It has begun!
If you head to the shops in your area today, you’ll probably find that Christmas music is blaring, decorations are beginning to be hung, and ‘gift corners’ are popping up (usually filled with all sorts of things that you wouldn’t consider spending your money on at any other time).
Every year, as Christmas ticks around, I find myself more and more frustrated by the excess of it all! I’m not opposed to Christmas festivity, but I do feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of ‘Christmassy’ things… and by how early in the year they seem to be appearing.
The hype of Christmas is intense. And it nearly always compels us to spend money.
Our dirty little (big?) secret
It may surprise you to know that each Christmas, Australians spend around $1000 per person… and over $600 of that is on presents alone! We decorate our houses amazingly, we have big, fancy lunches, invite the whole family, and children get lots of expensive presents that they unwrap with glee. Of course, none of these things are bad in and of themselves… however the problem is that – when we indulge to the extreme – these happy traditions can actually distract us from what really matters.
A different Christmas
A few years ago, I spent Christmas in London, alone. I was in East Ham, in a very multicultural area where most people didn’t celebrate Christmas. No one around me was marking the holiday, all the shops remained open, and finding a church service was harder than I thought it would be in England on Christmas Day.
That Christmas was uneventful… and lonely. I had a comfortable bed to sleep in and some basic food to eat – a jam bagel for Christmas lunch! – but it was nothing like Christmas as we know it in Australia.
However, that lonely Christmas, whilst plain and uneventful by my normal standards, reminded me to do something really important: I spent the celebration of Jesus’ birth with Him. I went to church, I spent time reading the Christmas story in the gospels, and I spent time in prayer. I was reminded afresh that Jesus is the reason for the season. Because all the distraction was taken away, I remembered that this day was supposed to be a celebration of His birth.
How do we celebrate Jesus’s birthday?
Jesus often isn’t the one who gets presents on His birthday. Instead, we get presents ourselves –more than $600 worth! But in our zeal to celebrate Christmas together, we run the risk of completely forgetting about Jesus, whose birth we are supposed to be celebrating.
Imagine if everyone was going to hold a party in your honour… but you didn’t get invited? Everyone else gets lots of presents while you stand forgotten.
Now ask the question, “Is this how we are treating Jesus at Christmas?”
It’s not surprising that non-Christians would celebrate this day without inviting Jesus to be part of it, because they don’t know Him. But what about Christians? How do we treat Jesus on His birthday?
Every year, we espouse slogans like ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ and ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’… but then we go shopping. And smoke begins to rise from our credit cards.
We say that the consumeristic thrust of Christmas is unhealthy, but why can’t we stop spending money?
Keep Christ in Christmas
If we want to keep Christ in Christmas, then we need to be sure that we are not so distracted that we forget about Him. Instead of getting caught up in the hype of Christmas, and feeling compelled to spend more and more on gifts, decorations, and food, we need to show that we are not enslaved by the god of consumerism.
There should be some point of difference between how we celebrate Christmas, and how the rest of the world celebrates it.
What can we do differently? There are lots of options. Perhaps we could choose to have a ‘minimalist Christmas’. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on more things to clutter up our houses, we could seek to make gifts for our loved ones. A few years ago, my wife made cross stitches for each of our family, choosing designs that suited each person and putting in hours of work to craft each item.
Perhaps we could set a goal for how much we will spend on Christmas gifts, and then seek to match that value as a gift to our favourite charity. My wife and I challenged ourselves in this way last year, and I can guarantee you that we were far more thoughtful about what we spent than in years previous! We weren’t miserly about the gifts we gave, but we were certainly thoughtful as we chose them – we asked questions like, “What does this person actually need or want?” and, “Do we really need to give each other six separate gifts, or can we give one, meaningful gift?”
If we are going to shout to the world that we have to keep Christ in Christmas, I now realise that we need to be willing to lead by example. We need to be willing to not only declare our passion for Christ and this celebration of His birth, but also demonstrate it through our actions – in the way we shop, the things we choose to buy, and the way we use our money.
Let’s keep Christ in Christmas this year.