Keeping the Christmas In Christmas
It doesn't take living in another country to recognize America's super-sized abundance, but after living in Scotland, Germany, and now Malawi (one of the poorest nations in the world)—I can't help but feel unsettled by our Christmas excess.
Shopping malls have always made me anxious: there are too many things to look at, too much to take in, and so very many things that nobody needs. During Christmas, it's only worse. Then, on Dec. 26, the trashcans overflow with colorful paper, with empty boxes piled high. I laughed when I saw a large box that had held a child's toy kitchen set: the toy refrigerator was roughly the same size as the real ones in Europe.
But despite my discomfort with our big spending and big waste, my disgust at pointless products and the relentless cultivation of greed, and my keen awareness of extreme poverty, I'm not totally on board with the idea that Christians ought to do away with gift-giving at Christmas, or be ashamed at having special things to eat and drink and beautiful things to decorate the house. We've had our kids pick gifts from the Heifer International gift catalog for years, but we've always given them gifts, too, and don't plan on stopping.
I have noticed a peculiar dynamic in North American culture: we seem to enjoy countering one extreme with another. We worship the dramatic transformation, not the small but significant step toward change. It's not enough for us to simply cut down on our excesses; we have to replace them with other excesses. One of my friends constantly wielded a giant sippy cup of Diet Coke and regularly ate fast food. He proclaimed his plans to change his diet and go vegan, possibly raw vegan, after watching a documentary on veganism. "That's great," I said, "but there is a such thing as a healthy middle." As expected, the restriction of raw veganism was too much, and he was soon back to Diet Cokes and Big Macs.
I wonder if some of the "no-gift" Christmas posts I've seen have something to do with this all-or-nothing dynamic. Sure, Christmas has become an excessive consumerist free-for-all wherein grown-ups go into debt and kids get more crap that they don't need. I'm not going to argue with that. As a follower of Jesus, I find that version of Christmas more than a little distasteful, especially held up against the reality that so many in our world are caught in a losing struggle for their daily bread. Still, I don't know if foregoing Christmas gifts altogether is the answer.
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