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Holiday Considerations

November 13, 2008

Here we are again with the holiday season broaching. No doubt many have already begun, and some may have even finished their Christmas shopping by now. The hustle and bustle of the season will come and go, and we hope (HOPE) that it will somehow be different from years gone by when we’ve experienced more stress and financial strain than is healthy to bear. All in the season supposedly meant to be filled with love, joy, peace, and thanksgiving.

In these obviously unstable financial times, without a doubt the economy will have some bearing on the holiday season. Personally, the time from about November 15 through January 1 has always been a “tight” season. The thing is, I love the holidays. I love the festivities and the lights. I love the idea of my children being blessed and happy. But down deep … underneath … the stress does become overwhelming and too often I find myself just wishing it would be over. AND I hate having this attitude — even an inkling of it. So every year I vow, “Next year will be different!”

So now, it’s next year. Can it really be different?

Last year, a Christian environmentalist, (no that’s not an oxymoron), named Dr. Bill McKibben spoke at a Berea College convocation. From this service, he shared ideas from a book that he wrote in 1998, titled “Hundred Dollar Holidays – The Case For A More Joyful Christmas.” I immediately went to Amazon and bought two copies of the book (one my own library and one to give away). I encourage all to check out this same read … it’s very enlightening.

The gist of his book traces the origins of our present day holiday “traditions” finding that many (if not most) have NOTHING to do with Jesus birth, but more to do with commercialism, economy and marketing. From this knowledge, he sets out on a personal endeavor to “simplify” the holidays by recognizing first of all, “what should be Central to the celebration,” and that particularly in our western society “getting more stuff that we really don’t need,” is NOT AT ALL what makes our holidays special, memorable or blessed.

I dare say that there are very few who read this blog who will disagree with that. In fact, I recently conducted a survey (as part of my newly revamped, restored, resurrected Salt & Light Ministry) to see how people process or view Christmas, gift-giving and most-treasured memories.

Here’s what my survey found:

33 % said that “it wouldn’t be Christmas without gifts”

26% said that “gifts just create more stress”

40% said that “gifts don’t mean much to adults, but kids need presents”

There’s an idea that is cited in the book, but I’ve heard it time and time again about shopping and gift giving at Christmas time. It’s “we spend money we don’t have, on people we don’t like, for things they don’t want or need.” Cyncial, but sometimes true.

When it comes to our Christmas budgets, most likely each of us have spent far more than we ever intended to spend. Gifts are just one aspect of holiday spending. There’s groceries (and the extras to make all the treats), gas and utilities for the light shows and such. The survey asked how much was spent on “gifts” and these are the results:

20 % said that they spent more than $1,000

40% said that they spent more than $500

40% said that they spent more than $100

And 0% spent less than $100.

Now many are obviously asking, “How in the world could anyone spend less than $100 on Christmas gifts without feeling like a Scrooge?”

Bill McKibben encountered that very attitude in his mission to just “try and see.” He convinced many in his small Vermont congregation to go along with him on this journey. Local business people and national folks too criticized him for being a GRINCH and taking the joy “out” of Christmas by encouraging people to NOT SPEND SO MUCH MONEY.

Imagine that! This is especially ironic in light of my survey results in which the most overwhelming response to “describe your most favorite Christmas memory,” had only to do with being with family, sharing a good meal, spending time together. Only 2% of those answering the survey even mentioned gifts at all.

Here’s a few excerpts:

My sister and I use to come back to my house after our family Christmas on Christmas Eve and have hot chocolate. We would talk about our hopes and dreams for the next year. Then we would try to fill each others stocking without being seen. I miss her.

Dad’s Christmas tree pancakes …

When my dad used to bring in a big tree branch and it would be a cold winter night and we would all help put the tree up!

