“In 2015 I may wrestle with the call of the mall and gifts I think people need, but again I’ll try to remember the joy of my son’s goat gift, move closer to what Jesus would do through radical generosity, and not meet January 2016 with a stack of regrets.”
The Christmas retail machine is now unleashed and, despite our best intentions, will take many of us to places we don’t want to go, including excessive spending and the sobering moment of January bill payments.
Statistics Canada rounded up December 2013’s retail extravaganza and reported that Christmas toys, games and hobby supplies, including electronic games, accounted for $401.4 million in sales; $528.6 million was spent on televisions and audio and video equipment; and $176.9 million in cosmetics and fragrances. These three categories alone represent over one billion dollars in December-only sales. Retailers scrambling for some of these annual transactions begin hauling out the Christmas decorations as early as September to set the stage for holiday fever.
The first year that the commercialism of Christmas stunned me was after a trip to Mozambique in November 1990. This was at the end of a 30-year civil war where nearly one million people died. The children and families I saw were living in some of the worst and most volatile conditions I had ever encountered. I saw matchstick thin children, kids carrying automatic rifles, and so many people who were severely injured from exploded landmines.
One week later I was standing in the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam surrounded by wealthy travellers, glittering Christmas trees, and heavily perfumed airport duty-free shops. The juxtaposition of sheer poverty and instability to the excess and privilege of many was overwhelming. It was like I’d entered one world from another, and neither felt real.
Every Christmas since that trip to Mozambique, I’ve attempted to keep things simpler and to focus more on God’s gift to the world in the birth of Jesus. Something happens to me, though, and I get sucked into the hyperbole. In January, sitting at my desk with a pile of bills to pay, I ponder: Am I in this situation because of a lack of self-control or is it that I love giving gifts?
It’s probably a bit of both.
So how does someone honour another person with a gift and do something positive at the same time?
Gift catalogues, like ERDO’s, are born from a desire to honour people you love with a gift; but in a wonderful twist, a person in need receives the physical gift. Instead of another box of chocolates or a tie, the gift of a chicken, a goat or a mosquito net says “I celebrate you” in a radical way.
My youngest son, Mitchell, said before last Christmas that he didn’t want any material gifts. When he opened up his card on Christmas day that said he got someone else a goat, he loved it! We’d enclosed a card explaining that the goat would be given to a widowed woman living in northern Kenya. The women in this particular program operated by ERDO’s partner are from ethnic groups that traditionally lived in conflict. To bring radical Jesus-inspired change to the situation, a goat, camel or donkey is given to a widow with the provision that she takes the firstborn of the animal and gives it to a woman of the opposite group.
The gift of a goat to my son became a gift of peace and reconciliation between contending women. It also became a gift of milk to her children, and with breeding, a source of food and economic security. The gift also demonstrated the love of Jesus because it helped to take care of widows and orphans.
Beyond our own children, my husband and I give Christmas gifts to our ChildCARE Plus sponsored children. While we can’t be there to see these children open their gifts, the photos that arrive months later showing them in a new outfit or holding items that were purchased are fantastic.
In doing some research on how children in our ChildCARE Plus program celebrate Christmas, global workers from around the world shared how much the children love hearing from their sponsors during Christmas and receiving the small, practical gifts.
Sometimes the gifts include a toy but are mainly very practical items like a blanket, a pair of shoes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, new clothes or even a chicken. One partner in Sri Lanka wrote, “Every year the children eagerly wait to receive their card and gift from their sponsor, as mostly it will be their one and only present.”
The Christmas cards that sponsors send along with family photographs become important gifts to the children too. Our partner in Honduras said, “Cards and letters from sponsors are also treasured. They are usually still hanging on the walls in their homes long after they arrive.” Often these cards contain messages of Jesus and of hope for the future. They are gifts of inspiration for the children.
Speaking of inspiration, imagine if just 10 per cent of the $10 billion projected to be spent during Christmas brought things like goats, camels, fresh water, mosquito nets and chickens to people in need. What a Christmas that would be!
Recognizing that the Christmas retail machine is coming, acknowledging that it’s not normal, and taking steps to control it can have amazing outcomes. I’ve seen that gift catalogue purchases can inspire more generosity in family members, facilitate peace building, and take some of the sting out of poverty.
In 2015 I may wrestle with the call of the mall and gifts I think people need, but again I’ll try to remember the joy of my son’s goat gift, move closer to what Jesus would do through radical generosity, and not meet January 2016 with a stack of regrets.
“Do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).
ERDO (Emergency Relief & Development Overseas) is the humanitarian agency of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ERDO is involved in four key areas: Crisis Response, Food Assistance, ChildCARE Plus (Child Sponsorship), and Community Development. Carol Froom is ERDO’s director of resource development. See ERDO’s 2015 Christmas gift items on the previous pages or online at www.erdo.ca/giftcatalogue.