From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace: Balancing Christmas consumerism

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Dec. 6, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

The first snowfall nearly coincided with the start of Advent, jumpstarting Christmas anticipation at our house.

“When can we get our Christmas tree?” asked the children. “Can we go ice skating?”

I watched the flakes fall, hoping enough snow would accumulate for me to get out my cross-country skis. I also look forward to curling up with a hot mocha and spending time with the Advent Scripture readings. With our nation at war I especially welcome their message of repentance, hope and the promise of peace.

All this gives me energy to take up the challenge of guiding my family through the holiday season. For it is a challenge trying to celebrate the birth of Christ while the prevailing culture celebrates the purchasing power of the mightiest nation on earth.

Just in time for Christmas this year, Microsoft introduced its new video game console, the $300 Xbox. Also in the race for our shopping dollars: Nintendo’s new system, the $200 GameCube. Both compete with Sony’s Playstation and Playstation2, already gracing 33 million American households. Says J. Allard, Chief Pusher for Microsoft’s new gizmo: “I want an Xbox next to every television. [Microsoft has] been very successful in changing the way people work 9-to-5. Now we have to change the way people play from 5-to-9.”

How can we compete with a giant like Microsoft? A company dedicating half a billion dollars to promote its style of Christmas, its notion of what’s important in our lives.

But compete we must. While we can’t completely insulate our families from the culture, we can refuse to be taken in by the false glitter of consumerism. We can offer our children what truly fills and delights the heart.

No matter how many toys on their wish list, what kids really want, toddler to teenager, is a sense of belonging and security, and a feeling of value gained from using their own gifts.

Over the years we’ve developed a Christmas tradition in our family that attempts to provide this. It requires time and organization, but it helps us strengthen family bonds and recognize each other’s uniqueness.

We begin Advent with a critical look at the calendar, slashing without mercy all but the most necessary activities. Then each person chooses one fun event in which the family can participate together. For instance, a game night with hot chocolate and cookies, a special movie, or snow sledding.

Over the years the children have made unique choices that celebrate their individual talents or preferences. We’ve enjoyed an evening of drawing cartoons, a family concert including varying levels of band instruments, a Twister tournament and ice-skating. These plans go on the calendar along with dates for the school program, decorating the tree and Reconciliation Service. It gives children something to look forward to besides presents and we often schedule the activities in late December to lessen after-Christmas letdown.

Another way to shift the emphasis away from mindless consumerism is to shop for a gift for the local “Giving Tree” or hats and gloves to drop by the homeless shelter. Since even President Bush is urging us to buy, buy, buy this year, look for ways to spend and still be in solidarity with the majority of humankind who don’t have the luxury:

  • Buy environmentally friendly local products that help your neighbors earn a living wage. For instance, buy books from an independent bookstore, handcrafted furniture, organic produce or pottery at a farmer’s market.
  • Support musicians and artists by attending concerts and buying art.
  • Eat at local restaurants and leave a big tip. Give gift certificates for house cleaning, tree pruning, massage, or yoga.
  • Shop for handcrafts from developing countries and sold through organizations which guarantee workers a just wage for their labor and skill.

    Industry analysts say video games have pre-empted low-tech fun like Monopoly and Scrabble. Will we let them take Christmas, too? Let’s not trade the riches of relationships and the joy of creativity for the empty twinkle and tinsel of the latest contrivance money can buy.

    (Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane freelance journalist and children’s writer.)

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