12 November 2008

merry christmas and happy holidays

The holidays are upon us.

Hooray!! Huzzah!! (I have always wanted to type “Huzzah”)

Cue the Charlie Brown music and the jingling of sleigh-bells...

First, let me state for the record that I don’t dislike the holidays. They are nice; Artificial and manipulative, but nice.

I do, however, have a healthy dislike for the whole commercial aspect of our celebrations. Unlike many of you, I actually applaud stores that use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. I mean, are we really that upset that a faceless, soulless corporation would refuse to identify their high-profit winter sales-drive with our God? Like, do you think God is sitting in the heavens crying over the fact that Wal-Mart won’t recognize his crucified Son’s role in establishing a materialistic feeding-frenzy on every rollback price in the store? Really? This is offensive to us?

If anything, we should be offended by the stores that use “Merry Christmas”. How dare they emotionally manipulate us by using the goodwill and positive feelings evoked by our sacred holiday to sell us things we don’t want so we can give them to people who don’t need them… Am I alone here? Why do I hear crickets?

Don’t get me started on “One Nation Under God”. God existed before America, will exist after America, and would probably rather not be married to a nation that was built on a foundation of free market economic principles (which are not necessarily evil) and land-grabbing genocide (probably evil). Um, and freedom of religion, too, right? I’ll recommend history books to all those who want them, but my point here is that I don’t really understand why Whataburger insists on putting “One Nation Under God” right next to “100% American Beef” in their restaurant windows. Seems like emotional manipulation and the hijacking of God to me…

I think we have failed to realize that we are allowing companies to sneak God into their brand identity or their sales-pitch in order to increase profits. It isn’t like we have to go out and protest the flippant use of His unpronounceable name (or do we?), but maybe we should see through the silliness of it and use our purchasing power based on need and merit. I don’t know. Maybe I am making too much of this. Still, I recall some tables being turned over in a temple. I recall a commandment about not using God’s name in vain. If using God’s name to sell Nintendo products and made-to-order hamburgers isn’t using it in vain…

I think I’m losing you. What I am trying to get to is that all of my ranting is nugatory if we don’t agree to make a change somewhere.

What if we turned that tradition on its head?

If you absolutely have to buy something for someone, consider the world’s least popular gift: a charitable donation to someone who really needs it. I give them to family and they still talk to me.

If the idea of offending your family and friends during this sacred, gift-swapping season is not your idea of fun, then consider giving gifts that were sourced in 3rd-world nations, that were bought using Fair Trade practices, and that will benefit the producer and have a ripple effect on the community he or she is from. You could buy a lovely silver bracelet at the mall. Or you could buy a handmade beaded bracelet from a family of beaders in Tanzania, with the knowledge that while your purchase didn’t boost the stock price of Tiffany and Co, it did help a remote impoverished village gain access to clean water.

Do you see where we’re going here?

I don’t want to completely demonize the tradition of gift-giving. There is a potential for tremendous blessing in the giving and receiving of gifts. Gifts can be producers of fullness, security, love, and grace, which are all good things. And there is joy in receiving gifts as well. Grace itself is a gift – the very wellspring of our lives.

Together, we can recognize the fleeting nature of this modern consumerist construction and the manipulative nature of those who push it on us. Remember Furby, Tickle-Me-Elmo, GameCube, or Cabbage Patch Dolls? Don’t get trapped by hype and hysteria. If you must buy, buy lasting items. Buy thoughtful moments of teaching. Buy deep relationship growth. Buy unexpected graceful statements. If at all possible, buy from the least of these.

We can change the way we do things. We can reject the vanity and replace it with generosity. We can give grace and life and truth. Surely we can make a difference. Surely we can change.

Merry Christmas. And Happy Holidays.

Gifts With Humanity
Global Exchange – Online Fair Trade Store
World Vision – Online Gift Catalog


  1. when all the love in the world
    is right here among us
    and hatred too
    and so we must choose
    what our hands will do

    surely we can change...something!

  2. I remmember when i first saw the squatter camps. It still haunts me. I remmember sobing for hours. And i couldnt understand, couldnt stop asking...."WHY!?" it was all I could say. Then you told me, "your gunna go out there when you get home, and the diffrence you make is going to make hardly a fraction of diffrence. But just that little diffrence IS STILL a diffrence. And who knows? It just might start a chain reaction for something huge.".....We know what we have to do regardless of what we get in return. Either way we should never underestimate the slight diffrence that some of our smallest choices can make. I still think of the kids and what you told me then all the time. Thank you for giving me that little bit of hope.

  3. I've given gifts to people from World Vision, and they still talk to me too. :) And here in HK, we do a lot of work with Fair Trade and producers in third world countries, and it has so dramatically changed my outlook on gift giving. What an honor to bring encouragement and life to a family in a remote village by merely making the choice to shop their products rather than at Wal-Mart. Not a tough decision.