A ‘Buy Nothing Christmas’

Dec 5, 2017 by

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A few years ago some Canadian Mennonites came up with the idea of “Buy Nothing Christmas.” Check out their website at buynothingchristmas.org. With humor they direct you to a “Buy Nothing Catalogue” that lists the things you already have and need that cost nothing. There’s also a free downloadable poster of Jesus with the caption: “Where did I say that you should buy so much stuff to celebrate my birth?” A variety of other resources are also offered for re-directing our observance of Christ’s birth.

I appreciate this seditious attempt to undermine the consumerism of Christmas. As the years go by, I grow more weary of all the shallow and hedonistic traditions that have accumulated around what is supposed to be a sacred celebration of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

But is it realistic for some of us Christians not to join the Christmas shopping frenzy — especially if we have kids? That’s a hard one to answer. But now that my own children are grown, I’d like to see if we could re-focus our celebrations. This may not be so difficult since my children have much less interest in “stuff” than I had when I was their age. They do not have their own homes or apartments where they can pile up possessions. (One of my children sometimes lives in a tent.) What I would like to give them are acts of love that they can remember and take with them.

How might we, in our own homes and lives, observe Advent and celebrate Christmas in ways that are meaningful? Could we each research a desperate need somewhere in the world (or in our own community), and then make a contribution to address that need (or volunteer to help if it is a local need)? The point would be to become more aware of situations in our world that are facing a loss of hope. Advent is about making a commitment to defiant hope in the face of hopelessness.

Perhaps we could also show our hope in symbolic ways. For instance, we could join street vigils, holding candles, where acts of violence have recently occurred.

Rather than accumulate more at Christmas, we could make a commitment to reduce. We could give away one unneeded but still useful or beautiful item every day throughout Advent (or during the twelve days of Christmas, from Christmas to Epiphany) — not to make room for new stuff, but to simplify our own lives.

The Gospel of John says that everything came into being through the Word, and then the Word became flesh. What better way, then, to celebrate Christmas than for each of us to join the Word in being creative? Use our time off of work to create something for others — a poem, a story, a painting, a sculpture, a weaving, a song, a culinary creation. Exercise the joy of creating.

Whatever we do to celebrate Christmas, it does not need to be — and perhaps ought not to be — a “big production.” Our culture uses this time of year to hype everything. As a counter-move, we should be more quiet, more simple, and find the treasures of God in the small.

Don’t over-think it. Certainly don’t add “doing it right” to your Christmas anxiety. Slow down. Find God’s patient pace within you. Keep your eyes on a poor family seeking shelter.

Ryan Ahlgrim is pastor of First Mennonite Church in Richmond, Va. He previously served for 19 years as pastor of First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis and 11 years at Peoria-North Mennonite Church in Illinois. He blogs at fmcbiblestudy.wordpress.com, where this post first appeared.

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