Hot Glue-Gun Gifts: Another Blog About Christmas
If I told you that I don’t start gathering Christmas presents for people in January, I would be lying through my teeth. I LOVE giving gifts, and I LOVE (the idea of) simplicity. Here is my dilemma.
There are two women living inside of me who want very different things this time of year. We’ll call them Rain and Paula.
Paula starts making a list in her notes app by January 15th of all the folks she will be giving gifts to come twelve months from now. Paula thinks she has lots of money, and Paula is greedy for good wrapping paper (the Hobby Lobby kind). She doesn’t have a ton of time in and amongst the hurricane that is her life, but she wants people to feel special and loved. So her avenue is buying quality, personalized gifts for folks—which also satisfies something in her that needs to shop every blue moon or two.
Rain is a woman of the earth and the Bible. She is still riding the high of Advent through the months of January-March. Her journal is special to her, and it is filled with lots of thoughts about the grief, and lamenting, and hope, and expectation, and waiting that is the few weeks leading up to Christmas. Her decorations are simple…one tree (a hand-me-down), a box of meaningful ornaments (gathered from trips with her loved ones…no Santas), and the wreath with four candles which will light the way for Christ. Rain thinks she has lots of time. If she gives gifts this year (outside of the gifts of love and encouragement), they will be up-cycled from her own blue trash bin. And she can do this, because Rain doesn’t have to buy the groceries, or fold the laundry, or work a 40-hour week. And all the people she loves are anti-materialistic (as is she).
You have never seen a cat fight like when Paula and Rain go at it. It is a battle of identity and intentions that result only in a confused woman who is crocheting pot-holders while simultaneously wrapping a remote control helicopter. Weeping and eating both flax seed chips and pizza rolls all the while (Paula and Rain also run the diet department of my life).
But here is the truth, between all the inner-dialogue of a multiple-personality-crisis: I am in the 6th year of a process of doing Christmas better. And maybe it being a process is ok for a little while.
Six years ago, while in college, Christmas was a blur. We finished finals, had enough time to spend (borrowed) money (from parents) to get everyone a gift from Youree Drive (which might as well be Hell itself during this season), get them wrapped, and get home with enough steam to blow through the food and the fun before classes started again. Christmas never quite felt like Christmas with all the rush and waste.
Five years ago, we went through a sermon series at the church I was attending called Advent Conspiracy. It was the first time a church had ever challenged me to do Christmas differently and I ATE IT UP LIKE IT WAS FLAX SEED CHIPS AND PIZZA ROLLS. The four challenges were to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All. Our church set up a “make-day” in the workshop to help people create presents for their loved ones while encouraging them to take the money they would have spent and put it toward building clean water wells. This was new and exciting and a felt like good news to me. I participated to some extent but not fully, as I was still detoxing from Paula’s “shopping problem.”
Three years ago, I began to start seeing and honoring Advent for the deep and special opportunity that it is: a time to grieve a world not yet made right while joyfully waiting for the redemption that is on its way. This made Christmas feel real to me. We’d always celebrated Advent with my home church growing up, lighting the weekly candle each Sunday before the sermon. But this was the first year that Advent became personal and then communal. It made Christmas seem like it had something to say to me and to us today. Rain loooved this year.
Last year, we attempted both the making/giving more and spending less, while also donating just a little extra than we spent on gifts to things happening in our neighborhood, while also diving into one of the best Advent readings we’ve found as a community thus far: Enuma Okora’s Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent. We also started a new tradition in our community where “before we give gifts, we give thanks.” In this, we share how we are grateful to God for the year, for what He has done, for what He will do. This invited a new sense of worship and focus into our time together.
This year has been a hodge-podge of trial and error as we tackle yet another season of reclaiming Christmas. Truly I feel, in retrospect, that there are things I could have done differently, and should do differently in another round. However, with every small step backwards, I can see a couple of medium steps forward in this process of counter culturally embracing the holiday.
