I am not a Scrooge, but all the activity during this time of year depresses me. People are running around frantically buying things they often do not need or cannot afford. Stores ply Christmas carols even before the Halloween decorations are taken down, and lots of people put up their Christmas trees before the turkey is cooked on Thanksgiving. The malls are crowded and some people will actually get up at four in the morning to stand in long lines for Christmas specials. And you probably can give other examples. I want to tell them whose birthday it really is and why we celebrate.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am not against Christmas or gift-giving. Gifts are important expressions of appreciation and love. However, trying to outdo one another or giving gifts only because someone else is giving them to us seems ridiculous.
In most of the Western Hemisphere we have the tendency to think that more is better. Our culture is very materialistic. Our wants have become our needs. Many want the best and the latest of everything. Children often hound their parents and Santa for the most popular toys. I know parents who agonize because they can’t afford these items and will go into debt just to give their children what “everybody else” is getting. Sometimes I wonder who this “everybody” is.
We often can lose sight that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Christians should remember and remind others about why we celebrate. It is Christ’s birthday, not ours. Hopefully our gifts are expressions of God’s love and the fact that Jesus is the greatest gift of all.
You might wonder what you could possibly do to turn the tide. Every year I ask myself the same thing. The following are a few suggestions that might help us all.
Examine your gift giving. Think of those who are on your Christmas list and why you give them gifts. Maybe you do it because you feel obliged or have always done so. Hopefully, your giving is out of love and that more is not better than less.
Reinforce with your family, especially your children and grandchildren, that the joy of Christmas does not depend on how many or what gifts we receive or give. Suggest to your children that gifts don’t always have to be things. They can give the special gift of service, like giving a card with a promise to shovel the person’s driveway and sidewalks this winter or offer a couple with little children some days of free babysitting. Let them use their imaginations. Emphasize that their time can also be a precious gift.
Gifts also can be made. Giving baked Christmas goodies or homemade candy is appreciated by all. It is very special when someone takes the time to make something delicious to give to you.
Send Christmas cards to people who live far away and won’t see during the holidays. Share the gift of your time by letting friends know what has happened in your life. It seems a waste of paper and postage to just sign your name. Also, remember that the Church’s Christmas season goes far beyond Dec. 25, so cards don’t have to make it to recipients by Christmas day.
Changing our materialistic way of celebrating Christmas will not happen overnight, but each of us can do our part to keep into focus remember whose birthday we celebrate. It also will help us to more appreciate the meaning of Advent and relieve a lot of stress so we can truly enjoy this beautiful season of preparation for the birth of Jesus, not primarily Santa.
Sister Margie Lavonis is professed with the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Notre Dame, Ind. Learn more about the sisters at www.cscsisters.org.