This is a bit of a tough post to write, but I owe it to you good people who are taking this time to read my little Advent reflections (thank you! I pray that it was a blessing to you!) to tell you the truth.
I wanted to tell you about how Scott, my husband and true partner in life, and I came to where we are with Christmas presents this year. We did not get there right away, and so please, please, please do not take this as a prescription unless it fits your life and circumstances. But do take the time to think about your habits and how they got that way, because that made a huge change in our lives. Check Scott’s blog later today for his take on how this all happened for us.
A few years ago, Scott and I went through a process of what you could call minimalizing, naturalizing, downsizing, something like that. It started with what we ate, and went from there. Without going into terrific detail, we moved from eating mostly the Standard American Diet (just google it if you want to be totally scared) to eating a plant-based, local, organic diet. The weird thing was that this was during the years when we had the lowest combined salaries (not counting seminary!) of our married life together. We had these babies and were feeding them as organically as we could, and I think we just had some realizations that we don’t get a second chance at this, and we wanted our lives to be different.
After we started eating differently (not all the time….we aren’t insane or purists, by any means, but we do our best), we found that we were acting differently too. I am not, by nature, a generous person. Scott, who is my biggest fan, will even tell you this. I am NOT generous. But I want to be! So I started praying for a spirit of generosity, and things began to happen in our lives.
One of the things that felt wrong to us after we had this sort of “conversion” experience was Christmas. A couple years ago, we started saving for Christmas presents in our monthly budget, and realized that we were spending what the average American spent, nearly $900! This included the tree, parties, etc, but still! That seemed like a crazy amount to us, but with two kids and the two of us getting nice presents for each other, it all added up.
Last year, we wanted it to change. We both had the thought that if we, an average American couple who make decent salaries as pastors but are not “rich” by American standards, can spend that kind of money on Christmas, then we could afford to give it away, too. So we decided that whatever we spent on Christmas, we would give that amount away.
We did it.
It was one of the best Christmases I can remember. Not because of what we gave or what we got or whatever, but because when we opened our presents, I could look my children in the eye and tell them that Christmas was about Jesus, and that’s why we told them to pick one or two things that they REALLY wanted. Our joy was not diminished….it was doubled….by giving the percentage that Jesus suggested, which was 100% (10% is in the Old Testament!).
The gifts we give, we think carefully about now. I don’t haphazardly pick up a gift here and there, like I used to, both because we don’t need it, and because, honestly, I don’t want to have to match it! I try to buy fair trade or make something for my family of origin, who requests it now, and for things like teacher presents (fair trade chocolate is the BEST, and teachers love it!) so that we can still give while the person makes a fair wage for his or her work (full disclosure….this post was inspired by Holy Trinity’s Fair Trade Market, happening tonight at HT, but it’s not the whole story, obviously!).
The other unintended effect is that this year we’ll have no, or very little, credit card bills. We’re spending less on Christmas than ever before, and giving even more. I hope and pray that this proportion will increase as the kids get bigger, until we are giving most and getting least.
It took us five years to get to this place, and we’re not finished….or I should say, God isn’t finished with where we’re going. Advent and Christmas are for giving to the least of these to remember the one who came to us, poor and in a manger, and I don’t want to ever forget that, with my mind OR my checkbook.
*here are some links that are helpful to us and who we trust with our gift:
Serrv, the Fair Trade shop for Lutheran World Relief
Good Gifts: animals, clean water, worldwide (managed by the ELCA)
The Advent Conspiracy: why we do what we do and some great resources