This past Wednesday, the husband and I attended the second of four Advent Conspiracy classes at church. I have been so looking forward to this as an opportunity to give sway to my increasing frustration concerning the holidays and what they have become as opposed to what they are meant to be. Were it up to me, my family and I would all draw names - you get one person and several months to figure out the "perfect" gift for them. Or - proposal #2 - we would pull together our "gifting" resources as a family and do something meaningful for others. Or - proposal #3 - we would get creative, i.e. a homemade Christmas.
(Henley aside, of course. The little ones are different. Of course.)
I don't know why it is so difficult to propose such things within the family dynamic. Someone always seems to take offense, or find a "fatal" flaw in the plan, or be generally dismissive. Someone (who shall remain nameless) went so far as to accuse me of trying to "regulate everyone else's holiday." Which blew me back, I must say, seeing as it is the furthest thing from my intent imaginable.
My intent...what I mean in my heart when I express a desire for a simpler holiday, a more meaningful Christmas, was defined to perfection in this week's class and discussion.
Spend less. Give more.
These are not contradictory statements. Far from it.
In today's world - or in today's America, at least - we've all bought into some version of bigger is better, he who dies with the most toys wins. We've turned our consumerism into a virtual religion, where we worship at the altar of the latest Messianic object/gadget/toy/vehicle/insert-item-du-jour-here that promises, over and over again via commercial mantra, to make our lives better/richer/purer/happier. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Year after year after year.
The untenable twist in the tale is that the high holiest day of our material worship happens to fall on the day meant to be reserved for celebrating the birth of Jesus.
You know. That guy. God's only son. Savior of mankind. Christ the King.
I'm not calling for an end to gift giving or mall going or shopping traditions or any of that. I'm too deep in all of it myself. But is it too much to ask that a little thoughtfulness be part of it?
Spend less. Give more.
One of the three pastors who started the AC movement made a few very interesting observations that he shared via the first week's Worship Fully study. He compared the act of shopping and buying, bigger and better, year after year after year to a worship event. He told the story of a father who died after being shot fighting with another customer over a video game system he wanted to buy his son. The man died in pursuit of committing an act of love via buying an object his son coveted. The pastor looked into the camera and challenged us. He said that father's action was a form of worship - an odd form, but worship, nonetheless.
He went on to admit to being flummoxed by people who get outraged or upset with retail stores who instruct their employees to say 'Happy Holidays,' and not 'Merry Christmas.' As he put it, why is this upsetting to us? "Is this really their story to tell?" he asks. Have we drifted so far from our core that we are prepared to outsource the telling of the story of Christ's birth to ... the mall?
He's right, you know. All of that superfluous stuff is superfluous stuff. It's not the Reason for the Season. It's a man-made worship event and we all bow at its altar this time of year. Religious, non-religious, very few of us are disaffected by it. Fewer still have the wherewithal to rise above it.
And some of that is fine. I mean, I am as deep in it as the next person, buying into the chaos and the hassle and the debt and the search for the perfect gift that the recipient will likely forget by January. There is nothing wrong with gift giving and celebrating the fun and joy of the Christmas season. But there's no denying we've taken that half of the equation and given it more importance than it warrants.
I don't know about anybody else, but I'm not satisfied with that anymore. I'm not satisfied with the post-holiday letdown. With feeling like..."is that it?"
No. That's not it.
It's not about presents.
It's about presence.
It's about sharing - time, gifts, talents - in meaningful ways.
It's about selflessness.
It's about love.
And this is what I really want to celebrate.
This is what I want to keep front of mind and tucked in my heart.
This is the gift I want to both give and receive.
This is the magic of Christmas.
*Title quote from Jerusalem Jackson Greer.