Thoughts from Cause and Effect World: Don Leka
I want to share with you something that our family decided several years ago that has made all the difference in our enjoying the holiday season. Namely, we all agreed to stop exchanging gifts at Christmastime.
When we removed the economic burden and joyless hassle of shopping and wrapping and sending consumer items to each other, we found the freedom to concentrate on the other, should I say the real, purpose of the holidays. You know, getting together with friends and family, celebrating the religious or spiritual aspects of the holidays, enacting or creating traditions to commemorate this special time of the year.
If a situation arises that truly calls for some sort of gift-giving gesture, we make a charitable donation in the name of the gift recipient – say to a homeless shelter, or to one of my favorites, Heifer International. Nothing compares to telling someone you gave a goat in his name to a needy family in Ecuador.
But what about the kids? Isn’t Christmas for them?, you may ask. Well, my modest proposal is intended to reduce suffering, not enhance it, so if you are worried that the kids would be sorely disappointed if they were denied a long-anticipated morning devoted to tearing open numerous packages, then go right ahead – just make it for the kids only. But you might consider just what lessons your kids learn from this ritual, and whether some alternatives are better. Try simple changes such as giving presents at unexpected times over the holiday period; this random schedule can also make it easier to avoid or explain the myth of Santa Claus.
Of course not everyone wants to decline being part of the shopfest. If you enjoy the bustling crowds and you are eager to arrive at the shopping mall at 6 a.m. on Black Friday, this proposal is not for you. But in our family, the day after Thanksgiving is for sharing a leisurely dim sum lunch at a Chinese restaurant – now that is my idea of a great holiday tradition.
Then there is the holiday dilemma: real Christmas trees or fake? There is no dilemma for my daughter in Boulder, Colorado. She goes out and finds an attractive dead branch, perhaps 4 or 5 feet long, and strips away any remaining leaves. Then she and her two kids set up the branch and place all their decorations on it. The economics and the symbolism are far superior to wondering which exploitative seasonal tree industry should receive our dollar. And I think it looks terrific.
Please don’t take my commentary as a traditional rant against the commercialization of Christmas. Retailers have every right to try and hijack the holidays for their purposes. But it is not your patriotic duty to go along with them and let them do it.
And I am not here to denounce materialism in modern life. If you want to own lots of things, maybe to play with them or just look at them or display them to impress other people, go right ahead, with my blessing
I have a more subversive message buried within this proposal of not giving gifts. That is, God did not command, request, or even suggest that you give somone a gift at Christmastime. God has confirmed to me that she never said any such thing. That goes for all the holiday traditions, which are 200 years old or less. But whether a particular tradition is ancient or a Disney invention, you have the power to pick and choose which traditions are worth keeping and which are a drag. That power is liberating, and I commend it to you.
The approach I am describing with respect to Christmas is to decide for yourself what parts make sense to you and make you and your family happy, and then ignore the parts that do not make sense or make you unhappy. The reference point is your own common sense, not what you are told or what everyone else is doing.
In fact, I confess to following this approach in just about everything. But this recommendation becomes controversial when one moves to areas that are governed by tradition and obedience to authority. The epithet “cafeteria Christian” comes to mind when you start choosing for yourself which parts of dogma to accept and which to reject. You especially run afoul of those members of the priestly class who do not want to give communion to those people whose political views are contrary to the priest’s dictates. But the notion of deciding for yourself about religious practices has a distinguished history. Just read Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 14, which is usually summed up in the phrase “God Alone is Lord of the Conscience.”
And if you decide to join the folks who make their own decisions, based upon reason and common sense rather than upon tradition and authority figures, all I can say is Welcome to Cause and Effect World.
Happy Holidays everybody.