Amidst the joy of celebrating the coming of the Child at Christmas, many of us are caught up in the bustle of holiday travels, shopping sprees, and plans to serve those less fortunate. What often is lost is the joy of the Coming and the opportunity to reflect on its meaning for our
lives. Over the last decade, a number of very insightful and interesting books have suggested how we might incarnate our hopes and dreams into our actions and activities in this, the busiest of times.
A dozen years ago, Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli opened the discussion of alternative celebrations in their book Unplug the Christmas Machine: How to Have the Christmas You've Always Wanted (Quill, 1982). Armed with a strong analysis of the trappings of a commercialized Christmas, these authors offer a plethora of suggestions for re-energizing Christmas celebrations.
Chapters include presentations of gender differences in the expectation of Christmas, the real hopes of children during this season, and the seductiveness of commercialism. Practical suggestions reign supreme here. Although the authors do have several helpful suggestions for single parents, a more in-depth discussion for people without children would strengthen this book.
Alice Chapin has offered a duet of Christmas offerings: The Big Book of Great Gift Ideas (Tyndale Publishing House, 1991) and Great Christmas Ideas (Tyndale, 1992). In The Big Book, Chapin examines the entire notion of gift giving. She concentrates on recognizing the gift of family, and so suggests stressing family histories through making family calendars, photo albums, and taped or written memories as gifts.
Even more specific Christmas ideas appear in Great Christmas Ideas. By creating a home art gallery or musical concert, the joy of Christmas can be recovered in the commercial malaise.
Very helpful also are an emotional survey of Christmas wishes and a budget inventory. Readers can list those factors that create a satisfying and holistic season, whether related to family or service. Unfortunately, the book's consistent use of male language is distracting.
52 Simple Ways to Make Christmas Special (Oliver Nelson Publishers, 1991), by Jan Dargatz, is a small book with 52 two-page suggestions for activities to make the holiday personally more meaningful. It is less concerned with the effects of commercialism of society and more with finding a way to make the season more worshipful. The lack of creative thought on service projects makes this book incomplete. Combined with other books, however, the spiritual emphasis can be quite helpful.
Before and After Christmas: Activities and Ideas for Advent and Epiphany (Augsburg Publishers, 1991), written by Debbie Trafton O'Neal and illustrated by David LaRochelle, similarly offers a day-by-day approach to Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Very family-centered with ideas and illustrations, grade school children will enjoy using this book and will learn a surprising amount as they go along-about King Wenceslas, mangers, Santa Lucia, and the word "peace" in numerous languages (unfortunately, mostly European).
The "grandparent" of all these efforts to help us remember the Christmas story is the group Alternatives (P.O. Box 429, Ellenwood, GA 30049). Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway? is the most complete catalog of alternative ideas for giving. In addition to biblical reflections for each Sunday of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Sunday are suggestions for limiting personal spending during the holidays and adding giving to those less fortunate.
Alternatives also offers solid resources ("Guidelines for Alternative Giving," "Looking Behind the Cost of Christmas," and "What Is a Gift?") for study by adult forums or high school youth groups. They are well done and will surely forever alter the way we think of Christmas.
Last, the Minnesota Office of Waste Management (Suite 201, 1350 Energy Lane, St. Paul, MN 55108) has printed (on recycled paper, of course) "No Waste Holiday Ideas: Reducing Waste and Green Gift-Giving During the Holiday Season," a 12-page pamphlet with practical ideas about reuse of holiday materials and the least intrusive ways to have Christmas trees. This quick read won't offer much "purely spiritual" inspiration, but it will lead to a generally better feeling once the season is over: You can sit back and know you've had minimal impact on the earth as you celebrated.
If "left-brained books" won't help you much in the midst of the holiday rush, Barbara Robinson penned The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Harper & Row, 1972), a remarkable little Christmas story that is both faithful to the message of the original Christmas while also taking seriously the struggles of our own culture.
If you have ever been a Sunday school teacher, this book will carry special delight-some of the humor is so close to home you can't help howling. (I was given this book 15 years ago by my mom, with whom I taught Sunday school for several years.) Because it can be read aloud in less than two hours, this book can become a yearly ritual; read it with friends at a small Christmas gathering
THE CHRISTMAS PLEDGE
Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the following:
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts.
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents.
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family.
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas.
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends.
-from Unplug the Christmas Machine
The Works of Flannery O'Connor
- WISE BLOOD. Harcourt Brace, 1952.
- A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND. Harcourt Brace, 1955.
- THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY. Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1960.
- EVERYTHING THAT RISES MUST CONVERGE. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1965.
- MYSTERY AND MANNERS. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, eds. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1969 (essays on literature).
- FLANNERY O'CONNOR: THE COLLECTED STORIES. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1971.
- THE HABIT OF BEING. Sally Fitzgerald, ed. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 1979 (letters).