Is it just me or does it seem like the older you get the less illustrious the holiday season becomes? I remember celebrating Christmas as a child. As the oldest of three, raised by a single mother, I realized very early on that being able to afford Christmas gifts was a luxury, not an entitlement. Money was tight and I was under no illusion of who “Santa” really was, because it was my mother who worked very hard to make sure there were gifts under the tree for each one of us, year after year.
The joy of ripping wrapping paper from boxes filled with toys was never the most memorable part of celebrating Christmas for me growing up. The festivity was set in motion by the onset of…GLITTER. Handcrafted paper snowflakes, Christmas cards, pine cone tree ornaments, and popsicle stick picture frames you name it. By the time the holiday came around, I left school with a comprehensive portfolio of elaborate arts and crafts, laden with a thick coat of shimmery red and green glitter.
Each year, the highlight of the season was the excitement surrounding my school’s annual Christmas pageant. After weeks of rehearsing, nothing was more satisfying than watching parents light up with pride as my classmates and I reenacted the nativity story and bellowed out old-fashion carols like “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Hark! The Harold Angels Sing.”
Life seemed simple back then. Now, much of my perception of the holiday is riddled with anxiety, starting as early as mid-October. I distinctly remember making a run to my local pharmacy to purchase a tube of toothpaste when I was attacked by tinsel as soon as I stepped into the store! My mind went into a tailspin as I rummaged through my bag to check the date on my phone. Christmas was a good ten weeks out and I already felt ill-prepared!
By the first week of November I had made my Christmas list and was checking it twice…for names I could possible eliminate to stay within my shopping budget (so much for the joy of “the season of giving”). Don we now our credit cards as we usher in a new wave of holiday prep. It is increasingly replacing the intimate moments of fellowship and gratitude shared with family and friends, as the overpublicized, and sometimes fatal, frenzy of Black Friday shopping encroaches on our Thanksgiving dinners. And once again, I was caught up in madness, spending countless hours standing in long shopping lines, surfing the web in search of the best bargains, and researching consumer reviews online to determine which gadget would make a better gift this year: Apple’s new iPad Air or iPad Mini.
This year alone, the National Retail Federation projects holiday sales to reach $602.1 billion, which is a 3.9% increase from last year’s $579.5 billion. The NRF also cites that the average consumer spends more than $700 on holiday shopping, including gifts, food, and décor, which, as a follower of Christ, who is called to reflect his love here on earth, leads me to wonder where the heart is behind all this holiday spending? Is any of my contribution to that $602.1 billion going to those truly in need? And, like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30, if Jesus came to us on December 26th, after we’d opened all our Christmas presents, and asked us to relinquish our shiny, new toys, give them to the poor and focus on storing up treasures in heaven instead, what would our reaction be, then?
The answer to these questions reveals a lot about the condition of our hearts and our ability to really appreciate the holiday as it is meant to be celebrated. As Christians, surely we know that the real meaning of Christmas is nothing that can be purchased by camping out in front of a store or claiming the best deals on Cyber Monday. To grasp the full value of the holiday is to reflect on the sacrifice that was made when God sent his only Son, who knew no sin, into a depraved world to live with the sole purpose of dying for our salvation. Of all the gifts you could give and receive this season, there is still no greater expression of love known to man than this. Yet, just like anyone else, Christians are still susceptible to the materialism tied to the holiday that draws our attention from the joy and peace we should be experiencing, not just on Christmas Day, but all year round.
So here are a few suggestions to help regain perspective and recapture the joy of the holiday:
Stick to a Budget
Maybe it’s all those blinking tree lights that hypnotize us into believing we're shopping from someone else's bank account. While the concept of giving to others is a primary theme, the truth is: there is nothing merry about debt. As great as all those bargain deals might seem, the holidays is not the time to “wing it” when it comes to your spending. If you haven’t budgeted in advance for your shopping needs, take a good look at your finances and determine exactly how much you’re able to spend. And if you can’t afford to buy gifts for everyone on your list this year, don’t be afraid to get a little creative. Check out Pinterest for some crafty holiday gift ideas.
Offer Your Time
The gift of giving doesn’t always need to come in the form of money or material possessions. In Matthew 25:40, He commanded, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” So what’s the best gift you could give to honor Christ’s birth this season? How about donating your time to serve meals at your local church or shelter, babysit for a single mother so that she can take some much needed personal time off, or even offer to shovel snow from a neighbor’s driveway? Also, giving the gift of time is a great way to think outside the box when it comes to staying inside your budget.
Embrace Each Moment
In the hustle and distractions of life, we tend to forget that each day is a blessing and the future is not promised to us. Christmas only comes once a year, and for many of us, it’s the only time we have to gather with the majority of our friends and family. So whether your holiday travels lead you across the river to another borough or across time zones to a different coast, make it worth the trip by being present. Put down the iPad, turn off the Xbox, and engage with the loved ones around you.
What do you look forward to most during the holiday season and what do you do to maintain the true spirit of Christmas?