Ah, the end of November. Thanksgiving. Black Friday. The beginning of the annual spending spree. Like Santa, many of us have our lists, and even if we’re not checking them twice, we’re at least checking the hundreds of emails we’re getting from retailers to figure out where to get our shopping on. Most of us have stopped going out on Thanksgiving Day itself, even if some of us have braved the Thunderdome that is Black Friday. And yet others of us shop online. And a few of us (oh those lucky few!) have finished shopping already!
Buying gifts for others for Christmas is a wonderful way for us to express our love. In fact, about a fifth of us feels love most keenly in receiving gifts (and thus about a fifth of us express love the best by giving gifts). Furthermore, there’s nothing quite like the look of pure joy on the face of a child who has opened a Christmas present to find that special toy that they had hoped for.
But like most everything else, we Americans often take the gift-giving thing a little bit too far. For goodness sakes: the health of our national economy is dependent on people spending lots and lots of money during the shopping season. Black Friday received its moniker because it is the day of the year that retail business moves from the red to the black in its books! Thus Christmas, the time of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God, has devolved into consumerism, gluttony, and rampant materialism.
This is not another column about how we need to put the real reason for the season back into Christmas. Nor is it a column about the so-called “war on Christmas.” Rather, this is a column to suggest ways that we might resist the temptation of our culture’s love for stuff. My hope is that our souls are filled with the warmth of extravagant generosity. But my hope is that our extravagant generosity is not expressed only with gift-wrapped boxes under the trees of our families and friends. My hope is that we spread that generosity a little farther.
A few years ago my extended family noticed that our spending for one another was moving to higher and higher levels. I have three siblings, all of us are married, all but one of us has kids, and my mom and dad are still with us. Having a big family is a blessing, but buying something for everyone meant we would either spend more money than we had or just buy something cheap for everyone. So we started doing an exchange where we drew names (for the adults – we still all like buying presents for the nieces and nephews). But even that was starting to get out of hand. So six years ago we started a new tradition. We decided to cut in half the “limit” of how much we would spend on each person, and each family (five of us – each of the four kids plus my mom and dad) would put $100 into a pool for a charity. Each year one of the families would decide which charity would receive the $500.
This is our sixth year doing this. We’ve donated $500 (each) to the Pediatric Psychiatric Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Imagine No Malaria, Heifer, International, and Texas Beagle Rescue (and another charity I can’t even remember!). I can’t wait to hear where our family’s donation is going this year. We try to make a big deal of it, especially so our kids will understand that our family values generosity, particularly for those who need help.
My point is not that my family has found some magic formula that prevents us from greed or being consumed by materialism. Nor is it that we have changed the world all by ourselves. My point is that I hope that you and your family will find a way, not only this year, but every year, to express extravagant generosity, and to express it beyond your circle of family and friends. In this way, we might all respond a little more to the thanks that we have for the blessings of our lives, particularly for the birth of the Christ Child. Happy Advent!