Talk to many people about the holidays, and they’ll tell you that they are extremely stressed. Between decorating the house, going to parties, and getting gifts for every relative, friend, and acquaintance, there is never enough time. Many people will tell you they can’t wait for the holidays to be over because of too much stress.
The retailers are also starting the season earlier and earlier, with Christmas music and decorations going up even before Halloween this year. Even the word “Christmas” has been removed from stores. I saw a sign yesterday in a store that simply read “Happy Ho.”
There are also photos to be done – photo sessions that often end up with children crying and parents scolding their kids for not sitting straight or for messing with the bow in their hair. Moms are trying to get a photo that captures the iconic spirit that they feel Christmas is supposed to be. A perfect fairytale Christmas where everything is perfect. Unfortunately, reality intrudes and ruins the vision. Even if a perfect picture is taken, the participants remember that grief and the anger it caused.
Financially Christmas is also an extreme strain on people’s wallets. Not only do people feel they need to buy gift for everyone they know, there are also deals to be had on big-ticket items that are too good to miss. Thanksgiving has now either been cut short or missed entirely so that people can get in line early for the Thanksgiving night sales. Credit card bills skyrocket and take years to payoff after the holidays.
Contract this with the 1800’s as depicted in The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There Christmas was as simple as going to church or praying at home, hanging stocking to receive a piece of candy or an orange, giving one gift to a sister or brother, and having a meal as a family. Laura Ingalls seems delighted with what she received from her autobiography, eating the peppermint stick slowly to make it last. People today might think that they were poor, but they certainly never felt poor by Mrs. Wilder’s account.
So why was Christmas such a joy then and such a hassle now? The trouble is that the whole meaning of the holiday has been lost – a celebration of the birth of Jesus – and been replaced with the getting of stuff and the doing of stuff. The giving of gifts no doubt started as a way to live more as Christ did, who was certainly a selfless giver, even giving the ultimate sacrifice. It may have also been influenced by Saint Nicholas (the Dutch pronunciation which sounds like Sant Niclause, leading to the name, Santa Clause) who anonymously threw dowry money through the windows of debtors so that they could be married. In that day debtors would have their children taken in payment of the debt and it was likely their daughters would have been taken and enslaved into prostitution had Saint Nicolas not provided money for a dowry.
This joyful and anonymous giving, however, has been changed into a culture of expected equal exchange of gifts even though neither side really wants to give or get anything. It has also changed from the giving of gifts to others to one in which people buy things for themselves. (Remember whenever someone says that you “deserve” to buy something, they are thinking of their commissions and not your well-being.) This has resulted in a culture of envy and greed. This is destructive to a family’s finances and often leads to an empty feeling on Christmas morning once all of the boxes have been unwrapped.
If you would like to be happy this season instead of frantic, stressed, and empty, try putting the Christ back into Christmas. Start out with remembering his birth and being thankful for it. Even if you do not believe that Christ is God, or even that there is a God, you can certainly at least acknowledge that his Christmas is a celebration of his birth and take part as much, or as little, as you would wish to.
Start with that central fact, and then choose to do whatever else you wish to do during the holidays. Feel like putting up a tree? Fine. Feel like buying a few gifts for the kids and maybe some for others you know? Fine also. Feel like having a dinner or throwing a party? Good also. None of these other things are needed and if they are causing stress and not pleasure, being a burden and not a joy, don’t do them.
It is nice to get something for the kids but you don’t need to get that $400 gadget they want if you don’t have $400 to spend. It is nice to have a big meal but no one will suffer if you go out to a restaurant on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day instead or if you just stay home and have a quiet meal. If you like your boss or your coworkers and see something they would like, by all means pick it up but don’t feel like you have to go out and find something. Also think about giving anonymously so they don’t feel they need to reciprocate.
Christ didn’t fight the traffic at the mall to pick up trinkets for the apostles. He didn’t take part in secret Santa and white elephant gift games. He just spread the Gospel and took care of those around him. The celebration of his birth should mean more than the sad spectacle it has become. Start from his birth and build from there and your Christmas will be merry instead of disappointing.
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