The day after Thanksgiving is a holiday for many. People head out to the shopping mall or to the parade to jockey or position. It ‘s the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season (although we’d do well to shop[p throughout the year...not as painful on the wallet. We’ll learn one of these years). I heard on the news yesterday about how people were hurt in fights and overcrowding as the stores opened with their unbeatable deals.
There are many things wrong with the way we live out this season and all we can do is, loosely quoting Ghandi, “Be the change we want to see in the world.” So it’s probably good to not buy things made by corporations that enslave children to make their goods in celebration of Christ’s advent here. Simple handmade gifts are best I guess or “experiential” gifts like gift certificates to local shops and restaurants.
There are a few web sites and stores where you can buy things that help provide a sustainable life for people in the third world. Online stores like global exchange or the YWAMers in Thailand that help former prostitutes learn a trade like making candles and greeting cards to help them start a new life. There are many things we can do (with a little research and preparation) to make this season a little closer to being a “christian” experience.
The day after Thanksgiving, we went back to work as we had a whole van load of bread to deliver. We went to the motels and to the parks. It hit me in a new way that cultural holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, the way we classically think about them, are just not experienced the way we think of them being experienced by the poor.
Quiet time with family over a nice big meal or sharing presents with each other is a distant dream for so many. More than you think. Many more than you think. For the poor, these things are a major source of stress like no other time of year. These holidays remind them that they are not “normal”. We get desperate calls to the church for turkeys or help with presents as people look for any way to help their kids feel like the rest of us. One couple I talked to yesterday had sandwiches for Thanksgiving dinner, another man had to work, many more did not have anything.
Then there are the “working poor”...the ladies at the checkout at Wal-mart or the grocery store where the day after Thanksgiving is just another day at work. Economics is a funny thing. The Christmas season makes up so much of the corporate yearly profits and these corporations (like Wal-mart and Target) give people jobs...not great jobs mind you but usually just enough to keep them off the streets. I know a grandma that works at Target who lives in a motel and can’t get into a house with her income as she supports a daughter and grandchildren. I know another grandma who works at Wal-mart and lives in “low-income housing” and cannot afford a phone or a car. Wal-mart and Target are all these folks have...so you can’t just say “no discount stores!” without sustainable alternatives. Who is stepping up to this plate?
And here I am in the middle of it all lost in a quagmire of thoughts and “well, but the other side of the coin is...”
The Roman church chose this time of year for the celebration of Christ’s advent not because it’s his birthday but because of the symbolism of the midwinter celebration. The days grow darker and shorter through the Fall, at midwinter that tide turns and the days get lighter and longer until summer. I can go along with that...it was using an existing cultural celebration and infusing it with the gospel...the thing missionaries have done for thousands of years in “pre-christian” cultures. Why not just say “pagan”? Because people from every tribe, tongue and nation will be around the throne praising God.
It is my goal this season as I seek to live a christian life in America with integrity...
To make or buy as close as I can to socially conscious gifts for family and friends.
To remember the poor and encourage my poor friends to not feel like they have to measure up but to be content during the holidays with simpler celebrations.
To support other groups like the local Gospel Mission, Salvation Army and international groups like Compassion International or World Vision or Samaritan’s purse that help the poor feel included in the season.
To be kind and patient on the road, in the stores and with clerks.
To mark the dark days before advent during this holiday by meditating on expecting Christ, my only hope in Christ, joy at Christ’s appearance and the love that Christ has shed on my life. To celebrate Christ as the world’s Savior. He has become a light to this gentile. My people did not know God but a way has been made. Thanks be to God.