It’s that time of the year again. The time when I come face to face with a conflict of commercialism, my job and my conviction.
I work retail. My livelihood pretty much depends on your coming into my store and spending your money on our products and services during the Christmas season. Without the Christmas shopping season our economy would look very different. Retailers depend on “this” season to get most of us through “those” season. You know, the other times of the year.
But Christmas is also that time when people go into their deepest debt and spend the rest of the year trying to claw their way out before the next Christmas season. Every time someone pulls out a credit card to buy Christmas presents, my guts shrivel up and I feel remorseful for them. Yes I know that some people like to use their credit cards just to get points or to build credit, and some of them even manage to consistently pay them off each month. But the reality is that is not the case for most people. Most people buy on credit at Christmas because there is no way they can afford the season from their normal income.
And then there’s the fact that we are so ridiculously commercialized and wealthy in a sort of “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs, but check out my new XBOX ONE” kind of way, while children around the world go hungry and entire communities lack safe drinking water.
But I’m not the type of offer a polarized solution to our excessive activities. I think festivals and traditions are good and healthy for a community. I don’t think exchanging gifts, enjoying grand meals and celebrating with the extended family are, by default, bad things. I also don’t think that, on account that someone somewhere is hurting, we should all strip our lives of any pleasures at all times. But this is not the place to argue for what I just said. Instead I’m going to offer you a few tips for your Christmas spending.
Tip 1: Because someone else has it, doesn’t mean you (or your children) have to have it.
If God wanted everybody to be the same, he would have given us all the same fingerprints and the same noses. Just because the kid down the street has the latest XBOX doesn’t mean your kid has to have the latest XBOX too. Developing the habit of not having to have the same as everybody else is a very useful life-skill to learn. Trust me. You’ll be doing your child a favour. And dads, this goes for you too. You don’t need the latest iPad no matter how many commercials you’ve seen.
Tip 2: Don’t go in debt, it’s not worth it.
I also think about my first year of marriage when my wife and I used our debit and credit cards indiscriminately. By the end of our first year we were drowning in debt. We had to move in with my in-laws and it took three years to climb out. Lesson learned. If you love your family then put their needs before their wants. If you have to go into debt to make your Christmas “good,” you’re not doing that. You are putting their wants before their needs.
Tip 3: Spend according to your means
Some people can afford more, others can afford less. It’s not about what the person down the street can afford, it’s about what you can afford. If you can afford giving an XBOX ONE, a diamond ring, a new car, go for it. But shop according to your means. To suck the well dry just to be like everybody else is crazy (see tip #1).
Tip 4: Be charitable
God instructs the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament to have several festivals every year. They were told to take out of their wealth and have grand feasts in celebration, according to their means. But it’s noteworthy that nobody was supposed to be left out. They were instructed to make sure that the foreigners, poor, widows and orphans could all join in with the feasting and celebration, and they’d have leftovers to help them get through the year. Christmas is a great time to give and be extra charitable. Make Christmas special for those who otherwise wouldn’t have much to celebrate: give with a cheerful heart. Also, see tip #5 below
Tip 5: Be creative
New City Covenant Church is doing something awesome. They are having an Upside Down Christmas Party to benefit Philippines relief. The party is built around three core features: 1) Set your budget for Christmas shopping, then plan to buy one less gift. Bring that money to New City’s Upside Down Christmas Party to give generously to Covenant World Relief’s efforts in the Philippines; 2) Families will make memories together by creating gifts for their friends and other family members, rather than shopping at the mall; 3) After you do your cost-effective, memory-making shopping, stick around for games, a sing-a-long, and delicious Christmas cookies.
Tip 6: Be meaningful
Okay, we get it. Christmas is about Christ. Now that we “get it,” let’s get it, if you know what I mean. Let’s put it into practice. Rather than building Christmas around us, let’s build it around Christ and family and memories. Rather than making it about “that year when little Sammy got his first guitar,” why not make it about “that year when little Susie prayed before dad talked about how the Christmas tree represents Eden, the Tree of Life, Christ and our future hope” or “that year when we had our neighbour join us because he had no family to celebrate it with.” We don’t celebrate Christmas for nothing. Make sure it is impregnated with meaning, memories, and emotive beauty.
What other Christmas spending tips do you recommend? Leave a comment below.