OK, as of this week, it’s Christmas!
If you’re anything like me (and judging by my Facebook feed, a lot of people are) Christmas is your favorite season of the year. Gatherings of family and friends, a respite from school, cozy evenings by the fire, Christmas music, beautiful lights, Santa — I could go on for hours. But it seems to me that often during the Christmas season, which is after all a time of celebration of Christ, we are more easily susceptible to the rampant consumerism in our culture. I’m not here to be a total downer, though: the holidays also offer us some amazing opportunities to do good and recharge our batteries between semesters, years of work, or whatever responsibilities we may have.
Here are a few tips on how to keep your focus on Christ and the positives of the holiday season and bypass the consumerism — and with it a lot of the stress.
Focus on gifts that are more experiential and less materialistic
Have you ever tried to write down what you got for Christmas the last three years? I bet you don’t remember everything you got, but you probably do remember the time that you spent with families and friends making cookies, walking in the snow, decorating the tree, and building your relationships with them. This year, I’ve asked that my fiancé not get me any presents for my birthday (December 2) but instead plan a fun date. We’re going ice skating and helping my family put up the tree, perhaps watching a corny Christmas movie, and of course drinking hot chocolate, and I’m super excited about it. Instead of putting the focus on getting a gift (in my case) and choosing a gift (in his case), we’re focusing on celebrating a life milestone together!
Not that I’m knocking presents, but every now and then I think it’s important to get away from all the gifts and try something that’s more relational. However, sometimes a tangible gift is by nature relational. For instance, I’ve given Vincent books that we’ve read together. It’s a physical thing, but the real focus was on doing something together. Or I’ve given my sister supplies for hobbies that we like to do together, so I was giving her a cool thing that she liked, but also in a way investing in our relationship and time together.
Don’t pay too much attention to social media
This is basically my mantra all year long, but it’s especially important at this time of year, when the pressure is on, tempers are running thin, travel complications arise, and the budget can be pretty tight. It seems like every time I open Facebook (which I often do, since I use it for my work and blogging as well as personally), amongst the lovely photos of my friends and family, there are targeted ads and maybe some showier photos of people getting or giving impressive gifts. In a goals-oriented society like America, I think a lot of us (maybe unconsciously) want to conform to an ideal of the holidays where everything is beautiful and sparkly and super fun, when in actuality even this amazing time of year has it’s own warts. There are many statistics out there about how social media has contributed to depression in young people, especially young women, and it’s not hard to imagine how bringing the comparison game with you everywhere you go has a negative effect on your emotional health. Just brush off the photos of the gifts and the glitz and remember that the most wonderful time of the year looks different for everyone.
Perhaps you’re even a person who doesn’t love the holidays. Earlier this week I interviewed a gentleman for an article, and he told me that he’s always been depressed around the holidays due to an unhappy childhood and then later losing a longtime spouse around that time of year. Maybe there’s a reason Christmas and Thanksgiving don’t diffuse a happy glow around your life. Maybe you are lonely or stressed or dissatisfied with yourself especially during this time of the year. If so, please hear me when I say that if social media is telling you that you aren’t enough, or your situation needs to be a certain way, don’t listen! Holidays, just like people, come in all shapes and sizes and colors and there’s no recipe for a “perfect Christmas.”
Make a conscious effort to ignore marketing
The marketing industry is predicated upon making people dissatisfied with what they have, and then selling them something to satisfy that desire. While sometimes people should be dissatisfied (e.g. with a broken or hopelessly out of date item), as a general rule, we in the U.S. have more reason to be satisfied than otherwise. And yet, we flip on the TV, check our social media, or enter the mall, and we’re being told a very different story. Billboards, window displays, and social media ads are designed to convince you that your holidays need this product or that clothing item to be perfect, but they don’t! Not that you should never buy anything that happens to be popular or well-marketed, but remind yourself frequently that the marketing industry is after your wallet and your lifestyle, two things that you should be controlling yourself (with God’s goals in mind, of course.)
Look into presents that are charity-oriented
If to give is more blessed than to receive, the best form of receiving is to give BY receiving, right? One reputable faith-based charitable organization, World Vision, puts out a catalogue every year of “presents” that can be bought for those in need. The prices start at a few dollars and go up to a couple thousand. Everything is designed to help people in need in developing countries, like bicycles and school supplies for kids or farm animals for families. Items from the catalogue are a great thing to ask for or gift in someone else’s name, and they fit any budget. Even if it’s just a small portion of your overall gifting, World Vision catalogue items, a donation to a charity, or something similar is a way to do some good in the life of someone who doesn’t have the same material resources as many enjoy in wealthier countries or situations.
Volunteer with those in need
Whenever I find myself getting greedy or discontented, I find that it’s because I’m lacking perspective. Sometimes I’m really anxious about the fact that I had a couple of car repairs and an unexpected expense or two in the same month, or I find myself wishing that I had clothes or shoes or vacations that I see at the mall or on campus. But then I remember that by global standards, having a roof over my head, food to eat, and transportation makes me wealthy. Not to mention the smart phone, laptop, guitar, piano, art supplies, books, etc. that I use every day and often forget to be thankful for. Volunteering with those who don’t enjoy the same level of comfort that you do serves the person in financial need, but it’s just as important for the person performing the service. Every area has many people who need a hand from time to time, and lending it to them is a powerful reminder of what we have to be thankful for. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying that volunteering should be done for self-oriented reasons, I’m just saying that there are some important secondary benefits to the volunteer as well as the person who receives the service!)
Hope these ideas have been a little reminder to you that although there’s a lot of consumerism out there, the material blessings that we have in this country are amazing tools for good, if they’re managed well. What are some things that you do to keep your focus on faith, family, and friends rather than stuff during the holidays?
P.S.: A great way to keep your mind in the right place? Prayer! Check out my free holiday advent calendar for a fun and unique way to keep your prayer life healthy during the busiest and best time of year.