Hark, the Shopping Angel Sings?

It’s that time of year again, and if your stores are anything like mine here in Chicagoland, it’s been that time of year for quite a few weeks now. The season of twinkling lights, festive decor, merry spirits, and holiday Muzak, all signaling the whole point of this most wonderful time of the year…shopping, right?

I think it’s highly ironic that the weeks preceding Christmas are the most challenging of all to be a Christian, by which I mean being someone who lives differently from the rest of society, whose values clearly indicate a desire to refrain from the consumerism and materialism being celebrated everywhere we turn. And as a mother in particular, I confess it’s so hard for me to resist the call of the thousands of catalogs and sales flyers that are being stuffed into my mailbox and newspapers, telling me that my boys need this toy or that gadget in order to be perfectly content and if I’m a good parent, I will indulge them.

To combat the increasing feeling that we were getting sucked deeper into Christmas commercialism with each passing year, last year we began to intentionally set a different tone for our gift-giving as a family: fewer gifts; none that required guessing and possibly wasting money needlessly; and setting aside money to give to those who are more needy. In practical terms, my husband and I no longer spend time, energy, and money imagining what the other person might like and buying gifts that, while appreciated, often went unused. Instead, we evaluate together if there are things our family or one of us needs and decide whether this would be the right time to make that purchase.

For our kids, who are 8, 5, and 3, we’ve set the expectation that they will receive three gifts for Christmas: one from each set of grandparents (that my husband and I will help choose so that the grandparents pick something that the kids will actually use and enjoy), and one from us. Instead of trusting that I know what they might like and getting toys or gifts that they don’t ultimately want (this has happened many times before, sadly!), I’ll pick from a list of requests that they make. It’s not as surprising, but we distribute the gifts through an extended scavenger hunt that ends up being great fun for the kids and takes the focus off the gifts themselves. And we’ll pool together money with other relatives for the kids to use to give to others, using a resource such as the World Vision holiday catalog, where as little as $25 can buy a family in a developing nation livestock to help provide both a source of nutrition and income. For our family, these steps help to ensure that Christmas doesn’t turn into a shopping frenzy for anyone in our immediate or extended circle, and hopefully our kids understand that the opportunity to give to those less fortunate is more important than receiving gifts themselves.

What does your family do in order to combat the commercialism of Christmas? How do you find ways to encourage your children to embrace a more simple, less gift-laden holiday that instead seeks to give to others more than to receive? I welcome your comments and ideas!

9 Comments on “Hark, the Shopping Angel Sings?

  1. A few years ago, I started combatting the commercialism of Christmas on January 1. We saved the box from every pair of shoes our family of five bought during the year to use it for our Operation Christmas Child donation – buy shoes, fill a box. Let’s just say that filling out 21boxes was eye-opening for all of us.

    We’ve encouraged and helped our three children shop through the Heifer International catalogue where our kids have had fun “buying” livestock connected to their year of birth – pigs & rabbits (no snakes, sadly for our youngest!), pick out a family to “adopt” off of the church Christmas tree, etc.

    But one of the traditions that has grown for us over the years has been waiting Christmas morning. No matter how early the kids wake up to open gifts under the tree, they wait. We start the morning by lighting the Christ candle on on Advent wreath and talk through the weeks of Advent and the significance of that center candle before anything else.”

  2. I am not sure I combat commercialism at all during Christmas. I avoid shopping in the toy section & keeping too many catalogues sitting around all year long. The girls make a list of three items they really want, but they always get more than that. It’s hard to begin to tell you what my Mom’s idea of Christmas for the kids was…she went to be with the Lord earlier this year, but bottom line-she liked all three of my girls to receive 7 (yes, s-e-v-e-n) things each from her. Plus, she did a full stocking of little things…

    I fight this bit by bit. When they were younger, I hardly bought anything, knowing my Mom & Dad were buying so much and they wouldn’t know the difference. Now that Mom’s not here, they will not be receiving that huge chunk of gifts. But, I have to fight trying to make up for Mom not being here.

    I am also reading KP Yohannan’s Revolution in World Missions right now. Talk about eye opening to our American consumerism. There is so much that could be said about that. I avoid the stores & tv commercials at all costs at this time of year (and year-round, as well). That’s my best strategy so far. I need to grow in this area!

