Christmas, Christian style

By Peter Pearson

The Mother of God of Peace, by Peter Pearson.

For years now, people have been complaining that Christmas is too commercial, too hectic, too expensive, and too secular. The carols and decorations appear some-time near Halloween and the television commercials now urge us to give diamonds and Cadillac SUV’s instead of embroidered handkerchiefs and home-made fudge. It’s just out of control. Unfortunately not many folks have gotten around to doing something about it.

Living in a Benedictine monastery taught me many valuable lessons. One of those was how to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ in a way that does not insult the homeless Child of Bethlehem nor supports the lie that our lives have meaning only in terms of the national economy. The only real excess at Christmas need be the recognition of God’s extravagant love for us in giving Jesus to a broken world so that it might be made whole again.

So what do you and yours want? I mean REALLY want from one another. It’s entirely possible that the gift of time and attention is the very thing that we all long for the most. Stuff is nice, but it’s a shabby substitute for love. Besides, most of us have more things than we need and then some. It’s amazing that we can still find items we can’t live without considering that each of us owns more stuff than almost any village in the third world.

So remember the old adage that says: “If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.” It’s time to try something different. Here are some suggestions:

• Give the gift of your time and attention to one another: call someone and just chat for an hour or so, pop in for a visit, or invite someone to tea.

• Buy children’s books and donate them to the local public library or plant a tree in honor of those you love.

• Give dog food and treats to the local SPCA or Humane Society.

• Spend the evening at home in front of the fire playing board games—NO cell phones, no TV, and no excuses.

• Donate to the Vicar’s Discretionary Fund so that your parish can make a difference in the lives of others in your area.

• Buy and give fair trade items or shop at places like Ten Thousand Villages so that others might benefit from your spending too.

Or try any of these ideas which are offered by Marty Seligman in his work Good Consumerism:

• Give a bridge line (an inexpensive telephone conference call) for a once a month call for the next six months to your widely scattered family.

• Fund a visit for a friend to see someone she loves but has not seen in years.

• Adopt a family you know to be in need and give them Safeway and Target gift certificates.

• Donate bees, goats, llamas to friends through the Heifer Project or Episcopal Relief and Development’s Gifts for Life catalog.

• Make a “treasure chest” for your child, with coupons redeemable for one reading hour with you, one trip to a ball game with Dad, two games of Monopoly with Mom.

• Give a bird feeder to a friend and mount it in a place that will brighten her day every day. Giving pots of herbs and berries or hundreds of daffodil bulbs works well also.

• Give your child a complex Lego set that requires building over weeks with you.

• Give dance lessons or musical instrument lessons to people you love who do not dance or play music.

• Tape a Harry Potter volume in your own voice and give it to a young child to listen to (or tape a radio show from a 1940’s script for someone who loves drama).

• Make the gifts yourself (e.g., cookies) and make the cards yourself. It’s time consuming, personal, and it gives the people you care about the most precious gift of all—your time.

As Christians, we are called to give OURSELVES away in love to make a better world. This Christmas might be a good place and time to begin. Whatever you decide, I hope your decisions about how to celebrate Christmas will be ones that feed your soul and those of your loved ones.

The Rev. Peter Pearson is priest in charge at Saint Philip’s Church in New Hope, Pa. He is a former Benedictine monk and icon painter, whose work is featured at

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