Saturday, November 8, 2008
Thinking about Christmas
If you've never read this little gem I highly encourage you to do so. I just completed my third reading and, as so often happens, I found new insights over the previous two reads. On the surface the book seems to be a missive against our overly materialistic society. Today while reading I realized he has a lot more to say beyond simply bashing our consumer culture. The book holds a challenge to seek what exactly is missing from our lives at Christmas, with the underlying principal being that those same things are probably missing in our day-to-day lives. Mr. McKibben challenges us to ask how we, as a culture, have changed since Christmas as we know it developed in the nineteenth century. As he explains, in the nineteenth century Christmas was a true respite from the hard day-to-day life of the majority of Americans. For the people of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Christmas was a special day filled with glorious treats, the likes of which they had neither time nor money for the other 364 days of the year. One of the biggest shifts we have seen in the last 50 or so years is towards abundance for the majority of Americans. In fact, we now live so abundantly on those 364 days that Christmas no longer holds the same mystique for us. Far too many of us feel stress on Christmas Day versus the desired feeling of pure joy. McKibben encourages his readers to ask what we need now, in the early twenty-first century (actually the book was written in 1998, but I believe things have only become crazier in the intervening 10 years), to make our Christmas as special as those nostalgic Christmases of long ago.
So I stopped and asked myself: "what would make Christmas more meaningful for our family, more of a special event?" These are the ideas I came up with:
**Dinner by candlelight every night of December
**Say something nice about one family member each night at dinner in addition to one thing you are thankful for.
**Help the kids make homemade gifts for each other, teachers and grand parents.
**Wait until December 20th to put up the Christmas tree. I'll put up other decorations before them, but only because I enjoy them so much. However, waiting to put up the tree will make it a much anticipated event.
**Play soft music every afternoon. Saving the full on Christmas tunes for the week of Christmas only.
**Spend lots of time outdoors here and here and here and here
**Participate in our community Christmas Outreach program.
**Scatter birdseed in the park across the street on Christmas morning. I would love to do this before we open presents that morning.
**Spend an afternoon making homemade cookies and breads and then "elf" the neighbors...similiar to booing.
You can see the idea is to minimize the focus on shopping and getting. Rather the focus should be on doing (but not in a harried way) and being.
The title of Mr. McKibben's book refers, of course, to limiting your spending to $100. Although $100 is an arbitrary number. You should pick a number you are comfortable with, as long as it requires a change in your habits. Instead of just running out to the mall and saying "charge it" for yet another sport shirt for Uncle Harry or bottle of perfume for Aunt Harriet, by limiting your spending you will be forced to get creative, to come up with a truly meaningful gift.
Here is a link to an interview New Dream did with Bill McKibben with even more information about the book.