Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Problem with Christmas - Losing sight of Jesus' Message

I will be honest I have a problem with Christmas. A major problem with Christmas.

I started thinking about this when I was driving through Ohio last week and flipping through the radio channels. I happened upon an Christian radio station hosting a talk program. The topic being discussed was the so-called "War on Christmas". One of the people suggested that Christians should walk around giving out items saying "Merry Christmas" while they shop this Christmas season to win "the war".

Here is my problem: Christmas shopping, which is the bigger than whether or not one can say Christmas in a public space. (I will not call it a war.)

In two days, 138 million Americans will set out to shop on so-called Black Friday in search of Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa) gifts for loved ones. They will wait in line to buy stuff, that was probably made in the third-world by someone working for a fraction of the wage that would be paid in the US. A person might even be trampled to death again, like what happened a couple years ago, in the panic to buy the perfect gift at a super low price. I used to believe in this tradition of buying gifts for Christmas, but after working in areas of extreme poverty over the years, buying stuff has slowly lost its appeal to me. Then a couple years ago my immediate family decided to play games and do activities as a family, instead of giving each other gifts, on Christmas Day.

So, now with this new family tradition, I do not give gifts on Christmas. Because how does this whole commercial frenzy honor Jesus' ministry? How does giving a big screen TV convey God's love for the world that he gave his only son? I still believe in gift-giving and I love to give and receive gifts, but this practice does not revolve around Christmas for me anymore.

In Quakerism, there is a belief that every day is holy. Sadly this belief is losing traction among Friends. About ten years ago, I read somewhere that Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio, didn't start giving their students a Christmas break until around 1930. At the time, as a high school student on Winter break from a public school, I thought that idea of having no Christmas break was ridiculous (I loved my breaks from school), but now I see the logic of upholding this important principle. Every day is another chance to live into Jesus' message to love and care for each other, especially the least among us, in God's name.

Jesus advocated a different way of life, of following him down a difficult path. In Matthew 19:21, He said, "If you want to be perfect, sell what you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me!" He didn't say: "OK, go buy a lot of stuff in my honor once a year. Oh yeah, drop your leftover change in the Salvation Army can on your way out of the store and feel good about yourself." I am not advocating for perfection or saying I am perfect, but instead I want to advocate being more conscience about the true meaning of Christmas and honoring Jesus' message, in the midst of the Christmas shopping season. If people buy gifts, please try to buy from sources that uphold God's creation and workers' rights and dignity, for they are children of God too.

On Black Friday I am spending the day with family and friends. In a month, I plan on spending Christmas Day spending time with my family, enjoying their company by playing games, instead of giving gifts.

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