By Toni W. Riley
Each year holiday preparations start earlier and earlier: There are reminders of how many days until Christmas as early as Labor Day, Christmas decorations are alongside Halloween costumes, and horror stories abound of Black Friday. Shoppers crash through doors, knocking people over as everyone rushes to get the bargains. Surely, this isn’t why there is a Christmas holiday.
The true meaning of Christmas isn’t lost, but it’s become hidden in the over-stimulation of shoppers who want to be generous with their families, possibly to a fault.
The season isn’t about fretting over what to give someone and it’s not about the “thrill” of waiting until Christmas Eve to purchase gifts. Christmas is a time of celebration, a time for sharing and giving and showing love to one another while remembering the birth of Jesus.
Is Christmas truly Christmas if families don’t stop to remember why this holiday occurs? How can families still celebrate Christmas without worrying about what is needed much less wanted? How can families draw back on the foundation of why Christmas is celebrated?
A place to start could be with “The Advent Conspiracy,” www.adventconspiracy.org. This global movement began in 2006 as a collaboration between Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon; Greg Holder, pastor of The Crossing in St. Louis; and Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia in Houston, Texas, who imagined a better Christmas practice in their communities — the idea that Christmas can still change the world.
The pastors had an overwhelming response to this new idea and the Conspiracy was born. Today, The Advent Conspiracy, as its mission statement says, “is a movement of people and churches resisting the cultural narrative of consumption by choosing a revolutionary Christmas of worshipping fully, spending less, giving more and loving all.”
These principles could help any family who observes the Christmas holiday take a step back and develop a simpler way of celebrating.
Following the role model set by Jesus, giving of oneself is the most memorable, powerful gift anyone can give. Spending time with those a person loves or someone who needs love is an opportunity that has amazing benefits for everyone.
Give financially to something different, like a national or international charity. Since its beginning, Advent Conspiracy has encouraged financial donations to help meet the global water crisis. Give a donation in honor of a family member to an organization, such as the American-Caribbean Experience or Heifer International.
How a person worships God and Christ is very personal, but regardless of how or if a person worships, Christmas begins with Jesus. The celebration of Christmas is to honor the birth of the Messiah.
Churches will have many special events to celebrate the message of Christ and the love that his birth brought to the world.
If regularly attending a church isn’t a part of the family routine, Advent is a wonderful time to find a church and join the celebration.
Celebrating Jesus’ birth can be accomplished in other ways: visiting a Nativity Scene, listening to Christmas hymns, watching a Christmas movie or reading the Christmas story in the books of Luke or Matthew in the Bible.
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent $602 billion during the Christmas season last year, and a good deal of that cost went on credit cards. But, can anyone remember the first gift they received last year? Maybe not, if the gift wasn’t something that was really wanted or even needed.
The Advent Conspiracy doesn’t say stop giving gifts but rather stop spending money on gifts that won’t be remembered in six months.
Spending less can mean listening and thinking more and not just buying random presents. Did your mother mention a book she wanted to read? Do you have friends like movies but don’t go because they have small children? Does your wife want to try a new cuisine in the kitchen? Did you hear your husband say something about gardening? Listening to people’s interests provides a good start to giving a gift that has meaning.
When buying, look for fair trade vendors and support local vendors and outreach programs. One suggestion is Thistle Farms in Nashville, which sells handmade home goods by women who are survivors of trafficking, violence, addiction and extreme poverty.
Like the women at Thistle Farms, making gifts by hand is a wonderful expression of love. Receiving something handmade shows that someone cared enough to make a one-of-a-kind gift.
The Advent Conspiracy says, “By spending wisely on gifts, we free ourselves from the anxiety associated with debt so we can take in the season with a full heart.”