Christmas has become a strange holiday for me. Parts of it are warmly familiar like teaching my daughter "Hark the Harold Angels Sing" and the original "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", parts of it have become unfamiliar. I think part of the strangeness arose from what I have learned about where our products come from and what impact they are having on His creation. Thoughts started to materialize that I hadn't considered before. I haven't quite thought about Christmas this way, but isn't it strange how the culture around us has linked our Savior's birth with a holiday where we get more stuff for ourselves? It never used to bother me because it was such a fun event... for me. I get to open some fun presents that make me feel good because I received something I had been wanting or something that was a splurge. What could be wrong about that sort of fun?
As I have been learning about where all of these presents are made, the conditions that the workers have to be in, the wages they are paid, the families that are hurt, this fun event has become...depressing. I don't want to be depressed about it. Parts of me don't want to know what I know. Parts of me would like to ignore, drop these thoughts and carry on without them.
A recurring question in my mind is: what if Jesus were here with me, opening these presents? He knows everything, knows the back story of what it took to make them. He knows how little the employee was paid and how much I (already) have. What does He think when I am celebrating His birth by giving or receiving a present that was made by someone making $1.50/hr?
How can we give gifts that Jesus would be proud of?
Have you ever considered going rogue and opting out of the product-based Christmas? I have been thinking about it more and more. But, I hesitate, even though I think it would be a cool experience. There are pressures from all around us that almost force us into the mold that retailers and marketers design for us. I think about the people around me that I might disappoint if I decide to opt out. I wonder if they would be disappointed or mad at me. I don't want to disappoint anyone.
And yet, when I think about what Christ wants, I feel as though operating like the world around me would greatly disappoint him. Even the idea of linking His birth to presents for those of us who already have enough may be offensive to Him.
If you do end up shopping for gifts this Christmas season, start by picking up each one (or if your online, pretend to pick it up) and imagine the person or people behind that product. Imagine their working conditions. Imagine what they can afford to provide for their children. Do they have access to food, housing, or education? Imagine their communities. Do they have clean water and air? Imagine what Jesus thinks of that gift you are giving on His birthday.
Instead of buying the traditional way, buy the Love Your Neighbor way:
Buy products from companies who care about everyone in the supply chain and who use labels like Fair Trade and Organic.
Support small businesses and craftspeople who use quality materials and ingredients (I search for organic cotton items on Etsy, for example).
Consider shopping eBay, Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, etc. to give new life to used products.
Look for products that will help your friends and family reduce their waste and live healthier lives: think clear reusable coffee cups you can take and use at coffee shops, reusable silicone bags to replace their plastic ones, metal straws, cute reusable take-along cutlery, or stainless steel tea strainers.
Be on the look out for experiences instead of stuff! Plan a family outing to the movies, ice skating rink or bowling alley to replace gifts. Hire a professional photographer for updated family photos. Give the gift of a cooking, crafting, or specialty exercise class (rock climbing anyone?) Memories and new skills can mean more than yet another (unethical) sweater.
Take the time to make something for someone instead of just buying it. Bake cookies (with organic, fair trade ingredients!), design your own cards, and use things you find at Goodwill or Salvation Army to wrap or present your gifts.
How does God want us to celebrate Christmas?
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.
- Isaiah 1:14-17
What He really cares about this Christmas season is how I am caring for others. That is the Christmas that will make Him the most happy. If I serve others, do something to correct oppression, and cease to do evil to my neighbor, those might be the best ways I could ever celebrate Christmas.