Last week, for the first time, I braved a shop selling ‘Christmassy’ things. I stood at a distance and cast my eye over the sparkly wares. It only took one look. I felt nauseous; I felt dizzy and disorientated. I got tangled up in some shiny baubles before hastening towards the exit, gasping for air, only to spot a trail of tinsel following me, the sticky price tag stuck to my shoe. The freezing chill outside was much more inviting than the claustrophobia and sea of frantic shoppers behind me. I fled home before being lured into any other glittery high street shops masquerading as grottos.
Normally, I don’t mind shopping too much in short bursts but there’s something about Christmas shopping that gives me a funny turn. It brings me out in hives. It gives me panic attacks. Maybe it’s the lights or the heating whacked up so much that I almost internally combust while filling up my trolley and then nearly shiver to death when I finally make it outside.
It could be the panic buys, the last-minute mad dash to the shops on Christmas Eve or spending money I don’t have. I just can’t take the pressure of it all.
It’s not that I’m down on Christmas. Quite the opposite. Stripped back to the startling original story, it’s breathtaking.
Emmanuel remains one of the most earth-shattering, mind-blowing things that has ever taken place in the history of the world. The creator’s hands becoming flesh, the brash poverty of the King’s birth, light shining in our winter darkness. How I feel about this can can barely be articulated, let alone expressed through pulling a cracker or even in the giving of a gift.
In all honesty and perhaps more conservatively than I would like to admit to my Bourgeois reading allies, I just can’t stand what Christmas has been reduced to: tacky, plastic, cheap.
And to go on, now I’ve begun the tirade, the huge debt we ride up on our credit cards; spend, spend, spending because we have to get something, anything for people that we barely know; the excessive, quite frankly gluttonous quantities of food we eat while over a billion people in the world live in abject poverty. The subsequent gloom and despair we feel in January because the sparkly decorations have been packed away, the chocolates have all been eaten and the bills have started to flood in; with the glitz and chintz long gone, all that is left are the flu-filled faces staring glumly back at us on the tube.
Ok I hear you, I hear me – Scrooge – has entered the building and my rage is about to explode. Some of you have stopped reading already and turned up Mariah Carey. I don’t think I’m mean, I love giving people presents, so I feel the need to whip out my Santa’s sack of alternative ideas to soften the hard edges of another plastic Christmas and to give your heart a warm glow:
- Buy from local or smaller shops. Avoid buying everything from the main high street stores
- Buy fair trade products
- Make an active decision to boycott a company, such as Amazon, who have been avoiding paying their fair share of tax.
- Buy some presents from charity shops. The music is better, you get more for your money and if no one likes their presents, at least you’ve bought them for a good cause.
- For the person who has everything…give them a goat, some chickens or sheep for a family faraway who will massively appreciate it with Oxfam Unwrapped.
- Donate at least 10 per cent of what you spend on presents to a charity of your choice
- Make something! Not everyone is Kirstie Allsopp, but most people can rustle up some home-made cookies for the neighbours and they’ll bring a smile to your whole street. You could also make calendars with holiday snaps or family photos on them, your very own book, decorations for the tree or even home-made candles. You could try writing a story/poem/song or putting together a funny video to send to your friends.
- Make Christmas cards with stickers, stamps or your own designs. Think creatively about what message you’d like to share with your friends and family.
- Have your neighbours over for a Christmas drink and a mince pie.
- Volunteer at a night shelter for the homeless, hear some incredible stories and meet some amazing people.
- Sing-a-long to your favourite Christmas carols at top volume – make sure your neighbours can hear or invite them to join in.
- Visit someone that you wouldn’t normally and take some of those home-made cookies along.
- Remember those ones who’ve had a rough year or for whom Christmas is a difficult time
- For the really radical among you, join the Buy Nothing for Christmas movement. Started by Canadian Mennonites 10 years ago. These guys have the anti-consumerist Christmas cracked with loads of fun, quirky ideas.
I particularly like making things at Christmas; there is something for me in making that feels like the ultimate rebellion against consumerism and a faint reflection of the incarnation itself. Admittedly I am a bit of a home-spun hippie but there are some small ways to make Christmas simpler, dare I say holier and less like Father Coca-Cola with a long white beard on speed and riding a reindeer.
I hope you find your own way to celebrate Emmanuel; that you have friends and loved ones to share the joy with, and you won’t spend the whole of the festive season untangling fairy lights or hunting for the nut-cracker.
And lastly, don’t despair when you’re trudging back to work with a sore throat brewing – Jesus is still the light of the world on 2 January.