Archives: Christmas Pack #13
A Simple Christmas
Guidelines for Alternative GivingIndex for this Section
- An Additional Resource
- Buy With Conscience!
- Getting More Involved
- Give Of Yourself!
- Guidelines for Giving
- Plan Your Gift Giving!
- Remember Whose Birthday It Is!
- Using the Guidelines
- Working to Help Prisoners
A Simple Christmas - Guidelines for Alternative Giving
Giving is at the heart of Christmas! We remember God's great gift by giving to others. However, due to human nature and the commercialization of Christmas, "getting" sometimes becomes more prominent than "giving," and giving to "our own" sometimes has more importance than giving to the one whose birthday we celebrate. It doesn't have to be that way. We can give in a way that honors the birth of Christ, expresses our love to our family and friends, and shows our concern for the earth.
These guidelines are designed to assist individuals, families or groups who
want to be more intentional in their giving. The guidelines are intended
to be suggestive, not inclusive. In the end, it is you who must set the
guidelines for your giving.
1. Enlist the participation of the whole family for a discussion of these guidelines. If you are single, or a single parent, discuss the ideas presented here with those people with whom you ordinarily exchange gifts.
2. Try to have the initial discussion before the end of October. People are generally more receptive to new ways of giving if they have not already begun to plan for this Christmas.
3. Hand out copies of the cost/analysis form on page 4 and ask each family member to prepare an expense report on last year's Christmas. Encourage children to prepare reports as well.
4. When you come back together, discuss your expenses and decide on changes you will make. Consider taking 25% of last year's total and spending that on a birthday present for Jesus. You may want to take time to read Matthew 25:31-46 together and discuss the meaning of a "birthday present for Jesus." Make a covenant on what is decided.
5. Read the guidelines and discuss what might be appropriate "birthday gifts" and appropriate gifts for family and friends. Add your own guidelines to the list.
6. Consider how you can become more involved in groups that work for peace and justice in your community or denomination. (See below for some ideas.)
Christmas gift-giving must begin with the recognition that Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. When we celebrate a birthday we give gifts to the person whose birthday it is. Moreover, we are careful to choose what that person expressly wants and needs.
Is there any doubt what Jesus wants us to give him? He pointedly insists that in order to give to him, we must find him in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. (See Matthew 25:31-46.)
Gifts of our time, skills and money to support ministries working with needy people are the beginning points - not the afterthoughts - of gift-giving at Christmas. Consider giving 25% of your Christmas budget (including time, skills, and money) to those in need. For example, you might give:
- TIME to volunteer in a program or participate on a committee which serves the poor, the elderly, the homeless, the jobless, those in prison or in hospitals;
- SKILLS that help to keep organizations like these going, such as cooking, teaching, auto repair, bookkeeping, counseling, or maintenance;
- MONEY to support programs in your denomination or community which help people in difficult situations.
Warning: You probably don't have the time or money to do everything you have done in previous years and add this. The "birthday gifts" should replace some of the time and money invested before.
In addition to giving a birthday gift to Jesus, you may want to give to friends and family. As you begin to think about gifts you might give others, carefully consider each person's interests and values, your own time, skills and money. Review the following suggestions:
- Do not look at catalogues or go to stores to help you decide what to give;
- Examine your giving by doing the Cost Analysis Form for last year's gift-giving;
- Don't wait until the last minute when the commercial pressures are the greatest;
- Don't forget the one whose birthday we celebrate.
The giving of gifts is essential to the health of our society. Giving a gift both affirms and strengthens a relationship. However, the traditional purchase of gifts is essential only to our convenience and the store's profits.
The best gift is the giving of oneself through sharing time or skills. Those who are busy may find that giving an uninterrupted period of time to a child, a family member or friend on a regular basis can be the best present. By using your skills, you can give yourself in what you make or do. Or, you can give the skill itself by teaching it to the recipient.
