Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Are you ready for Christmas?"

It’s that time of year when everyone is asking the question that makes even the most organized woman feel frazzled. “Are you ready for Christmas?” I am definitely not ready for Christmas, either materially or spiritually. 

When my children were young, I had deadlines for my Christmas preparations so that I would be ready.  I rushed around as if the coming of Christmas depended solely on my ability to get things done.

Over the years, I have scaled back. I bake less and I buy less. While many people I know have also scaled back on the purchasing of gifts, Christmas shopping remains a national obsession.

Black Friday is like a military operation
The madness begins on Black Friday. This year Black Friday dominated the media. It was as newsworthy as the possibility of war between Israel and Palestine, civil strife in Syria, and the fiscal cliff in the United States. It could be that Black Friday is worthy of all this media attention. After all, shopping on Black Friday has its war like elements as consumers fight to get the best deals and, as they repeatedly swipe their credit cards, consumers create their personal version of a financial crisis.

According to market researchers, the annual Black Friday shopping ritual is comparable to a military mission. One researcher noted that people plan their shopping mission weeks in advance, devising strategies to increase their chances of successfully obtaining the best deals.

Not everyone is impressed with Black Friday. Twenty-two years ago in Vancouver, Kalle Lasn of Ad Busters came up with the idea of “Buy Nothing Day”.  Lasn thought it was time to counter the blatant consumerism of Black Friday. He wanted to encourage discussion on the dark side of consumerism. The dark side of consumerism is the stress it places on the planet and the psychological consequences of the message that consumption equals happiness.

The Christmas season has become a time of excessive consumption. The excesses of the season, whether it’s credit card debt from overspending, an expanded waistline from overeating, or multiple hangovers from over imbibing, leave many people feeling less than satisfied when the New Year arrives.

Christmas creates a widespread feeling of goodwill
Celebrating, and the giving and receiving of gifts play an important role in Christmas.  They help to define the festive season, demarcating Christmas from the rest of the year. Christmas is the only holiday I can think of that creates such a widespread feeling of goodwill.  The spirit of Christmas inspires gladness, generosity, and greater civility among people.

When I think about the consumerism of Christmas, the words of the prophet Isaiah come to mind.  Isaiah uses the metaphor of a banquet to describe God’s invitation to live a fuller, more satisfying life. Why, God asks, do you waste your money on things that cannot feed your soul? Why do you work for things that give you no satisfaction?

The Christmas shopping season coincides with the liturgical season of Advent.  Advent is a time of spiritual preparation when Christians prepare to welcome ‘God-with-us’ in the birth of the Christ child. Advent is an appropriate time to counter bargain hunting with some soul searching.
Photo: Louise McEwan
I have learned to buy less and do less so that I can give more
Years ago, when the number of tasks I wanted to complete before Christmas began to overwhelm me, I had an insight. It was so obvious, yet it was something I had consistently overlooked. Christmas day would come and go, regardless of the state of my preparations. Christmas day did not depend on specialty baking, or a pile of gifts under a beautifully decorated tree. The beauty of our Christmas depended on the love in our hearts and in our home.  The thing that mattered most was my ability to be present to my family, my friends, and my God. Although I still search for the perfect gifts, I have learned to buy less and do less so that I can give more.

In a curious twist, Christmas leads us towards another Friday: one that is a counterpoint to Black Friday. While Black Friday’s all consuming focus is about filling up our lives with stuff, this Friday has a different focus. In the birth of the Christ child, Christmas points to Good Friday. Good Friday encourages us to become empty, so that we may live in the lightness of heart that characterizes the Christmas spirit. Christmas is the beginning of God’s strategic operation for us.

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