The Christmas shopping season seems to come earlier and earlier every year. This year, lots of merchants started Black Friday on Thursday, which as you know, was Thanksgiving Day.
Now I’m not one to begrudge anyone an opportunity to make a living—especially in these tough economic times—but the commercialism of Christmas is obviously out of control.
And a new survey of Americans finds that 45 percent would rather skip Christmas this year, saying they don’t have enough money to celebrate the holiday!
Well before you hit the stress button, here are a few thoughts.
It’s instructive to remember that Christmas wasn’t always even that significant a religious festival. In the Middle Ages, Epiphany was celebrated more widely. Following the Protestant Reformation, the Puritans took a dim view of Christmas, labeling it a mere Catholic invention with the “trappings of popery.” Their counterparts in colonial Boston actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas from 1659 to 1681—talk about “Bah, humbug!”
Christmas didn’t really start to become a big deal in America until the 1820s, with several short stories written by Washington Irving, and, of course, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” the poem by Clement Clarke Moore. Christmas carols came back into fashion in the 1830s; Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843; and the first commercial Christmas card was produced that same year. And by 1850, a character in a book by Harriet Beecher Stowe, The First Christmas in New England, actually complained that the true meaning of Christmas was lost in a shopping spree.
The more things change, the more they stay the same!
So, amid all the commercialism and very real financial stress, how do Christians focus on the mystery of the Godhead veiled in human flesh, revealed to us first in a dirty stable in Bethlehem?
Let me make a few suggestions. First, why not make a conscious decision to downsize your Christmas celebration this year? You heard me right. Since it’s likely that you don’t want to go along with all the preplanned discontentment of the marketers anyway—don’t. Talk about this with your loved ones, of course. Most of us are conditioned to see expensive gifts and decorating as required expressions for the holidays. But they’re really not.
Now I’m not saying you should end all gift-giving—but why not give one or two well-chosen gifts to a loved one rather than six or seven?
And since Advent highlights God’s ultimate gift to us in Jesus Christ, why not express this truth with your loved ones and neighbors during these economically difficult days? As a family, why not take some of the money you are saving and contribute it to a Christian organization such as Samaritan’s Purse or World Relief? Of course there’s also Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree, which provides Christmas gifts to the children of prisoners on behalf of their incarcerated parents and in the name of Jesus. Just call 1-800-55-Angel, or visit AngelTree.org to contribute.
It’s up to you, but don’t stop with the giving of money. Give yourself, too. Find someone in your neighborhood who is struggling, and reach out with practical help and gospel hope. Maybe this person is a widow who needs a leaky pipe repaired, an international student who has never experienced an American Christmas, or a single mom who needs a babysitter. This is doable, but it requires fresh thinking.
We’ve made Christmas harder than it needs to be. Let’s take the drudgery, debt, and sense of obligation out of it, and put in real celebration and service.
There’s no need to opt out of Christmas if we keep Christ in.