Christmas is not far away now. Wall to wall junk mail and newspaper, radio and television advertisers are bombarding us with suggestions for Christmas gifts and raising panic levels with the news that the number of shopping days left between now and Christmas day is rapidly decreasing. Shops are festooned with wild and wonderful decorations and Christmas trees and Santa's caves are popping up at every turn.
Is this what Christmas is all about? Hopefully, for Christians, shopping is a very small part of their festivities. We invited readers of Reality to share with us some of the ways in which they counter the commercialism and opulence of Christmas and centre them-selves once again on its true meaning. We hope these stories will inspire other Christians to create a Christ-centred festival this year.
True Christmas Celebrations
by Rita Whyle
Christmas has always been a very special season to me. I come from a Catholic tradition with strong focussed rituals. My husband Martin, however, has a Methodist background, and being city bred was negatively affected by the commercialism around him.
When we started our family we realised that we had to make "on purpose" decisions about how we were going to approach Christmas. We wanted to set our own agenda and begin meaningful traditions with our four children.
These are our family traditions.
We begin our Christmas celebrations on the first day of December, the beginning of Advent. We make our own Advent Wreath from Pine branches. This is a family event and is wonderfully creative. The resulting wreath is huge and takes the place of a Christmas tree, in it we fix four large candles.
We hang the wreath around the chimney flue of our free standing fireplace. Every night we gather around and light the candles. In the first week we light one candle, in the second week two candles and so on. Then we read a portion of the gospel and sing together.
We also set up a crib on the hearth of the fireplace under the wreath. It is unbreakable so our smaller children can touch it. They like to move the different pieces around, so the scene is constantly changing.
Every year we try to purchase a new CD of Christmas music. We look for unusual ones such as Celtic music, or Negro Spirituals.
When it comes to giving presents we like to pray for the people who will receive gifts from us and discern together what we will do or buy for them for Christmas. Some years we have bought gifts for our children that encourage their love relationship with Jesus and used their birthdays for other types of gift.
We like to include others in our Christmas celebrations. Sometimes we invite people to join our evening times of Scripture reading and praise. As Christmas comes closer we look through the paper to see what the community is offering spiritually and as a family we choose appropriate activities. We use this as an opportunity to invite neighbours to go with us.
We actively support our church's Christmas outreach activities according to our gifts. We may go carol singing or visiting the old and sick. Some of the family may be involved in a Christmas play or dance.
On Christmas Eve we like to attend Midnight Mass somewhere and then have a celebratory breakfast afterwards with friends and family (the children absolutely love that).
J Innes from Henderson writes:
I have several "well off" adult nieces and nephews. I sponsor a World Vision child on their behalf, sending them copies of any photos or letters concerning the child that I receive from World Vision. Each year I write a card for each of them renewing the sponsorship, sharing Christmas love across the world.
The Holy Days of Christmas
by Kath Wells
I got in touch with a Dickensian style of Christmas between the ages of 10 and 20 when our family lived in England: carolling in the freezing cold, cultivating chilblains by a hot fire, travelling for an hour and half both ways just to see the Oxford Street Christmas lights, roasted chestnuts, Christmas puddings with coins inside!
At 20 I was newly married and in Central Africa, where the Christmas dinner left-overs went off in the heat in the couple of hours when we crashed into bed in a stupor! Clearly some revision of custom was called for.
Later, with three young children, a very limited budget and thankfully, no access to festooned shops -and with villagers living nearby in relative poverty - Christmas became a time for serious inventiveness. Things like a ball of string, a roll of sticky tape, a penknife, home-made sweets, a packet of glitter, all became very acceptable gifts to boys who didn't have television. We did lots of carolling around the district, and had many special church services. In this way the focus of Christmas became proclamation and celebration.
We also became aware of the customs of fellow missionaries from Europe and the Americas. Advent candles, gift giving on St. Nicholas' day instead of Christmas Day, and special food. We decided to have our gifts on Christmas Eve, so that the day ahead could be specifically for worship and feasting. Sharing communion at the end of Christmas dinner with colleagues was the most profound way I had experienced the Lord's Supper. Somehow, his sacrificial coming had come into focus in a new way.
On returning to New Zealand after 16 years overseas, it was incredibly hard to capture any real 'meaning' at Christmas time for a while. The tiredness at the end of the year, the focus on holidays (and not 'Holy Days'), and the battering of hard sell advertising left no room for anything satisfying. I found that I was expecting a deeply significant event that never materialised. It depressed me!
But then I began to rethink it all, and realised that Christmas is not about family and 'in-house' over-eating - it is about those 'outside', those afar off whom Christ came to seek and save. So our focus shifted to reaching out.
We got involved each year in a community celebration that told the Christmas story in a contemporary way. All the time and effort put into this became a form of meditation as we rehearsed and enacted the story again. We also went carolling together, and gave little gifts and cards to people who opened their doors. We spent Christmas Day putting on a dinner for the lonely and elderly at our Community Centre.
For ourselves, we had a family dinner and games evening some time in the week before Christmas, where we all chose our favourite food. We had great fun making up a 'lucky dip' with $2 gifts (like water pistols, balloons, pens etc), instead of buying expensive presents. Even now, with our children married, we still limit our gifts to $10 a time, preferring to spend our money on special events together, and on giving a free Christmas dinner to others.
Then the realisation came that we also needed a place for quiet worship as part of our Christmas festivities. So we made sure we arranged (or attended) an evening of reflection and worship before Christmas, with music, readings, poetry, symbolism and silence.
Each year we have gone through the Christmas story again together, and I have asked the Lord to highlight something new, and he has done this faithfully, so the season comes with freshness and wonder each time. One year we had a 'Feast of Incarnation' in September in our church, and this helped us ponder and celebrate the Incarnation without the clutter of gift-giving and the planning of holidays.
I feel the key is to separate out the different aspects of Christmas - such as witnessing in the community, personal worship, reflection on the Incarnation, family celebration - and to do each wholeheartedly, and with meaning. We choose which to put our time and money into, and ignore the rest.
Geoffrey Hinds from Mt Eden writes:
There are a number of things I do to celebrate Christmas Christianly.
I help promote the annual Christmas Appeal at a local church and buy 'Save the Children Fund' Christmas cards at a stall set up by one of the parishioners.
I buy gifts for relations at a Trade Aid Shop and also at 'Wild Places' - a shop which raises funds for conservation and features a number of New Zealand-made items.
Incidentally, I found the article "Selling the needy for a pair of Nikes" in Reality 28 (August/September) very apposite to the question of Christmas spending.