Or to be more specific: start thinking about ADVENT.
Stores have had Halloween crap out since the summer, and today we spotted Christmas cake and decorations whilst grocery shopping. It becomes harder and harder to tolerate all the useless, oppressive consumerism that both cheapens our special holidays and destroys lives around the world (making all of our stupid trinkets, candies, and decorations). This isn’t cynicism talking.
This is the voice of someone who finds deep, profound meaning in most of our holiday observances, and wants our western world to shift towards creating meaning within them rather than in dollar stores.
To that end, I want to encourage all of you to begin thinking about how you’ll be practicing your faith through the holidays. Whether it’s Advent/Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Halloween or another cherished holiday, start planning now about how your observances are going to enrich your lives, your families’ lives, and how these observances will teach your kids and perhaps make the world a better place.
Advent calendars were designed as fun ways to help children actually observe Advent so they were spiritually ready to observe the mass of Christ on December 25th. Advent is an ancient season for Christmas, dating back to roughly the 4th century CE, and normally begins with the Feast of St.Andrew. However, the first printed advent calendars began on December 01 carrying on through to December 24. Eventually little toys or chocolates were added for festive fun.
Now, it seems, they only add to the “gobble, gobble, gobble” of treating ourselves at the holidays. Many Christians don’t even practice Advent at all anymore, even though advent calendars are quite popular. But that’s another conversation for another day.
Whether you celebrate Advent officially or not, and you’re planning to have an advent calendar (or something similar to it), may I strongly encourage you to try some ideas?
Instead of fighting over who gets to take something out of the calendar, what if everyone helped to put something INTO the calendar? As a food bank coordinator, our biggest season for donations throughout the entire year is between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many of these donations float us throughout the next 12 months, especially during the Christmas slump — the season after Christmas when credit card debt is high and groceries are low and donations drop significantly.
- Call your local food bank and ask specifically for what they need. Perhaps they have ongoing clients who require gluten-free items; perhaps some refugees have been resettled in the area, and could use some ingredients they are more familiar with but are having trouble finding; perhaps the canned veggie shelf is low. This is a key first step because I know first hand just how many well-intentioned donations come in of which many are not usable or required. Space is limited everywhere, so begin your practice by asking the food bank, or any agency, what its specific needs are. It’s a HUGE help.
- Create a box partitioned into 24 compartments; or use a regular advent calendar to open each day with a big box below it; or make a Thanksgiving tree to tape on to the wall and write on each leaf what’s going into the box; or decorate buckets, pillow cases, or Halloween bags with the items you intend to ask friends and neighbors for (reverse Halloween).
- Each day place a dry or canned good into the box.
- When done, take your box over to the food bank and pass it off.
Maybe the the local food bank is good for donations, but other agencies could seriously use your help. Here are some other ways to observe your holiday in ways that can deepen our traditions and help take down barriers between us and people we might not understand so well.
- Perhaps your local homeless shelter could really use NEW, DRY socks. So each day someone puts in a pair of warm socks. Believe me, street life includes a lot of foot fungus and frost bitten toes. New dry socks can be a godsend (but please refer to step 1 first before starting your collection).
- Maybe the local blood bank could really use your support. Whether celebrating the full traditional/Celtic advent or the first 24 days of December, gather 24-30 friends and family members who will commit to donating blood. Each person gets to pick a day by putting their names on the calendar.
- Find a micro-business or social venture in a developing nation that is working to employ local people & assist local community development. a) drop money each into the box and purchase items from your chosen organization with the amount you’ve set aside, or b) if the business is tied to a nonprofit organization, chose a starting amount for Day 01 (for example, $0.25). Then double that amount each day (Day 02, $0.50, Day 03, $1, and so on). This option might become out of reach by the end of the month for some individual families, so this could become a group or church thing. It’s also a good exercise to do if a family is re-evaluating just how much money is actually spent on Christmas presents. If the amount you raise using this advent option is within your Christmas present budget, perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on priorities, needs, wants, and relationships.
- Put your research hats on. Often we refuse to help or accept others in need because we don’t know them or understand them. Have everyone in the family take turns putting the name of one religious institution, nonprofit organization, or support agency into the box. Check out churches different from your own (Catholic, mainline, orthodox, charismatic, etc), mosques, synagogues, Sikh gudwaras, Buddhist temples, or indigenous community centres; check out LGBTQ+ support agencies, homeless shelters, food banks, animal rescue shelters, or after school programs. Then, as a family, commit to visiting each agency throughout the upcoming year. a) CALL FIRST before visiting anyone to check and see if its appropriate to set up a tour and a Q&A; b) MAKE SURE people know your intent in coming is to learn, ask questions, and to listen. You aren’t coming to drop off pamphlets, argue theology, condemn, judge, or gawk at people walking in the door. Be sensitive to each place’s needs, and if they say “No, please don’t come”, respect the answer and move on to the next agency. c) DEBRIEF as a family — what did you learn? What was different than you thought? How could you be better neighbors and friends after learning what you’ve learned?
- Many after school programs and youth programs rely on various forms of art interventions/therapy/programming to engage their kids. Instead of food, put different art supplies in the box each day. I can say with 100% certainty that anyone would be THRILLED to have a full box of brand new art supplies coming their way! (pencil crayons, pastels, finger paints, brushes, pencils, different kinds of paper, music, paints, clay, glue…be creative!)
- Are there any college students in your churches? Families? Neighborhoods? Most students are thankful and relieved to have a break with their loved ones over the holidays, but often stress over having to return to dorm life. Some students don’t get to go home at call. Turn your advent calendar into a care package! Whether it’s delivered to a student before Christmas (a box that might include an open invitation to Christmas dinner would be great), or delivered just before/after they return to school, toiletries, snacks, music, school supplies, and homemade cookies (check for allergies!) are always welcome.
I hope this post has given you all some practical ways we can all begin to break the consumerism chains in our lives, deepen our practices and observances, and even step out of our little worlds in order to see life through the eyes of people we don’t know. The stores already have a jump on our holidays.
Let’s jump right back.