  3. Since my oldest is 2 1/2 this is the first year I have had to really worry about it and I have struggled with the fact of how comercial Christmas is and I want my kids to focus on Christ and others and not on getting more and more. So we picked out one present for them each and had grandparents just get one that we told them about. I had my son pick out one of his toys to give to a boy in our community who doesn’t have as much and had him go with me to take it and explain what we were doing. He gave his trike. Then we did a shoebox. But I don’t know what to to on Christmas day to take all the focus off of the getting and focus on Christ and giving. I am also trying to read my bible instead of looking at all the toy adds.

  4. I guess I haven’t always been that focused on the commercialism of Christmas. I’ve learned that as I keep my focus on giving, I’m not bothered by the commercialism. I am one who really enjoys being out among the hustle & bustle of the holidays, enjoying the Christmas music in the malls & on the radio. One of my very favorite things in the world to do is buy gifts for people-any people. I very much enjoy buying gifts for people I don’t even know, like the child on the giving tree at the mall or at church; a homeless family in a shelter. This weekend, I will be joining several ladies at church as we buy special items for some women in a shelter that is run by an organization known as Zarapheth(sp?). Then, we’re going to wrap those items in pretty paper & bows & gift bags so they’ll have presents to open at Christmas. So, as I step out into the winter air & brave the shopping madness, I am thinking about those women. They are my inspiration. Am I disappointed that commercialism seems to have a more prominent place at Christmas? Yes, very much so. Do I wish that people in general would take the time to remember that Christmas is about giving, and forget the drudgery that shopping can sometimes be? Yes, with all my heart. But some things are out of my control. So, for myself I pray that my love will not grow cold because of my disappointment, and that the Lord will help me keep my heart pliable & always wanting to give from the resources that He’s been so gracious to bless our family with. All the rest is up to Him.

  5. I have found it has gotten harder as my kids have gotten older (some are teenagers) to live simply at Christmas time and to not get caught up in the consumer mentality. We moved into a fairly wealthy suburb to plant a church. The kids here seem to have the newest and trendiest everything, and of course, our kids notice. We live comfortably but not excessively on a church planter salary. So, I struggle every December. Thanks for all the comments. I hope to incorporate some this coming December!

  6. Kathy, what I love about your post is that is shows how every family will have their own individual ways of resisting Christmastime commercialism. The 21 shoe boxes made me smile, and what a clever and creative way for your family to learn about standing against consumerism in the future. And yes, wonderful tradition to take the time to put the focus on Jesus on Christmas morning. Not easy to do especially with kids in the house, but Advent is the season of waiting, after all! Thanks for visiting and sharing about your family’s traditions. Advent blessings to you and yours!

  7. Krissy–I so appreciated your post! You’ve captured many of the challenges of trying to live more simply during Christmastime (and grandparents are definitely a category of people that, God bless them, make this harder for parents!) My parents have given up trying to buy things because they don’t exactly know anymore what to get, but then they will often send money (way more than necessary!) so we use some for gifts, save some for the future, give some away.) Thanks for your honesty, as well; I’m sure no matter what we are doing in this area, we ALL could grow in this area!

  8. Mandy, it sounds like you’re doing a great job trying to keep things controlled with the gifts for your son! As for the day of, I like Kathy’s suggestion of telling the Christmas story first to begin the morning; we’ve also done things such as having the kids draw pictures of what they were going to give Jesus for his birthday (such as being kind to their brothers, etc.); we have had cupcakes in the morning (it’s Christmas, after all!) after singing “Happy Birthday to Jesus”; and then we’ve opened gifts and sung carols together so as to end with worship instead of ending with presents. I think if you are wanting to be intentional about keeping the focus on Christ, then it will happen! Thanks so much for your thoughts and comments. Much appreciated!”

  9. Renee, I think your comment demonstrates how this issue becomes a very personal one; some people can use shopping as a ministry opportunity such as yourself, and I can completely see how in that case the greater purpose overrides all the hassles and the commercialism of Christmas. Sadly, I think for most people in the world, this is not the case, and while it is not in our control how the rest of the world approaches Christmas, I think in an ideal scenario Christians as a whole demonstrate a different set of values and behaviors around this time of year. If everyone were like you–spending time shopping in order to give to those are less fortunate–that would make a statement to the broader society! My problem used to be that once I started shopping for the boys for Christmas, I wouldn’t want to stop! It was hard to put any limits on my gift-giving for the boys because I just wanted to shower them with presents. So for myself, I’ve had to place limits because the shopping became excessive. What I love about all these responses is how they reflect different people such as yourself thinking about the issue and coming up with diverse ways to handle it. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

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