because our society tells them that they should. That doesn’t mean that it’s not genuine but it probably wouldn’t happen if Christmas didn’t happen . . . ya know?

  4. Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

    We have severely cut down on the Christmas spending as far as money spent on actual gifts over the past 2 years. Last year, we did donations in other people’s names for items provided through World Vision (like goats, chickens, education, etc.) as well as donations to Blood Water Mission as well. We asked that people not purchase us gifts and instead donate the money if they would like to. This year we are doing donations again — but we are finalizing what we want the money to go to.

    Does this mean there aren’t still a few presents given? No. But we have made it so that the presents aren’t really the focus, but our family time and giving out of our abundance to those that have actual need. We have the entire year to buy things that we want — I think the pressure of the expectation that this is a present giving/receiving time is what makes it hard to resist during Christmas.

    One cool thing that we are doing this year is making the focus more on Stockings. So for instance, I am making stockings for the other members of my family excluding J & I — I fill those with little trinkets or whatever that I find during the year — and they do the same for the other family members. It makes choosing items to go in the stockings more meaningful and it limits what one can fit in there. We also have been exchanging ornaments every year for about the last 10 years so that is always a fun tradition to find a memorable ornament for people. My whole tree is filled with memories because of the ornaments that I have received.

    • Elizabeth
      Posted December 10, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink | Reply

      We donated on some people’s behalf last year as well but there were a few people that we still gave presents (or made presents for) because we thought they might be upset if they didn’t receive something.

      Love the stocking idea! I desperately want to make stockings this year, but I may wait until after Christmas when the fabric I would like is on sale. . . hehe. I love the idea of filling the stocking with little things throughout the year.

      I’ve been thinking about ornaments too. . . our tree is only about 3′ tall so we’re kinda limited on space there but I do love the idea of doing an ornament every year. 🙂 I kinda wanted to make an ornament each year. I’m running out of time for this year though!

      • Posted December 10, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Last year, I did homemade ornaments and everyone loved them! I have a plan for this year that I think will be pretty easy…I just have to get my butt in gear to finish them. I can’t believe that it is only 2 weeks away!!!

        • Elizabeth
          Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          I just found a pattern for a half eaten gingerbread man ornament. . . may have to make that one. 🙂 I loved the ornaments you made last year. Such a good idea!

        • Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

          ha ha — that is the one I was gonna make this year!! LOL too funny!

        • Elizabeth
          Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

          That’s too funny! I’ll probably just make one for our tree. Maybe it can be the start of making Jude an ornament for each Christmas. 🙂

        • Posted December 10, 2009 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

          Just made the half eaten gingerbread man ornament, way easy and super cute!

  5. Jan Rhinehart
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

    When our children were infants, we began giving a “birthday present to Jesus” ever year. It has ranged from spending money for missionaries we support to Angel Tree, to needy folks within our church body, to Operation Christmas Child, and beyond. The decision is always a family decision and children can be extremely perceptive and creative in coming up with ideas! The gifts have been anonymous whenever possible and have included the message, “Happy Birthday, Jesus” whenever we could make that work. The tradition has kept the focus on giving for our family for over 30 years. Now that the kids are grown and gone, Dan and I still carry on the tradition, but we aren’t so creative with our ideas as the kids were:)

    • Elizabeth
      Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I love that idea. ‘Happy Birthday to Jesus’ – what can we do to be Jesus to people in the city and celebrate his birth. Happiness. 🙂

  6. Dana
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink | Reply

    We try to limit our daughter’s gift to just three, therefore not giving her more than Jesus received on his birthday. It ends up being more than that with stockings and such, but by focusing on those 3 gifts and myself making the rest (she loves homemade dresses and nightgowns) I feel that we are staying on task and not bombarding her with the greed of Christmas. We also focus our energies on making things for others less fortunate than ourselves.

    • Posted December 10, 2009 at 8:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Ooh I like that. Three gifts and stockings – I may copy! I also love the idea of making things for those less fortunate than us… Things that are homemade are so special.

  7. Posted December 10, 2009 at 8:21 pm | Permalink | Reply

    This is such a great conversation, Elizabeth. Last year I honestly couldn’t think of one thing I needed. Or wanted. This year is so different. Perhaps I look at my house and think of all it doesn’t have, instead of all it has. We have shelter every night from the bitter cold, where there are many locally and beyond that don’t even have that. Does my shelter need to be adorned while there are those hungry next door? What would Jesus do?

    In the spirit of Christmas and starting our own family traditions, one thing I would like to focus on is others – creating more community, giving to those around us, showing Jesus’ love. Our small group is hoping to do a service project. Eden and I are going to take a day and make various types of cookies and breads, handing them out to our neighbors. We sponsor a snowflake (a family) at work. We’ve been talking over and over with Eden about Jesus’ birthday, and how reading her toddler bible version of it.

    And as a side – we did the stocking thing growing up too, and I’m finding that we’re gravitating toward it as our family unit. Eden’s gifts are just a couple, and then her stocking is full of little things. Same with Lance. Rhys, well, he’ll get our love Christmas morning. 🙂

  8. Posted December 10, 2009 at 8:24 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Oh, and next year, if I get prepared enough in advance, I’d love to celebrate Advent with the kids. I was too behind this year.

  9. Sharon
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink | Reply

    You’re such a younger version of me and who you are and what your heart desires is truly endearing.
    We use to give the kids tons of toys that lasted a short time til next season. I am an only child and my christmas gifts were endless.Looking back I would not have done that and would have given them just a few so they wouldn’t be programmed to look forward to alot. Now that they are older we limit what they get for birthdays and how much they spend day to day. Their friends go shopping every weekend and buy, buy, buy even if they don’t need it and sometimes the same item just different colors. That’s wasteful. It hurts my heart that I don’t give into the consumerism when I send my daughter to the mall with less than $10 but window shopping can be fun. So, I keep track of what they ask for and the one’s that seem to be consistent are the one’s they will get for Christmas. I’ve really asked myself and have been asked by others, why don’t you just buy cheaper versions….I just can’t do it. It’s the real deal or nothing. It use to be that one would save up for quality items but today knockoffs made in China by underpaid and underfed workers, will suffice for alot of us. I feel the inkling for just a few moments to give in but who would I be if I didn’t walk the talk? So, yes….I bought that ever so popluar, really expensive gift for my daughter. But, it will last for years to come. Really good food and really good friends make up for gifts. I don’t want anything (because I have such high standards and I’d rather get it myself) but I do want to see the look on my children’s faces when they get what they least expected. Whenever I want something I don’t need I look around my house and feel blessed to just have a warm home with hot running water and a fridge full of food.
    It’s also great to say that there’s a kid in all of us. I say this because Jason is 17 and I was making paper snowflakes. At first they just looked at me, said no when I asked if they wanted to make one but as they kept watching my excitement caught on and there you go… seventeen, fifteen, and thirteen year olds including a thirty six year old dad, sitting together cutting out snowflakes. By far my best holiday family experience in Dec of 09.

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