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Gifts of Peace - Guidelines for Alternative Giving


Early in the 4th century Christians came "out of hiding." The notorious Roman rulers Diocletian and Galerius, responsible for the most heinous persecution of the church, were gone. People could joyfully go to their churches without fear of death, going to jail or getting fined. They could now worship in peace. With this new found peace, Christmas, as a community festival, began to grow in popularity and spread through the world.

One thousand six hundred years later we're still celebrating Christmas. But for many in North America, Christmas, the festival born in peace, is anything but peaceful. All too often we find ourselves engulfed by mobs of holiday shoppers as we negotiate our way through stores, malls and busy streets. TV advertisements, like guided missiles, hone in on our living rooms and blast us with obnoxious efforts to peddle more consumer products. Life seems to speed up. The lists of "things to do" grow longer. What are we to do?

We can revolutionize our celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace by giving alternative gifts, by giving gifts of peace. Most of us don't want to be seen as incarnations of Ebenezer Scrooge. Each year we open the floodgates of generosity and shower our family and friends with gifts. We enjoy being generous, especially at Christmas. Remember, though, generosity and spending lots of money on gifts are not necessarily the same thing. There are better ways to share our love and Christ's peace. First we can give ourselves gifts of peace. We can accept God's gift of peace by slowing down the pace of Christmas and by focusing on the one whose birth we celebrate. Then we can give gifts that share God's peace with our family, friends, community and world.

How to Give Gifts of Peace

There are no set ways to share God's peace at Christmas. For each person or group the methods will be different. Here are some simple steps to help you begin:

1. Give to yourself: To share the peace of Christ at Christmas we must first receive it ourselves. How can Christmas be more fulfilling, more peaceful for you? Consider scheduling ten, fifteen (or more) minutes each day during Advent to pray, read the Scriptures and meditate. Get a concordance to the Bible and look up all the passages related to peace. Read the nativity stories. Consider following the lectionary readings. Use Advent as a time to prepare yourself for Christmas. Try to cut down on shopping or other holiday activities that make you feel stressed. And don't spend more than you can afford. Keep track of your spending by using the Christmas Budget Worksheet included in this resource. Use it to help you and your household set spending limits.

2. Think of gift-giving as a way to communicate: Like a letter or a phone call, a gift can be a way to speak to or share something with a person. When choosing a gift, first think about what message you would like to communicate. There are many creative ways to share the generosity we feel in our hearts. Nothing says we have to go to the store and buy lots of things.

As a gift to her retired parents, one woman wrote 365 messages of love on individual cards (one for each day of the year). Another woman gave a photo collage of her son (as he looked over the past year) to his grandmother who lived far away.

One woman gave each of her brothers and sisters a poem and a cassette tape. On the cassette was a recording of their family singing Christmas carols. Most special of all was the sound of their mother's beautiful voice singing Silent Night in German. The music brought back fond memories of their mother who had only recently died.

These three examples show gifts that communicate deep and abiding love. They also share the peace of Christ with those who received them. Included in this resource is the Plan Your Giving guide. Use it to help you create or locate gifts that bring messages of peace and love.

3. Give Time: Sometimes the best gifts of peace are ones not purchased. A man once gave a busy loved one (who hated grocery shopping) a coupon worth six trips to the supermarket. All she had to do was provide a shopping list and money. He did the rest. For Christmas one year, a woman gave her new neighbors (who had recently moved from another city) two weekends of her babysitting services. After the stress of moving and finding new jobs she felt they could use some time alone. Other people give volunteer time (at Christmas and throughout the year) to community service projects, free clinics and other organizations that help those in need.

4. Give Appropriately: Give gifts that are in keeping with the meaning of the celebration. For example, what do guns, soldiers and other such war toys have to do with the birthday of the Prince of Peace? It would be hard to imagine the magi bringing toy spears and daggers to the baby Jesus. For more information about toys, contact: The Campaign for Progressive Toys and Games, Cumberland Center for Peace, P.O. Box 857, Sewanee, TN 37375; (615) 598-5369.

Other gifts can also bring the wrong message. Many videos, magazines and compact discs denigrate women, minorities and poor people. Consider the messages conveyed by the popular sports magazines that have special issues devoted to women in bathing suits. What does a gift subscription to such a publication say about the giver's attitude towards women?