Here are examples from this seesaw season…
I did start (mostly) making my first gift in January of this year. However, this was more about spreading out time, and energy, and resources as to better protect advent and sanity than any other motivation (Paula was cool with it). This could sound like misplaced focus, but to be fair, I also like to make things. So while it helped check off a list, it was simultaneously therapeutic. During November, I used up the last of the wrapping paper (bought and borrowed three years ago), while re-using tissue paper and gift bags nonchalantly collected throughout the year from parties and such—the scraps of which found their way to the recycling bin, because: the earth. (Rain is floored.) There are coffee-mug-cozies under my tree that I made out of unused yarn from another project. And there is a Bed Bath and Beyond something-or-other there as well, representing all of my out-in-the-open consumerism. We have spent time in daily morning prayer with our community, lighting the advent candles and waiting on/praying for a world that awaits promised reconciliation. And we also bought our dogs a $7 Christmas bone to share, because: dogs.
I want to be an all-in, every year, consistently resolute kind of gal when it comes to Christmas and simplicity. But I am entangled and so easily re-entangled depending on the year and the mood. However, I take heart in my life’s small and evident changes that help November and December seem a little more surrendered to a bigger and more relevant story.
This year, the biggest difference from the years before is that there has been space carved out to remember with people. To remember that Christmas is about hospitality to the stranger (as Mary showed to the baby within her, as the inn-keeper offered to the rejected couple, as those in Egypt showed to the trio escaping Herod’s impending infanticide). To remember that it is about a father’s willingness to be a father to a child not born of his flesh and blood (as with Joseph). That it is about relocation into the abandoned places of a different reality and a different neighborhood (as when God put on flesh and moved into our world to show us the way). That it’s about Love showing up in a time of cultural hardship and hatred, and the promise that Love will show up again. It’s about the hundreds of years between the Old and New Testament when it seemed no one had heard from God, and yet the faithful like Anna and Simeon waited without disappointment. It’s about how our waiting now is not unlike theirs, and we trust what is to come is on its way.
So while not everything has been reconciled and settled within me, my family, or my community concerning how to approach this time, I encourage us all to do (see, say, give) something different this year. And then maybe something else different next.
Sometimes insisting that the revolution be slow means that it will actually be doable. -Julie Clawson, author of Everyday Justice
Here are some resources I have found helpful.
—This blog post written in 2011 by Jen Hatmaker has been one of my favorite explanations about the struggle that is The Christmas Conundrum. It also has some alternatives/options on how to approach gift giving, for anyone looking.
—Of course, Enuma Okoro’s book, found here on Amazon. It is filled with scriptures, prayers, and insight on the brilliance that is Advent.
—The Advent Conspiracy is a great resource for any church and/or family. It’s challenges to make stuff, spend less, and give more is solid.
—This was by far my favorite article to read about Advent this year. Written by Christena Cleveland, its listing of the things that we lament in our current world right now are real and powerful and true.
—Making an Advent Calendar can be a great way to redirect some of that materialistic energy with kids. One example being, for each day leading up to Christmas lead kids in a random act of kindness that is both fun and loving. Pinterest (calm down Paula) is a great place to find examples.
—If you are going to buy, try buying as much fairly and ethically made things as possible.
—Create new traditions that don’t include sitting in front of the TV being tempted by all of the holiday shopping ploys. Take an annual light-seeing ride with friends or family where everyone gets to drink hot chocolate in the car out of their favorite mug. Rake up your leaves and invite neighbors over for a once-a-year pile jumping evening. Make paper-chains together with each link having something you’re grateful for written on it; hang it like garland everywhere.
—Carve out some time to be still and read the words of the advent hymns, believing that they pertain to us and our world today. “I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat, of peace on earth good will to men…And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth good will to men…(my favorite verse) Then peeled the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor doth he sleep, the wrong shall fail the right prevail, with peace on earth good will to men.”
—And lastly, if you are the creative type, make some of your gifts using things you may already have (or can find at a thrift store). If you are not the creative type, try debunking money’s power by bartering with a friend. I will make you a scarf in a heartbeat in exchange for a healthy meal** or help with folding laundry. Also, I bet you have lots of other people around you who are good at things and willing to trade.
Good luck out there this year, fellow strugglers! May your holidays be more convicted and less and less conflicted because of your intentionality in the process, a little at a time.