The year my son at age 2 or 3 joined me on the church stage unbeknownst to me as I led worship at the Christmas Eve Service

Going to see old-fashioned Christmas plays …

When my parents invited folks over for gatherings throughout the holidays …

You see, these things have very little to do with spending money on gifts, but still have a great deal to do with GIVING and JOY and the TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS.

In fact, the survey indicated that “what would make this Christmas season exceptional” was …

· Family …

· Being together …

· Family Unity and Reconciliation …

· Down-time …

· Less stress …

Could it be that we have been investing in the wrong way during the holidays? Is it easier to just spend and give money or gifts, than to invest time, conversation, and energy into relationships.

Honestly … no, really be honest! How many times have you re-gifted? Bought a gift just for the sake of giving “something.” Wondered why you got the gift that you got? Never used the gift that you got? Saw a gift that you gave in a yard sale? Picked up broken pieces of a gift two days after Christmas? Returned a gift?

Now, in light of some other tidbits that Bill McKibben shares, after the frenzy of Christmas morning … and you look at all the paper and bows that are torn through, lying in the floor, don’t you feel just a little let-down about the money you spent on wrapping paper, bows and such now that all your good intentions are going in the trash?

Boy, I do sound like a Scrooge! But the point is … if we were more purposeful, thoughtful and even “frugal” in our gifting … perhaps we could simplify and de-stress and just sit down with family and friends and enjoy the holidays.

Again, I love the festivities. I love the lights and the feelings that well up in my heart as I look into the eyes of my child. But I have to wonder, what will he make note of in a future survey about Christmas? Will it be the “metal detector” that he’s asking for … or could it be Christmas caroling at a nursing home?

Incidentally, chatting with my sister and mother recently, we were going over the pros and cons of having a “family” gathering during the holidays. (an event we’ve avoided for several years due to family conflicts and undue stress)

Money is always an issue. Some go overboard … some jump off the ship and drown. But my sister said and then my mom related that an aunt said the same thing, “The best Christmas we have ever had was Dollar Christmas.”

It was in the late 1990’s. No one had any money … and for far too long we had tried to draw names to alleviate some of the financial strain only to create more conflict because the price range was never followed and feelings were hurt. There were also members of the family who were single parents, or just single, who had not received a present in years.

So I came up with a plan. Dollar Christmas. There were about 15 of us in the family. So, I declared that we would each purchase a gift for every person in the family, but that you absolutely could NOT spend more than $1.00 on each gift. At first, I was met with great disgust and disharmony. But then as some began to “think critically” about this opportunity and the options … it became a bit of a SCAVENGER HUNT to find such gifts.

The outcome was quite enjoyable. Some made cookies and candies. Others easily went to the Dollar Tree and Dollar General Stores for ideas. We got practical gifts … funny gifts … conversational gifts … gifts with coupons … homemade gifts … gifts that made a memory.

Everyone received presents. Everyone was happy. We all brought food to share (ethnic and festive foods … for further learning experience). And it was a great Christmas!!!

So yes, a Hundred Dollar Holiday is absolutely possible. It’s just about making the “main thing” the main thing, and committing to this ideal.

Happy Holidays to all.

Feel free to share your holiday stories and memories in the comments or email me at

One Comment leave one →
  1. badhousekeeping permalink
    November 13, 2008 9:37 pm

    I couldn’t appreciate this post more. As someone who is looking for work and has family members whose hours have been drastically cut back, I’ve been looking for ways to tighten the Christmas budget, and get back to what should be an enjoyable holiday.

    The first Christmas after I got married was one of the best for me, although it was also the tightest. My husband and I put up an old artificial tree that his parents used when he was a kid, even though it took up most of our tiny living room apartment. We really wanted to have a party for our friends, and we made a trip to the dollar store to buy 10-15 items (same number as our expected guests), numbered each one, and had them draw for their presents. They loved it.

    So we all crammed in, ate a big pot of vegetable stew (cheap and delicious), and put on old funny christmas music. And okay, we had some eggnog. Good times.

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