“I don’t need anything.” That was the standard response my dad would supply every year when asked what he wanted for Christmas. If I was insistent, “C’mon, Dad!” He’d usually follow up with, “Just love one another…” No doubt he truly desired that my brothers and I got along, but he just wasn’t getting it. For goodness sake, I was looking for something to spend my money on. I was a successful babysitter with cash burning a hole in my Jordache jeans pocket. I wanted to feel a part of the whirring consumer machine at the mall like everybody else. I planned to prove my love for family with a dazzling gadget or name brand clothing item. As much as I’d like to blame it on being a silly 15-year-old who coveted her subscription to Seventeen Magazine more than her Catholic school education, I still feel that pull to commercialize Christmas today. More than 3 decades later it’s just as strong—that allure to buy the perfect hostess gift that will make everyone at the party oooh and aaah, or find the greatest new anti-aging skincare product for a friend which makes me more influential than Oprah.
I’m no Grinch. While I know buying gifts can be a fun part of Christmas, most of us have taken a sharp left turn into banana-land. My dad actually got it right. Christmas has become tantamount to buying things and being busy. But busyness is NOT of God. Jesus is not the God of rushing and racing, snapping up the best parking spot and joining the masses at the mall scrounging for the hottest deals. We Christians know better. It’s time we make some changes as we approach one of the holiest days of the year. I’m not suggesting we boycott all stores this Advent. I’m talking about implementing a few small modifications in order to make an impact and bring the focus back to the real beauty of this season. Let’s send a message to the rest of the world! Christ is the greatest gift to mankind. Let’s emulate our Lord and consider what He would like us to give. To help myself stay on track, I’ve compiled a list of No-Shopping, Counter-Cultural Christmas Gifts. I hope this helps you as well to steer clear of the consumerism trap that is lurking at every Starbucks street corner.
Essential No-Shopping, Counter-Cultural Christmas Gift List:
1. Offer an hour of Adoration or Prayer for someone you love
If you have a long list of people, you could consider splitting the hour in quarters. That covers four people. Jot down the names of those you will be praying for and then truly go to the mats for them. Plead with God to help them in whatever endeavor or need they have. Interfacing with the Blessed Sacrament for another person is quite powerful. It is generally free from distraction and the act of being selfless by interceding for another of His children can be very pleasing to God. Write a brief, personal note letting the person know that you spent a specified amount of time in prayer for them before the Holy Eucharist. Or if you’d prefer to keep it confidential, à la secret Santa, pray, then stand back and marvel at the Christmas goodness that abounds.
2. Volunteer an hour of your time sharing a talent or charism for a friend
I’ve been known to offer my services to friends as a declutter partner. Purging clutter is something that comes naturally to me. And if you have a pulse, chances are you have areas in your dwelling that require some streamlining. Most of us can tackle this solo, but it’s always more fun with a friend. Not everyone is a declutter queen though. Maybe you are a whiz at writing resumés, have a knack with meal planning, cooking, or yard work. Or maybe you’d make a great exercise partner. Just consider your God given gifts and then share!
3. For the stressed-out married couple on your list, offer babysitting services for a date night
But don’t just show up and expect to sit on your phone, or pop in a movie and veg out. Bring a Mary Poppins bag of fun for the kids. Draw pictures, play charades, act out a play. Engage with the kids. Not only is this an amazing gift for the adults in your life, but the kids will also consider this better than Disneyland. Remember, don’t leave any messes! In fact, if you’re feeling especially charitable, leave the playroom neater than when you arrived. You’ll be exhausted by the end of the night, but you’ll sleep better knowing you’ve contributed to keeping a friend’s marriage strong.
4. Make a phone call or a visit in which you only ask questions about the other person
This is really hard to do! We naturally want to talk about ourselves. Dedicate an hour of your day listening to a friend or family member. Set up a time when they can just chat about what is going on in their lives. Pretend you’re Barbara Walters interviewing the most sought-after celebrity. Instead of asking the infamous Barbara Walters question, “What kind of tree would you be?” use the icebreaker “What would you be the patron saint of and why?” For instance, I could probably be the patron saint of bad hair days. Listen intently. Everyone has a great story to tell. This is especially nice for the elderly in our lives who have the time and inclination to talk. So let them talk and possibly share some laughter. Key: remember to listen joyfully rather than with gritted teeth.
5. Compose a heartfelt, handwritten letter of affirmation
Some of my best gifts and most treasured possessions are kind words written by loved ones over the years. When I turned 30, a dear friend wrote a “top 30 memories of our friendship.” I keep it in my bedside table and pull it out when I need a smile. If writing’s not your thing, make a list of the top ten qualities you admire in someone. No sentences or grammar required. Even if you’re not a super wordsmith, write a letter detailing what you love about the other person. Shakespeare is not required. Just share a personal story when they most impressed you. Or express the impact they’ve had on your life. This works well for children as well. I have a letter my mom wrote when I was about 15 and all I cared about was trolling the mall with my friends. Needless to say, nothing I bought back then has remained. But I still have the letter. And if you need inspiration, here it is:
Dear Mary Jo,
I know this letter will come as no surprise to you, just as I know it’s no surprise how much Dad and I love you!
You probably don’t know, though, how many times after you’d fallen asleep, I’ve tiptoed into your room to kiss your cheek or touch your hair, just because I love you so.
Do you know how proud we’ve been each time you made a mature decision to do the right thing or how anguished we felt when you were sick and we didn’t know what to do to help you?
You’ve given us such joy since the first moment we recognized your presence in my womb. Time may someday come between us or distance or even the friction that occurs because we’re two such different people, but nothing can change the love I have for you.
Dad and I pray that your life will be rich and full, that any sorrows be slight and swiftly gone. We wish you a strong faith and the joy in your own children that we’ve known in you!
God be with you! Remember always that you are truly loved!
Mom and Dad
A cherished, no-shopping, counter-cultural gift indeed. Now start working on your real, Christ-centered Christmas list. There are exactly 14 no-shopping days left!