I swear I’m not a Grinch.
Yeah, this is another one of those posts where I have to begin with a disclaimer assuring my readers that I really, really don’t hate Christmas. Here are some things I’m looking forward to over the next month: baking cookies with my mom and little sister, spending time with my littlest sister, drinking Russian Tea, staring at Christmas trees in dark rooms, taking a trip to downtown Hot Springs AR in order to see Christmas lights and a giant gingerbread house, the local prosthetic shop that has the best Christmas window displays ever, reading “The Gift of the Magi” and “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” nativity sets, advent wreaths, making gingerbread houses that involve hot glue guns, playing board games with family, seeing our niece, meeting a brand new baby cousin, watching “Elf,” Christmas Eve church service, seeing some snow in Colorado, watching my dad tear up while watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” having semi-shouted conversations with my hard-of-hearing grandmother, hugging necks, and kissing cheeks. There is a lot to love about Christmas.
You may notice that I didn’t mention gifts anywhere in that list. Because when I start to think about all the things that make Christmas special to me, most of them are free. They are not about things. They are about love. And yet, every single year, starting around Halloween, loved ones start demanding wish lists, the expectation to buy Things begins to mount, and I begin to get overwhelmed and stressed and wonder why we’re really doing all this. My dad loves to say that Jesus is the Reason for the Season (I swear he’s not one of those types to get worked up about the “War on Christmas,” he just really likes to remind us, Tiny Tim style, what it’s all about), and yet, as I venture out into stores, I don’t see Jesus anywhere, and not just because the greeters say “Happy Holidays,” because really, only jerks have a problem with that.
Just getting out to holiday shop is stressful, the opposite of peace and joy and goodwill to all people. Drivers act like jerks, everyone’s in a hurry, stores are crowded and clerks are testy. Money is tight, no one knows what they want, we don’t know what to buy, and yet we feel pressured to buy buy buy, give give give.
And it’s not that I don’t love giving a thoughtful gift. I do. I’ve been known to agonize over birthday gifts, and I really do enjoy giving them, mostly because with birthdays I only have to focus on one present and can make it something really special and thoughtful and expressive of love and care. But Christmas really just becomes overwhelming– no one has the time to buy unique and special thoughtful gifts for every single person on their list, at least, no one I know does. And so even people like me, otherwise completely committed to buying local and fair trade, end up hitting outlet malls and completely forsaking our values in order to get gifts for everyone we’re expected to buy for.
And so I’m left wondering why we do it. Just getting to spend time with family and loved ones is a gift, a huge one. We don’t need any THING beyond that. Why can’t we just celebrate that we have time together, that we have so many blessings, that we are not in need? If we weren’t pressured to buy buy buy, give give give, we could give to charity and then just enjoy each other’s company.
I’ve tried for two years now to convince the rest of my family of my vision of a gift-free Christmas. It hasn’t worked. So I’ve made a decision. Next Halloween I’m going to make an announcement. I’m going to say: Dear family members, I love you so very much. I love Christmas, and I love celebrating Jesus’ birth with you. Because of my deep love for Christmas and all that it means, we will not be participating in gifts for anyone who is not a child. We hope to focus on spending time together, making memories, and donating time and money to charity. We hope that you will respect this decision, and encourage you to join us in our pursuit of a pared-down but more deeply meaningful holiday, though we will respect and love your choice if you don’t. We love you and we want to focus on our love for each other and our love for Christ this year.
I’m getting excited just thinking about it. Perhaps a gift-free Christmas could be the second-best Christmas present ever.