One might think it a bit early to think about Christmas, however I was in Home Depot the other day and it was difficult to ignore the Christmas products and trees obviously staged in the front of the store for all to see. This got me thinking about Christmas, its significance and how my parents transformed the meaning this joyous celebration of the Messiah’s birth from the spirit of brotherly SHOVE back into the spirit of brotherly LOVE.
In preparation of the Christmas season I would like to share with you my most memorable Christmas growing up and why it is the most memorable. But before I do, I would like to contrast that experience with some of the financial and cultural realities of today.
Some retailers started vying for your dollar in late September, just after those of you with children paid for their new clothing and school supplies. Data from the National Retail Federation, the American Christmas Tree Association say the national average for a family of four is $877.22—but depending where you live, the cost of basic holiday purchases can vary by as much as $500. A family of four in the New York City metro area can expect to spend more than $1,200 this year on gifts, decorations and other purchases. The difference is explained by the wide variance in what you pay for goods across the U.S. For more information you can go to https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/shopping/holiday-tips-news/spending-cash-christmas/
Consumer counseling agencies see a 25% increase in the number of people seeking help in January and February, and most of that traffic is propelled to their doors by holiday bills that haunt consumers like the ghost of Christmas past. “A lot of people get by, paying the minimums on their credit cards,” said Durant Abernethy, president of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “Add on the holiday bills and all of a sudden, those minimums are more than they can afford.”
So before you start swiping the “fantastic plastic” first ask yourself, “Am I still paying off last Christmas?”
Christmas is supposed to be a religious festival where families come together and celebrate the birth of the Messiah, Yeshua the Christ child. It isn’t about plastic Santa and reindeers and lights. Tacky decorations such as these have nothing to do with family respecting or rejoicing for the gift of salvation afforded us through G_d’s gift to us in His son Jesus. In a recent survey, less than three-quarters of children knew Christmas was to celebrate the birth of the Messiah Yeshua, with 11% believing it was the birthday of Father Christmas. This shows us that society sees Christmas as a shopping holiday and society is quite happy to keep this momentum going.
In these secular times, when spiritually and faith play little importance in our lives, we hunger for something else. Festive cheer is the answer, or so we think. We start to think what we should buy for others to cheer them up; we talk to old family members, we even offer perfect strangers good will. Children are now expecting many presents and are getting greedier every year. Because of this, parents and guardians spend a lot of money on presents rather than focusing on those things having true and eternal value.
Many people are like the innkeeper in the Christmas story. Their minds are occupied with the business of the day and stuff that doesn’t matter. As a result, they miss the Christ of G_d. Our society is filled with the unnecessary, the insignificant, and the meaningless. We spend a fortune to amass things so we can let our children fight over them when we die. And our time is eaten away by the demands our things place on us.
People miss Christ at Christmastime because our Messiah (Savior Redeemer) is crowded out by a world that dictates what they should think, do, and buy. Like the innkeeper, people today are preoccupied. The innkeeper didn’t know anything about the baby Mary gave birth to, and neither do many today. Many people don’t know who Christ is and they don’t know why He came. Instead, they’re ignorantly preoccupied with the mundane and the meaningless (no belittlement intended). How sad it is that so many people live their lives in pursuit of such, only to wake up one day in eternity without G_d.
With the advent of gift cards Christmas to some has become little more than an exercise of exchanging pieces of plastic having some monetary value. While this is easy, it is not very memorable. It may be time to reevaluate what you want to do in this upcoming holiday season both financially and spiritually.
My Christmas Disappointment
Growing up, I can remember only a handful of gifts I received at Christmas. A Daisy BB gun, a Swiss Army “Tinker’s” pocket knife (not the one with dozens of tools in it), my first NEW green Schwinn bicycle my freshman year in high school (I dislike green) and a TRS-80 computer. The BB gun eventually broke, the computer quickly became obsolete, the bicycle was stolen and the knife, lost. Despite my very limited recall of Christmases past, there is one Christmas that stands above all others. While it had nothing to do with presents I received it remains the most memorable of all.
One year, when I was about 13, my parents called a family meeting with my sister and me. They informed us, “Christmas was going to be different this year.” They explained that instead of spending the money normally spent on Christmas gifts for our family they would instead “adopt” a family in need and buy things they desperately needed as well as some gifts for them to enjoy. They informed us we would still receive a gift this year but only one.
“What!” I exclaimed. Are you kidding? I don’t even know who these people are and you want to spend MY Christmas money in them. Don’t you know Christmas is for kids like me? After all, I am your son.”
Bear in mind I grew up in a Christian home; we attended church several times a week. I knew what Christmas was all about, or so I thought. I tried to rationalize with my parents, “I know it is Jesus’ birthday, but He is dead and we can’t buy anything for Him. If we could, how would we get it to Him?” My selfish logic failed to achieve the results I desired.
My parents tried to soften the blow by explaining that I could help with the shopping and the wrapping of the gifts. Right. I was supposed to buy stuff for other kids I didn’t know and just give it to them? They were getting more stuff than I was. How could they possibly make my Christmas any worse? Oh yeah, one little gift? Humbug.