Consider the message your gift carries to the people involved in its creation: to the factory owners, to the laborers and to the importers. Many products come from factories that use child or even slave labor. Others come from factories that are heavy polluters of the air, water and soil. Still others are from factories that use animals to test their products. Part of sharing the peace of Christ at Christmas (and all year long) means being careful not to support companies that abuse people, animals and the earth. You might find the following books helpful: Everybody's Business, A Field Guide to the 400 Leading Companies in America by Milton Moskowitz (New York: Doubleday-Currency, 1990) and Shopping For a Better World by Ben Corson and others (from the Council on Economic Priorities, 30 Irving Place, New York, N.Y. 10003. 212-420-1133) Check your local library for copies.

Before giving any gift, ask yourself: What does this gift say about my understanding of Christmas? Let your gift-giving foster the peaceable kingdom proclaimed by the birth of Christ.

5. Give to Jesus: Last, but not least, give gifts to the one whose birth we celebrate. Read Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus tells us that in order to give to him we must find him in the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the naked, the imprisoned. Consider fostering peace in the world by contributing 25% of your Christmas budget to organizations that serve those in need. Use the calculation at the end of the Christmas Budget Worksheet.

We can make Christmas a life-changing feast and holy day. A good way to begin is to change the way we think about gifts and giving. The gifts we give can be a way for us to share the peace of Christ with ourselves and others.

Beckoning God -
who called the rich to travel toward poverty,
the wise to embrace your folly,
the powerful to know their own frailty;
who gave to strangers
a sense of homecoming in an alien land
and to stargazers
true light and vision as they bowed to earth -
we lay ourselves open to your signs for us.

Stir us with holy discontent over a world
which gives its gifts to those
who have plenty already
whose talents are obvious
whose power is recognized;
and help us
both to share our resources with those who have little
and to receive with humility the gifts they bring to us.

Rise within us, like a star,
and make us restless
till we journey forth
to seek our rest in you.

Kate Compston, England 1990

Matthew 2:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:18-29

Reprinted with permission from Bread of Tomorrow, edited by Janet Morley (Orbis Books, copyright © 1992). All rights reserved.

Plan Your Gift Giving!

Below are sample questions (and responses for a sample person) that you can use as you plan your Christmas gift for a particular person.

Who is this person to me? -- My sister-in-law.

How well do I know her? -- Pretty well, not in an everyday way. We can talk deeply when we see each other.

How much a part of each others' lives are we? -- We see each other once or twice a year.

What's important to her? -- Writing, reading, bicycles, her family and community, neighborhood activism, personal self-awareness.

What does she like? -- New York City (where she lives), socializing, clothes, movies, cooking, sewing and other handcrafts, writing, doing special things for her husband and baby.

What's going on in her life now and in the last year? -- Her first baby. An ongoing writing class. Balancing free-lance writing and childcare needs.

How do I see God working in her life right now? -- Reconciliation with birth family through the baby.

What are various roles in her life? -- Part-time worker, freelance writer, wife, mom, neighborhood activist.

Could she use special support in any of these roles? -- Freelance writer, mom roles. Dealing with the isolation of motherhood.

What are her "growing edges"? -- Learning a new perspective on her self-involvement. Learning about the "mom" role.

What could facilitate some activity of her life? -- Childcare. Short things to read.

What interests or activities do we share? -- Balancing work and motherhood. Reading and writing. Handwork.

What do I admire about her? -- Her sense of humor and playfulness, acts of caring for her husband, her fitness, her personal organization.

What values do I want to express? -- Support, connection, simplicity, world consciousness.

What would give me pleasure to find for her? -- Book, a special event of some kind, something about exploring NYC, jewelry, picture frame or photo album, something creative.

What could say to her, "Through your living I see that certain values are important to you. I want to support and celebrate that in you."? -- Gifts connected to her interests. I could support her sense of community and fondness for socializing and also address her isolation by calling her once a month.

Are there gifts from alternative sources that I could consider for this person? -- Jewelry and scarves from third world producers, food products.

Let intuition and imagination do some work: brainstorm ideas. How could I make her a gift of my time? talent or skill? money? What can I get that's appropriate for the amount I can spend? -- Dave Barry book, subscription to literary magazine (short pieces easily read by busy mom), money for her writing class, offer to layout a neighborhood flyer for her on my computer and fax it to her, donation to the literacy group she used to volunteer for, commitment to a year of phone calls once a month.

After you have some ideas, consider these thoughts:

How Much Do I Spend At Christmas?

Christmas Budget Worksheet

(Use the amounts from last year or estimate this year's totals.)

Go to either the web site page or the Christmas Budget as a PDF.

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