This year we are starting the tradition of forgoing traditional Christmas presents. As extreme as it may sound for some, we feel it is absolutely right for our family.
For me, all of the excitement leading up to Christmas Day is what I love the most.
First, we have Halloween, which, for us, ends up being more about buying pumpkins and dressing up than anything else. It’s a costume party to kick off the season: fun.
Second is Thanksgiving. This always has been my least favorite holiday, but I’ve learned to appreciate it for what it is… The month of November makes me think of rustic farms, fall harvests, fresh apple cider, and the smell of cinnamon and pumpkin pie.
All other holidays lead up to the big event – Christmas. I go into full nostalgia and tradition mode during this time. Even getting a holiday themed coffee is a big deal for me. I love the food, the smells, family reuniting, and the spirit of the season.
The problem is when Christmas Day comes. We have presents piled high in anticipation of Christmas morning. It takes a few hours to open them. Sometimes it is stressful occasion, sometimes it is euphoric, but it only takes a few hours and then the holiday crash hits. It’s over. There is some sort of Christmas hangover mixed with depression (and for some people major debt) that sinks in once everything is over.
As Christians, we are aware that we are missing the entire point of the celebration. To me, Easter has always been a more important holiday (faith-wise) than Christmas, so I guess that was my reasoning behind partaking in all of the gluttony.
I spoke to my family about this and everyone agreed how we were celebrating hasn’t felt right in awhile. We’ve decided this year we will be opting out of presents for each other. Not only is it unnecessary, we want to teach our children (who are given more than needed throughout the year, but especially on this day) that this day is not about them, solely.
But, I don’t think the secular traditions I’m enjoying are the part that really needs to be worked on. It’s the day of Christmas itself. We have gotten so lost in giving within our protected circle of friends and family that I feel we’ve lost the intrinsic meaning of this entire season. I don’t even mean celebrating the birth of Jesus (which most theologians believe was actually in mid-late spring). I am speaking more about what the birth represents. It is everything Jesus had taught us from the time he was born until he was crucified. It is community and fellowship with one another and celebrating the faithfulness of God. It is true global community and human redemption.
There is personal joy in this day that should never be condemned, but it is about coming together in full community with others. I would even argue it is about giving, because of the self-righteous connotation the word holds for me, personally. It’s about loving one another. It is reciprocal. We are blessed to give and to receive. Our culture has taught us “it is better to give than to receive,” but I feel those words teach subtly that we do not need to rely on one another if we are (by Western standards) successful in life, but we should give and feel good about ourselves. To me, the idea behind “it is better to give than to receive” perpetuates the myth we should all have a lack of dependence on human beings, and also gives the impression of a self-importance that detracts from everything good about true philanthropy (which by true root definition means to love human beings).
Now that we have decided to not exchange presents this year, we are taking the next step to try to figure out what the day will hold for us. Since we are preaching about community, that is exactly what we are going to do: spend time with others out of our comfortable social circle of friends and family. We have to decide exactly where and what we will be doing. This is not a charity case, we don’t believe in that. We are going into the world to be a part of it.
I remember my dad (who learned this phrase from his dad) would see someone walking past us who may have had a more difficult life than we were experiencing and he would say, “By the grace of God, there goes I.” It always stuck with me because the phrase is rooted in empathy. We need to realize that we are connected with everyone through global community. Strangers should be viewed as brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors…we are connected. Human problems are our problems. When someone needs uplifting, as their friend, we uplift them. Period. This is not about throwing some money at a “problem” or donating your time serving soup so you can feel good about yourself.
No, this is about building lasting relationships with people who are sharing this time on this planet with us, realizing that we are connected, and that we could easily be in their place. How would we want to be treated? I would want people who genuinely cared about me helping empower and encourage me so my life could be uplifted to the place where I am living the best I can for who I am. Once we start valuing ourselves and valuing the people around us in the same way, we will all thrive.