My mom being the ultimate organizer obtained the sizes of everyone in the family and created a shopping plan of attack as only she could. Begrudgingly I was forced to accompany my sister and mom on a few of the trips to the mall and clothing stores. Oh joy. Every new pair of shoes, blankets, clothing or toys loaded into carts, bags and eventually the car meant something wasn’t going to be under MY Christmas tree.
Eventually the shopping was complete and the laborious task of wrapping was to begin. Somehow this part of the process failed to thrill me in the least way possible. My parents grossly overestimated the level of enthusiasm and cooperation I would bring to their idea of this Christmas. Christmas Spirit seemed to pass by this 13-year-old boy. However, this part of my journey taught me how to conserve on wrapping paper and how to wrap a package so it was tightly wrapped, looked neat and topped off with the right kind of bow. That task is still relegated to me to this day in my home.
Normally, we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve and this year was no different with the exception that i t would only take a few minutes before we headed out he door to visit our adopted family and play Santa. The gift, my one and only gift was a Swiss Army pocket knife, the Tinker’s version, equipped with a couple blades, leather punch, screw drivers, bottle/can opener, plastic tooth pick and tweezers. I had to admit I thought it was very very cool.
We carefully loaded the Christmas packages for our adopted family in the station wagon and off we went, to a strange place I had never been to meet people I did not know giving them stuff that should have been mine.
Dad drove us to a part of town where most people would not venture, especially on a Christmas Eve. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted and welcomed into their modest home. In one corner sat with a small Charlie Brown style of tree atop a small table adorned with bulbs that were too large for the size of tree. Their little children were excited we arrived and were jumping around the living room as they saw the stream of packages being unloaded from the car and carefully placed about the table and tree. I stood thinking I wish I were that happy. After the introductions were made, we all settled down and my mom (who usually played Santa handing out the packages while my dad took photos and helped open packages) asked, “Who would like a gift from Santa?” Piercing screams of joy once again erupted.
My mom whispered in my ear, “Son, I need your help.”
What was to happen next was a pivotal moment when Christmas changed for me – forever. Call it if you will, a “teachable moment.” My mom asked me to be the one to pass out the gifts after she examined the card on the package to determine who it was for. The first gift she gave me was a large soft package for one of the boys. When I presented the gift to the little boy he quickly ripped off the paper with great anticipation then leaped for joy. I would have never thought a kid would be so excited about getting a mere blanket. He smiled and gave me the most expressive “Thank you.” That’s when it happened – the realization that we could bless this family by giving that which most would consider mundane. This little boy’s excitement was contagious and my attitude started moving closer to where Yeshua desired it to be.
Mom immediately started sifting through the packages to find another gift for the next child, a little girl. I eagerly waited for Mom to place it in my hand. I was starting to feel as though I was doing something important to contribute to the festivities. The next gift was quickly unwrapped but securely taped by the manufactured so the little girl couldn’t get it open. That was OK though. My new trusty Swiss army knife came to the rescue giving me the opportunity to show it off. I felt important because I could help this little girl enjoy the moment.
As the night festivities continued, so grew the mountain of wrapping paper. There was a continuum of noise, smiles, thanksgiving and hugs. This part of my journey is where I experientially learned the difference be selfishness and selflessness, the giving is TRULY better than receiving. While the knife eventually was lost somewhere as happens with boys, this life lesson was not. On this special cold evening in an older part of Phoenix, that spirit of Christmas was giving indelibly and permanently engraved in my heart and mind. Seeing the excitement, smiles and tears of joy made all the difference in my attitude. I was caught up in the spirit of the evening and was sad when we finally had to leave.
So before you plop down those “C-notes” (that’s $100 bills) buying iPhones, iPads, X-boxes or any other stuff for your kids that will be obsolete in a year, consider ways of making an investment in your child’s journey teaching them the meaning of Hanukkah and Christmas and to bless others. Consider what kind of statement you want to make in your family, specifically engaging your children. You’ll likely have to choose between being popular and being a mindful parent. Ask yourself if you as a responsible parent do you feel the need to help this generation move from entitlement to gratitude and thanksgiving. Throwing down the credit card is easy, creating a life lesson not so much as it requires time, maybe some money but most importantly thought.
We celebrate both Christmas and the Hanukkah (also called Festival of Lights) in our home as this respect both of our cultures and faiths. In 2015, Hanukkah is from in the evening of Sunday, 6th December until the evening of Monday, 14th December. This holiday season should be a time when families pause and thank G_d for the many blessing we enjoy in this great country. While there is still time left as of the time of this writing, I encourage you to spend time in G_d’s word and think about what our focus should be and how we can creatively bless our loved-ones and those around us. It doesn’t mean a lot of cash must be involved, but there should be an investment of your heart in some way and maybe your hands too. Maybe it’s time to replace gift/debit cards with hand-written letters of blessing, appreciation and love. These are the things of eternal value and will be remembered long after the Christmas bills were paid.
Be well and be blessed,
© David Hall, 2015