Christmas is the time of year when everything is supposed to sparkle and there’s joy and laughter all around. For many people, it’s become pretty much divorced from any connection to the original Christmas story and it’s now an opportunity to catch your breath and take a bit of time out as winter begins to set in, or a chance to celebrate with friends and family, and, increasingly, it can be just a rather unholy festival of consumption, excess and acquisitiveness.
For many families, the pressure to celebrate Christmas with fancy food and presents puts them under enormous financial pressure which can leave them with months of debt. Consumer counselling agencies in the US typically see a 25% increase in the number of people seeking help in January and February, driven by holiday bills that haunt consumers like the ghost of Christmas past. People in the UK spend more than anywhere else in Europe on Christmas presents and, unsurprisingly, there are more people in debt after Christmas here than anywhere else.
Jimmy Witherspoon’s How I Hate to See Christmas Come Around brings us face to face with someone doing their best to scrounge up the money to buy a few Christmas presents. He checks his bank account, but finds only 15 cents. He tries the loan company and gets no joy there. So he goes to the pawn shop to pawn his radio, but gets refused. The result? “No chicken, no turkey, no cranberries, no Christmas tree.” When Christmas comes around, “It always bring me down.”
Funny how the Christmas story which was set in the most humble of circumstances – a baby laid in a cattle trough – and where some of the lead actors were poverty-stricken shepherds, has been twisted to become an excuse for a blow-out of commerce and indulgence, isn’t it? For sure Christmas is an occasion for hope and joy – the birth of a baby, through whose life, death and resurrection the world can be transformed – but perhaps it’s time to resist the tide of advertising and the sale of a particular type of “traditional Christmas” and to replace it with a focus, not only on friends and family, but on those in our society and world who need a little hope. Here are some organizations that might help you do that: