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December 1st – let the shopping begin…

December 1, 2009

Yesterday was ‘Black Friday’ in the US, which is both the biggest shopping day of the year and its subversive counterpart, Buy Nothing Day. It’s the post-Thanksgiving kick-off to the annual month-long shopping binge that is the modern Christmas. Christmas Day itself is increasingly irrelevant in this festival of consumption, not least because the shops are closed – it mainly seems to serve as a pause between the Christmas shopping and the January sales, which now start on boxing day.

As Christians, our response has usually been to ‘reclaim’ Christmas, ‘put the Christ’ back in, or at least encourage people to visit a church. That’s all very well, but if we’re all shopping like maniacs too, then our words and our actions are rather at odds with each other. We’re telling people it’s all about Jesus, but our lives suggest it’s just as much about treating ourselves. Our nod to Jesus’ birth could end up being an empty religious observance. If we want to speak prophetically into the silly season, and show the excess, inequality, and environmentally cavalier behaviour for what it is, we might need to do something a bit more radical.

Gary Gardner, writing on Transforming Cultures, has one such idea. “I think Christians should consider abandoning December 25 as our gift-giving day” he suggests. “Were all Christians to do so, the season would be deflated, commercially. And Advent, the season of restraint, reflection, and spiritual renewal, could recover its rightful place.”

It’s something we’ve done in our family in the past, using Christmas day to bless those who would otherwise be missing out. My parents would invite an assortment of ‘waifs and strays’, international students, and one memorable year, US marines, and we’d have Christmas dinner with them. We’d then celebrate new year’s day as a family. It’s my parents’ wedding anniversary, so it has an added layer of significance. That little tradition is more complicated now that we’re growing up and getting married off ourselves, so we’re all going to have to reinvent it in our own way, negotiating our countercultural awkwardness with the in-laws…

For those of us who want to live more considered lives in our consumer culture, the family Christmas tradition that we create for ourselves could be a real opportunity to communicate generosity, inclusion and welcome. So how does it work in your household? How are you doing Christmas differently? How’s it working out with the kids?

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