Originally uploaded by aliasgrace.
Last year a family member decided to do Christmas in a different way. Instead of gathering with family for a lavish feast and the traditional exchange of gifts, she delivered her packages early. Then on Christmas day, she and her husband served a meal to homeless veterans in her community. She says it was the best Christmas she ever had.
She plans to do it again. But this year, she took it a step further. She announced that she would neither give nor accept gifts for Christmas. Anyone inclined to wrap a present with her name on it could deliver it to the Salvation Army for someone who truly needed it. I wish you could have seen her smile when she said it. There was no smugness there, not an ounce of self-righteousness, just that emotion that is supposed to define the season: Joy.
Not only was her family undaunted by her decision, they, too, were joyful. If she didn't have to "Do Christmas" with all that implied, then maybe they didn't either. Halleluljah!
What's more, she intended to spend the season of Advent as a time for slowing down, not gearing up in frantic and frequently purposeless activity.
She would take long walks with her spouse. She would pray and meditate. She would think about what we long for when we sing "O Come Emmanuel." She would spend time actively longing. And not for anything that is sold in the mall.
Oh, of course, the family would get together--though it didn't have to be on the 25th, since she had marked that day for service. But they could throw all the enticing flyers from the mall away. This Christmas the family had given each other the gift of freedom.
But what about the children? you may ask. And yes, children want and deserve the magic of the holidays. A glittering tree in the window, a prettily wrapped box beneath it to shake and jiggle in anticipation. They need to go to bed on the 24th looking out at the familiar stars, and wondering what may appear in the sky to change their lives before morning.
But even children are waking up nauseated with the gooey excesses of commercial Christmas. Many receive so many junky and unimaginative toys (as seen on TV!) that they tire of the task of opening them before they're finished.
So yes to magic. But no to commercial importunings.Along with that coveted doll or bike or video game, what's wrong with gifting a child with the joy of service, the chance to light a candle and ponder the meaning of life in its flickery flame?
Sure, decorate your house as creatively or as gaudily as you want. But remember, you don't have to. Max out your credit cards, and attend as many holiday bashes as you can fit into your calendar. Send greeting cards to everyone you've ever known. Get into an uproar about which stores insist their clerks say "Merry Christmas," and which don't. If you want to. But just remember, you don't have to do any of it. Any time you want, you can just stop.
The only real requirements of the season are:
1. Take some time to pay attention.
And 2. Look on everyone you meet, for a whole month if you can manage it, or even for just one day, with sincere goodwill.
Pretty simple, huh?
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