Here are some ideas:
- COOK traditional foods like cookies and fruitcake or a personal specialty like bread or apple butter. Encourage diversity by sharing a favorite ethnic food. Invite friends to share their family recipes;
- SEW a simple pattern, then personalize it with embroidered initials or appliqued design. Sew floor cushions, pillows, placemats, or a rug to suit the recipient's taste. Sew soft toys or puppets for a child;
- TUNE up a friend's car, or offer other special mechanical expertise;
- RENEW an old possession. Make new clothes for a well-loved doll; rebind a tattered book; refinish a scarred chair; wallpaper a room;
- BUILD shelves, a spice rack, a window box, a bird house, a lamp, a set of blocks, a game, hundreds of things;
- PLANT spring bulbs on pebbles or in a bulb glass to bloom in the middle of winter. Plant a terrarium in an aquarium or large jar. Plant a windowsill herb garden;
- TEACH a language, how to play a musical instrument, swimming, quilting. Pass on a traditional or family skill;
- PHOTOGRAPH family members or friends. Make a collage or album using photographs of past Christmases, gatherings, or special times;
- WRITE a history of your family (for family members) or a history of your friendship with a particular person. Include some old photos.
Purchasing appropriate gifts requires careful thought. Consider these questions:
Does this gift reflect the values I want to share? What does it say about
me and the person receiving my gift when I give
- a war toy?
- a gift that reinforces sexist or racist attitudes?
- a board game that teaches competition over cooperation?
- any "for the person who has everything" gift?
- Does this gift encourage conservation rather than consumption? Does the material from which the gift is made reflect abuse of the environment? Any gift requiring the use of electricity or gas should be purchased only after the most serious consideration.
- Does this gift encourage passivity rather than activity, dependence rather than self-reliance?
- Does this gift stimulate spiritual, mental or physical growth? What are your expectations? Giving to stimulate someone else's growth can be presumptuous, but between two people who care about each other, it can be an act of love.
- Who profits from my purchase of this gift? The purchase of handmade gifts from craft groups (like those listed in To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays and Rites of Passage) supports the preservation of traditional crafts and skills as well as the efforts of low-income persons to become self-reliant.
To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays and Rites of Passage includes many ideas for alternative gifts and celebrations throughout the year. Check your church or public library for a copy. It is also available from Alternatives.
Financial support to peace and justice programs is, for many, a first step toward greater involvement. These guidelines suggest ways you can offer your time, concentration and prayers, as well as your money, for birthday gifts to Jesus at Christmas or year-round.
The degree of involvement you choose in each of these areas depends on what you have already done. If you aren't sure how you feel about the issues, you might want to learn about the background through personal or group study; or, arrange a firsthand experience by volunteering in a hospitality house or talking with a prisoner. If you have had some direct experience working in these areas, you may want to devote more time to studying the systemic dimensions of these problems. On the other hand, if you know a good deal about, say, the causes of world hunger, it may be important to work as a volunteer in a community kitchen. The significance of prayer and meditation should not be overlooked. It's easy to feel too busy to set aside quiet time; however, communication with God is a crucial source of strength and insight.
It will probably be helpful to choose a main focus for your commitment. You can work together as a family or a group by focusing on different aspects of a problem and sharing what you learn with each other. The issues represented here really cannot be categorized as neatly as our checklists may suggest. You will find that involvement in one of these areas will lead to involvement in others.
Working for Peace
- Find out what you can about disarmament efforts and the barriers to their success.
- Study the historical and economic backgrounds to conflicts in Central America, the Middle East, or other places where fighting is going on.
- Study the Scriptures to determine the biblical position on war and armaments.
- Write a letter to your congressperson urging arms negotiations, cuts in defense spending, and elimination of weapons that could cause global destruction.
- Pray for peace. Pray for guidance for world leaders.
- Take a few minutes each day to envision a peaceful world.
- Make your own attitude peaceful and conciliatory. Settle an old quarrel.
- Promote ethnic and racial harmony in your community.
