There are many ways to celebrate the coming of the light in this dark season of the year, including the Winter Solstice, Hanukah, Kwanza, and Christmas. Christmas is supposedly a Christian holiday, but the orgy of consumption that accompanies this holiday in the United States makes that questionable. How ironic it is that people celebrate the birth of a poor baby born in a stable (as the story goes) by spending billions on "stuff" that will ultimately end up in overflowing landfills. However, Christian or not, many are swept along by the dominant media message: "Buy gifts for your loved ones to show them how much they are loved and how precious they are."
The pressure can be hard to resist.
This may not present a problem for those who practice a Christianity that is conformed to consumer culture, but for those who seek to follow Jesus it challenges us with one of his core teachings: "You cannot serve both God and mammon." Mammon: wealth, riches, money, stuff.
If you haven't yet watched Annie Leonard's "The Story of Stuff" now is the time. This 20-minute, easy-to-watch cartoon, will inoculate you against unrestrained consumerism during this holiday season. The sequels are also great.
The commercialization of Christmas challenges people of every spiritual tradition to resist cultural accommodation, practice integrity, and celebrate in ways that bring joy. I personally love going to Christmas concerts and street fairs, watching my grandkids in the Christmas pageant and the Nutcracker, singing Christmas carols, having meals with my beautiful extended family, organizing crafts for the Sunday School children, spending an evening at Hospitality House (our local rotating homeless shelter), reaching out to a family in need, putting cedar branches and nativity scenes in our window sills, decorating a tiny living tree that we'll plant outside after Christmas.
I plan, with God's help, to weigh my gift-giving choices well. I hope to not find myself walking vacant-eyed down aisles of plastic toys.
The organization Alternatives for Simple Living has a Treasury of Celebrations with some great ideas of ways to celebrate the different holidays, including Advent and Christmas.
May you experience and share the true gifts of peace, joy, and love during this season.
Sharon Delgado is an ordained United Methodist minister, speaker, writer, and Executive Director of Earth Justice Ministries. She is author of Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization (Fortress Press). Her blog is at http://sharondelgadoblog.blogspot.com.