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Christmas and the Pay-Back Mentality


The Christmas season is upon us, and it raises (once again) questions about what is the best way to celebrate it. We have never had a dogmatic teaching with regard to holidays and birthdays, but we are, on the whole skeptical of the sincerity behind much that is done traditionally to celebrate holidays.

A strong indicator of the truth in this is the fact that so many of our relatives have crossed us off their Christmas lists, both for cards and gifts. They usually tell us that they have done so out of respect for our "belief" that holidays should not be celebrated. Perhaps there is some genuine misunderstanding, but I personally think that (for most of them) it has more to do with the fact that they have a policy of not giving gifts unless they get some in return.

Mind you, I'm not complaining about not receiving cards or gifts. I accept that if I don't send them, I don't deserve them, and I really don't want stuff that I don't need anyway. But I do question the claim that either the cards or the gifts are spontaneous expressions of love. Surely spontaneous expressions of love are not based on what you can get in return!

I have heard that in America people have pages in their diaries or address books where they record whether or not they received a Christmas card from each person on their Christmas card list, and if they have not received a card from someone, then they make a note not to send that person a card next year.

Surely this has to take away from the significance of the cards in the first place; and I think something similar happens with regard to gifts. Most of us have experienced situations where we gave or received something that was really needed, and it was a good experience for both the giver and the receiver. Some people are especially good at watching for, and acting on, such opportunities to express a personal interest in others. However in our affluent Western society, there are many times more gift-giving situations than there are genuine needs. Gifts almost have to be wasteful luxuries of one sort or another, and the cost of the gift is often far more important in the minds of both the giver and the receiver than what it should be.

In other words, you don't give people peanuts for Christmas; it has to be cashews or macadamia nuts instead. Neither do you give them a big block of chocolate; it has to be boxed, individually wrapped cream-filled chocolates, with the most expensive ones being the most appreciated.

Because we Jesus Christians are committed to living simply, and because we procure so much of our own food, clothes, etc. through freeganism (i.e. discarded stuff), we have learned that the kind of gifts that we give are not likely to be appreciated by most people at holiday times, when they are overwhelmed with luxuries anyway (and when our giving will only end up making them feel obligated to give us something in return). The best time for us to share some of the more exciting things that we find discarded by our society is during the year, whenever an exciting find happens to crop up. Many of our friends and most of our relatives appreciate this. But if we were to gift wrap (probably using newspapers with a bit of paint or coloured paper stuck to it) a block of out-of-date cheese or a bag of perfectly good potatoes, it would more than likely cause embarrassment.

Jesus spoke of this dilemma when he referred to parties. He said that when his followers give parties, we should give them to the poor, and not to our wealthy friends and relatives, who would only feel obligated to give a party to us in return. I think that he was trying to say that this pay-back mentality is a counterfeit for genuine love... the kind of love that he is looking for.

And really, that is the kind of love that Christmas is supposed to be all about, isn't it?
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