At the end of November we all heard a lot about Black Friday, if you were anything like me this was the first time you ever had heard the term. Saturday was dubbed "Panic Saturday" as it was apparently the day that "everyone" was out buying their last minute gifts. I guess I am not the only one who feels that the real meaning of Christmas has been hijacked to serve the interests of rampant consumerism. I am glad to say that I did absolutely no shopping either on Black Friday or Panic Saturday and I hope I never will.
I really don't think I am too much of a "Bah Humbug" character. I love Christmas. I just think that it is not enhanced by rushing around panic buying or elbowing a stranger in the eye in an attempt to get a bargain. This year I have instituted a small revolution in our house and brought in the "twenty pound Christmas" rule. The basis of this is that a. nobody spends more than twenty pounds on anyone else in the family b. everyone has to name a gift for around or under that amount or put in a request for hard cash. The reason for this change is not really parsimony, although our income has reduced this year, it is more that I found we were buying things for each other which never got used. Every Christmas, everyone puts their presents into a plastic bag to take up to their room/ put away later. Every year for the last few years, the bags of my sons and my husband remained in the corner gathering dust for months. At some point, usually in the Summer holidays, I would throw stuff away or take it to the charity shop. It seems such a waste and I just long for a simpler and more, well adult approach to Christmas which says we don't really need to buy a lot for each other.
I fall in love more and more with the idea of Quaker simplicity. I have come to think that when we have less things in our lives, it can make room for us to value the important things more. We are all being sold a massive lie that buying stuff brings us happiness, and it really isn't difficult to work out that we are being sold that lie because it lines other people's pockets, even if it leads in some cases to families crippled by debt and to negative economic impacts for so many of us. The simple truth is that you will be just as happy without the latest new product, in fact you will be more so because you will search for joy and meaning elsewhere.
I am beginning to think the same way about success. An acquaintance of ours used to send us a Christmas letter every year, you know the sort that is designed to make you feel inadequate about your own life because everyone has been promoted and the kids have got fifteen A* at GCSE. Then they had a really difficult year - we got no letter and they did not get in touch with us ever again, we only heard on the grapevine what had happened. In spite of writing to us every year, they had built up a barrier of their own success and perfection and sadly we were not the sort of friends that they could be their real selves in front of.
Jesus was born into poverty and stigma in dangerous and difficult circumstances. He came to be flesh and blood and part of the message of Christmas is that we do not need to be afraid to be our very human selves. God delights in our growing and learning but he does not care how rich, clever, beautiful or successful we are and sometimes these things can be barriers to us drawing close to him.
I wish you a simple and joyful Christmas this year :)