In that spirit, I give you the 2008 edition of my dear friend Rachael's Christmas letter (for last year's, see here). I think it's a truly stellar idea because it puts Christmas outside the box (literally and figuratively). It's the birthday of a boy who would grow up to tell tax collectors to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor, so why do we celebrate the occasion by buying more stuff for people who already have enough material things?
Sure, the Magi brought gifts--but do you really think Baby Jesus ever used that myrrh or frankincense to spruce up his guest bathroom? I'm thinking those luxurious gifts were more a symbolic representation of the worth beyond measure of this sacred and special new baby, rather than examples of what to ask for (or give out) on your Christmas list this year. Think about it--the shepherds honored Jesus simply by showing up and spending some quality time manger-side, then going out into the world to pass on the good news. Given all the parables involving shepherds, and the fact that God has a habit of choosing them for important jobs (uh, Joseph, anyone? Or David, little shepherd boy-turned-king?), it's not a bad example to follow.
(If you're really and truly a frankincense-and-myrrh kinda person, or you just like showing people you care through getting them something they'll thoroughly enjoy, I have a post in the works for non-traditional/non-consumerist gifts coming up.)
So Merry Early Christmas (it feels weird breaking out Christmas carols and decorations down here when it's still warm enough to get a sunburn, so all y'all up north sing a round of Jingle Bell Rock for me while you're making sugar cookies, aight? And save me some cookies!!!), and enjoy this missive from the lovely Raquel who has so graciously allowed me to post it here!
My ideal "Christmas Presence" gift would be playing Christmas carols on my accordion with my Grandma--alas, due to geographical constraints, we'll have to wait until next year (inch'Allah).
As you may remember from last year I have started to change my approach in the celebration of Christmas! In order to do so, I must compete with all the holiday marketers who will begin to fill our television sets and radio stations with reminders of the coming Advent as soon as we put away our Halloween costumes!
This year I watched a hilarious and moving documentary called What Would Jesus Buy? about an activist group called “The Church of Stop Shopping!” that toured the country during the Christmas season and spread the message about the “Shopacalypse”: the mass commercialization of Christmas. The movie challenged me and other viewers to examine: why we buy so much, where we buy, and how we buy in an effort to identify what we can do to transform our habits and communities…not just during Christmas, but year round.
The movie also asked a fascinating question. What would Jesus buy? A Nintendo DS for the disciples? A spa day for Mary Magdalene? A new GPS system for Joseph and Mary? Economists predict that the average American will spend $801 this season, which ends up at a national total of about $241 billion. Something tells me that our friend Jesus Christ (the birthday boy) wouldn’t choose to spend that $241 billion at Amazon.com. So for as much as I love waking up to a tree bearing beautifully wrapped surprises with my name on them I had to ask myself: Is there a way to celebrate the birth and life of Jesus Christ without also celebrating material excess? Can I still retain the tradition of gift giving without also endorsing sweatshops, wasted packaging, and holiday debt? Yes!
Christmas Presence 2008
I approached the pastor at my church and told her that I was interested in creating a service project on Christmas Day to fill a need in the community and provide an alternative way to honor Jesus Christ’s life on the holiday. We discussed the large number of members of our congregation who end up spending the day alone because they are far away from family or simply do not have loved ones with which to celebrate. For them, Christmas is a dreaded and lonely holiday, not full of the joy and excitement I have been lucky to experience throughout my life.
So I devised my response: Christmas Presence, a community celebration to take place in the church basement that focuses on the gifts of fellowship and sharing and provides a place for people to gather and celebrate the joyous day with their extended church family. The benefit of Christmas Presence is twofold: it provides a celebration on Christmas Day for those who otherwise would be alone and also allows for an alternative to the usual fare of wrapping paper and batteries not included.
But Christmas Presence cannot happen without you! On this Christmas, I respectfully request that you not give me a traditional gift. I am a lucky girl and nothing I need can be bought at a store! (Unless you know of somewhere selling The Perfect Man. Because I’ve been looking for him everywhere and he seems sold out.)
If you planned on giving me a gift this year, the best present you could give me is a donation of $20 to Lake View Presbyterian Church designated for the Christmas Presence program. With your donation, I will be able to fund my Christmas Day service project and help to bring joy to the community and honor the life of Jesus Christ in a unique way. Money raised in excess of the program costs will be donated to Unitus, a non-profit that works to reduce global poverty through microfinance services, empowering millions of people throughout the working world. You are also warmly invited to participate in Christmas Presence. Turn this over for details about the festivities and your special invitation!
Send checks to Lake View Presbyterian Church at 716 West Addison Street, Chicago, IL, 60613
Please designate: Christian Nurture Committee “Christmas Presence” Program
Printed on Recycled Paper
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You are invited to Christmas Presence
“No presents, just your presence!”
A holiday celebration for our extended Lake View Presbyterian Church family (and anyone else in the Chicagoland area!)
Christmas Day 2008
4 pm to 7 pm
The purpose of the “Christmas Presence” event is to provide an alternative celebration for the Lake View Presbyterian Church community that focuses on the gifts of fellowship and sharing.
The idea behind this event is to approach giving presents in new and alternative ways. People attending the event can choose to give of their time or talents or provide the present of their presence; because the greatest gift one can give is companionship and love. The event provides a place for those otherwise alone or away from family on Christmas to engage in celebration with their “extended” family. It also provides people with a different way to honor the birth of Jesus Christ, with friendship and love instead of wrapping paper and shopping lists! Members can choose how they enjoy the event, but not pressured to do anything but show up and celebrate!
The church basement will be set up with different stations, where people can choose how they want to celebrate and spend time together. The stations will provide different opportunities for people to give “presents” in alternative ways. Stations include:
1. “Joy To The World” Music Station
Live holiday music provided by church members giving the gift of their artistic talent
2. “Deck the Halls” Christmas Card Station
People are encouraged to make cards for an unexpected recipient, the mailman, their favorite pizza delivery guy, or the new neighbor, to give some surprise holiday cheer. Paper, stamps, art supplies and markers will be provided
3. “Visions of Sugarplums” Cookie Decorating Station
Kids of all ages can decorate holiday sugar cookies. Cookies, sprinkles, frosting, and fun will be provided
4. “Prince of Peace” Letter Writing Station
In the spirit of peace, people are encouraged to write a letter to a soldier away from home, a political prisoner, or a lawmaker influencing foreign policy. Sample letters, addresses, stamps, and envelopes will be provided
5. “The Little Matchstick Girl” Community Art Project Station
Church members will donate t-shirts before the event and during the evening participants can decorate t-shirt patches that will be sewn together after the event to make a t-shirt quilt. The quilt will be a collective gift that will be donated to a local shelter.
Christmas dinner will be served.
The event will include holiday refreshments, games, carols, fellowship, and more!
Give the greatest gift of all: your Christmas presence!"