This year, Christmas was not so much of a celebration but a finish line to aim for. 2013 probably clocks up as one of the suckiest years out of the last three decades. I found myself not really getting into the whole Christmas spirit because I can’t remember a time when I felt less excited about Christmas. There were lots of reasons for that. Firstly, I was really tired. Secondly, it was my first Christmas without a car – which meant that I knew I wouldn’t be able to see or do everything I usually do and that made me sad. Thirdly, I’ve found my faith and beliefs really challenged again this year. Fourthly, I realised I didn’t want to be around church. Finally, the last two Christmasses were very sad and distressing times and I didn’t want to “infect” all the happy people this year.
Being a Christian makes Christmas a confusing time. Churches these days put a lot of pressure on people to what you should do to celebrate Christmas. There are nativity plays. Guilt trips about how much money to spend on people. People getting all holier than thou. There are a squillion extra church activities. Oh and the ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ chat.
Some of the stuff I love. I don’t have a problem with nativity plays which makes the kids included in Christian celebrations and telling the story of Jesus’ birth. There are some great Christmas carols. There are also some really dodgy ones. Like Away in a Manger. The line “the little Lord Jesus no crying He makes” really gets on my nerves.
But I do get annoyed when people make me feel bad for buying my family gifts instead of ‘giving it to charity’ instead. And I really get irritated by the suggestion that people “stole” Christmas from the Christians. Sorry folks – but it was the other way around. And if you don’t agree with taking traditions from other places, what’s that Christmas tree in your church for?
So here is how I try to celebrate in a way that ties in with my own values and beliefs…
1. My Big Knit Tree
I suffer from SAD, and as a Northern Hemisphere dweller, Christmas time hits in the middle of winter. Winter Solstice (the darkest day of the year) is usually a few days before Christmas Day. The colourful hats and the fairy lights just bring some cheerfulness and brightness which helps.
The fact that it’s just a small way to support a charity that is more important than ever during the Winter Months (Age UK) is a bonus.
2. Christmas Cards
Yes, these days sending cards costs money. How easier it would be to just e-mail. But I want to show my friends and family that I’ve been thinking of them and think they are worth taking the time to write and mail a card to. Plus I know a lot of people who have benefitted from a job with the Royal Mail over the festive period.
Extra bonus is that many charities can raise funds through Christmas card sales. And for a group of us online, we’ve used the last two years to run a thing called ‘A Very Airmail Christmas’ to honour people who have died prematurely in the last year.
3. Buying Gifts
I’ll say now that I’m not at all happy when I see or hear of people getting into debt buying gifts at Christmas. I’m not chuffed when I see kids getting so much spent on them in one go which I don’t think does anything to teach them the value of money. And since I was a little girl, I’ve never seen the point in getting gifts of stuff you’ll never use and have been bought for the sake of buying something.
But yes, I do buy close friends and family gifts at Christmas. Usually I save up during the year and I also save up points through loyalty card schemes which I use to buy gifts. I also like to try and find stuff in local businesses to support their trade at Christmas time where possible. My family and I try to do lists for each other – I know some believe that’s not the point, but I do prefer it as I know I’ll be giving them something they want or need so it will be used and isn’t something that is just going to collect dust.
I do think that buying a goat for someone in Africa is a great idea in theory, but not actually a great way of telling someone that you card for them. What a goat voucher says to someone is “I think this person deserves a gift more than you” or could even be misinterpreted as a judgment on how the voucher receiver chooses to spend their own money.
I do think a great alternative is to perhaps give something like a Stewardship gift voucher, where you give a sort of gift voucher to a person and they get to choose a charitable cause to give it to. And if someone wants to give to a charity they know I support in my honour then great. But it’s a bit insulting if they choose the one they like instead!
Yes, I do get into the whole Santa thing. It’s fun, and it’s based on a story about giving being worth more than receiving. It allows kids and adults to use their imaginations and that should be encouraged in my mind.
I’ve also used plenty of stories based on ‘Santa’ to talk about the things that Jesus did. I remember last year talking to my friend’s daugther explaining something we’d been reading in the bible that Jesus taught using the animated film Arthur Christmas as an example to help her make sense of it.
Equally there are things we have to be careful with some Santa traditions and allow children to have the choice. It could be confusing to teach on stranger danger then force them to sit on a man’s lap they don’t know while they are screaming blue murder in protest.
5. Spending time relaxing and spending time with family & friends
Something I’m continually having to encourage is ignoring the pressure to do EVERYTHING. We pick and choose now so that Christmas can be a time for rest as well as all the crazy festivities. Let’s face it spending time with family can be STRESSFUL. But it’s important to try and get some unity in families, and Christmas is a time where we have a go at it! It’s lovely to be able to heat up soup, nibble on cheeses and crackers or leftover turkey and not be so concerned with cooking three times a day after Christmas Day is over!
And since Jesus was born on December 25th, who cares if things end up a little out of order and you don’t celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day due to illness or people having to work or weather…?
For me, Christmas is constantly evolving, and in the last few years I’ve become intrigued at rituals people have to celebrate different aspects of their religious and cultural history- Hanukkah, Diwali, Sinterklaas, feast of the Epiphany, Thanksgiving and so on.
What are your festive traditions, and for what reason have you created or followed them?