- Fold paper cranes to give as Christmas ornaments. (Instructions are included in To Celebrate, available from Alternatives.)
- Make a special Christmas card with the message "Peace on Earth." Send copies to friends and community or world leaders.
- Organize Peace Day (August 6th) observances and activities for your church or community.
- Form a group to meet regularly for prayer and study about peace issues.
- Find out if the "white train" carrying nuclear weapons passes through your area. Organize a vigil.
- Organize your church or community to send a representative to Central America.
- Help your church become a sanctuary church for refugees.
- List other activities or concentrations which interest you:
Working for Adequate Food and Shelter
- Learn about the problems of hunger and homelessness here and abroad.
- Study the economic, social and political conditions contributing to hunger in Africa, Latin America or Asia.
- Write a letter to your congressperson urging financial aid to Africa or other areas in need.
- Write a letter to your congressperson urging a revision of government priorities in order to make more money available for domestic hunger, homelessness, health and education programs by spending less on weaponry.
- Plan to donate regularly to an organization that provides food and other assistance for hungry people or educates the public about hunger issues.
- Pray for people who are hungry or homeless and for those who work to help them.
- Fix a dish or meal for someone in your community who is sick, disabled or needy; or, invite them to share a meal with you.
- Share lunch with a friend, even if you aren't sure you have enough for yourself.
- Help to make sandwiches for a community kitchen or shelter.
- Volunteer to help at a hospitality house.
- Plan to eat simple meals or skip meals for an agreed upon length of time. Give the money you save to a food pantry or hunger program.
- Cut out "junk food." Give the money you save to a food pantry or hunger program.
- Find out who in your town might be hungry or homeless. Does anyone help them? Can you, your family or church help them?
- Start a food pantry or hospitality house.
- Volunteer with a food bank.
- List other activities or concentrations which interest you:
- Find out how many prisoners there are in your state. Where are they housed? What are the different kinds of jails? Where are they located?
- Find out what percentage of the prisoners in your state are poor. How many are minorities?
- Learn about the justice system. How do people get put in jail? How do convicted offenders get out of going to prison?
- Remember all the Bible stories you can think of about people in prison.
- Study how the Bible advises us to treat people who have done wrong.
- Write a letter or make a Christmas card for someone in prison. Write Sojourners (Box 29272, Washington, DC 20017) for names of prisoners who would like to correspond. Arrange a visit with that person.
- Visit the family of someone in prison.
- Pray for people on death row and for those who have to take part in executions.
- Write a letter to local officials stating your reasons for opposing the death penalty.
- Write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience who are being tortured or illegally held. Contact Amnesty International (322 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10001) for names.
- Start a study group to explore alternatives to incarceration.
- List other activities and concentrations which interest you:
Working for a More Responsible Lifestyle
- Learn what you can about the standard of living in Third World nations, and about how affluent lifestyles in industrialized nations affect the global economy.
- Read a book about the life of St. Francis of Assisi or Gandhi's writings concerning possessions.
- How does the Bible view wealth? Locate passages about possessions.
- Take an inventory of your possessions. What could you do without?
- Plan your Christmas giving so that you don't have to go to a shopping mall during Advent.
- Plan simple, inexpensive meals on certain days during Advent. Give the money you save to a food pantry or hunger organization.
- Read Living More With Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. Organize a group to study responsible living using Longacre's Living More With Less Study/Action Guide.
- Make a pledge to avoid unnecessary purchases during a specified time by repairing old things, making do, or doing without.
- Make a list of television, radio and newspaper ads that make you want to buy things. Try to figure out why they affect you.
- Lobby for an inexpensive, simple meal at a church supper or community gathering.
- Form a lifestyle assessment group with others in your church or community who want to commit themselves to less consumer-oriented lifestyles.
- Keep a list of everything you buy for two weeks. Take time to consider how each of your purchases affect the environment.
- List other activities and concentrations which interest you:
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Page updated 11 Sept. 2013
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