Finding simplicity, balance and meaning in our preparations for Christmas.
Every year Advent seems to give rise to a bustle of activity: people are shopping for presents, going to end of year parties, making holiday plans, putting up lights and other Christmas decorations, to name just a few things. Too often we are seeing a mad rush en masse at the Boxing Day sales, listening to the Black Friday financial reports and observing consumption and waste in excess.
According to Pope Francis, the Gospel calls us to “open our horizons to another, greater dimension, one which, on the one hand puts into perspective everyday things, while at the same time making them precious, crucial. The relationship with the God-who-comes-to-visit-us gives every gesture, every thing a different light, a substance, a symbolic value. From this perspective there also comes an invitation to sobriety, to not be controlled by the things of this world, by material reality, but rather to govern them. If, by contrast, we allow ourselves to be influenced and overpowered by these things, we cannot perceive that there is something very important: our final encounter with the Lord: this is important. That encounter. And everyday matters must have this horizon, and must be directed to that horizon.”
If you’d like to eschew consumerism and shop with integrity, discarding the throw-away culture in the process, then we invite you to look over the suggestions below and decide what may be most appropriate within the context of your family and Parish. You and your family might even consider including one activity a day as part of your Advent calendar.
- Make a ‘to do’ list to get ready for Christmas. After reading the ideas below, review your list and decide what your priorities are. How will you and your family, school or community spend time getting ready for the birth of Christ?
- If you are buying gifts, then buy gifts that are: meaningful to you and the recipient; made from natural and sustainable materials; made locally; enduring; fair trade or ethically produced; hand made; antique or vintage; prioritising experience over acquisition, sharing positive experiences and developing useful skills; or goods that will help people to live a more ethical life. Ideas for some simple gifts include: the yearly membership fees to belong to an activity group the recipient would appreciate, such as a bushwalking club; a seed kit that helps people to grow their own herbs; a reusable water bottle to inspire others to stop buying plastics; a tea cup & saucer or water glasses; a good-quality pantry staple, such as olive oil or vinegar; board games such as a chess board; ethically produced dark chocolate; a book, app or subscription to a journal containing informative or inspiring information (for example: a yearly subscription from the ACSJC costs $30.00; while a book on gardening or permaculture might also prove useful).
- Give a gift to someone less fortunate than yourself. Perhaps donate on behalf of someone else. If you belong to a family that already receives your fair share of gifts, then consider forgoing gifts for yourselves this year and following the example of St Nicholas: buy gifts as a family for those who are experiencing difficult times. Your local parish might have a suitable social justice project or you might like to donate to a Catholic charity like one of the following: Pax Christie International 2016 Advent Appeal; St Columban Mission Society 2016 Christmas Appeal; St Francis Social Services (including House of Welcome) Christmas Appeal; or Aid to the Church in Need.
- Make ready your house. Clean out your closets and other storage, recycle or give away to others what you don’t need and repair and keep in good order what you do. Make a special place to honour our Lord. Undertake an assessment of your energy and water needs and care for creation by changing things for the better.
- Reduce your exposure to activities or media that are inconsistent with your preparations for the birth of Christ. For example, don’t make shopping an excessively large part of your preparation for Christmas – either online or in bricks and mortar shops. Instead, pray and share your time with others, perhaps by volunteering.
- Include and invite others. Christmas can sometimes be a lonely time, even when people are surrounded by others. Make sure to work together, build bridges and include others in your family, school and community.
- Appreciate and show appreciation for public expressions of Advent and Christmas. For example, if your local store or shopping centre places a nativity scene for people to see or if they hold a special community event to care for others, such as a Christmas tree with opportunities to buy presents for those in need, write a letter of appreciation to them.
- Volunteer to help with one of the ministries in your Church. Carols are an important part of Christmas, so if you sing, then Sing! There will often be collections of presents or other goods at this time year. Consider helping out with these initiatives!
If you were to look at your experience this Advent and Christmas – if there was one thing you could continue doing all year – what would it be? What steps might you take to continue doing it?