Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent

Today is the first day of Advent, and my inner Anglican is feeling pretty happy. I come from a religious tradition that minimizes the importance of ritual and liturgy and the church calendar and all that in favor of plain churches and a focus on what we believe (i.e. not very Anglican at all), but despite spending my whole life immersed in such thinking, I love the counting down and the contemplation and the inner preparation that is available in this season. We decided to wait until next weekend to actually get a tree and decorate and all that (with Christmas falling on a Friday this year, Advent is particularly long and we like to keep the tree as fresh and uncrunchy as possible for the benefit of the ACTUAL LIT CANDLES) so this weekend we just basked in the glow of feeling thankful and delicious leftovers and a great deal of football. I think we will begin playing Christmas music this week, though, and start gearing up.

Although I love love love Christmas, I feel like I have a harder time each year with Black Friday and the shopping and the consumer culture, especially in the face of the real lack that exists here and around the world. It makes me physically queasy and part of me wants to opt out entirely of the gifts. It's not like there is a single person I will exchange gifts with this year that actually needs some physical thing that I can wrap up for them. I am not a Scrooge; I love the music and a pretty Christmas tree and special fancy meals and, gosh, having kids at Christmastime has made it WAY MORE AWESOME, but still the commercials on TV and the parking at the mall and the vast amount of crap being bought is just horrifying, just gross. I think what helps me face it all is that every year we do a little bit better, a little bit more to make Christmas what we actually want it to be. Fewer gifts, more meaning.

This video is from last year and I find it so moving. In the interest of full disclosure, it has made me nearly cry about half a dozen times:



And here is this year's video from the same organization, which I find not quite as moving but is still great:


I find these ideas really challenging because it is HARD to invest meaningful amounts of time with people, especially with our family members who live far away. It is easier to spend money via some online shopping to send them a gift. One option that we often take advantage of is a gift from World Vision; it is such a good option for people who don't have anything they really want or need but who you want to remember with a gift. They send you these little cards that describe what you chose (chickens or a small business loan for a woman or a well) that you can wrap up and send to your recipient. I'm very happy about exercising this option but I would like to do more gifts that are personal but still outside the consumer consciousness. Last year, Rob's parents asked for a thumb drive with a lot of photos of us on it for them to use in their digital picture frame; I would like to be able to think of more things like that, things that involve our time and energy but not some wasteful tchotchke that had to be manufactured and shipped and will then collect dust.

And if you're in the mood for a little Christmas music, go listen to some Sufjan in my Advent post from last year. I was very tempted to post that video again because I just love it/him/that whole album but I restrained myself.

4 comments:

amydove said...

I do not disagree with anything that you said, but to feel a bit better about the consumerism you can think of it as helping the economy of our own country. Especially at times like now, you can feel good about spending money and contributing to the healing, therefore helping people with crazy mortgages and people whose retirement funds have suddenly disappeared. And while some of the profits go to executives, it also goes to hiring retail workers, mall janitors, etc., who need the extra jobs.

Let me know if you think of good non-consumerist gifts. A friend of mine knits everyone something, but that's a bit too much work!

Willyanne said...

Julia,

I agree with you. Couldn't think of a place I would less like to be than the mall. Dan got this movie called "What would Jesus buy" that was pretty funny last week. You might enjoy it. But, I guess a few things are ok if they are meaningful and/or encourange more time together. Dan has wanted a new camera lens forever (he is a photo maniac as you know) so that is what he is getting. Ella (and other family members) is getting tickets to the Lion King, as she still basically thinks she is a lion. I couldn't figure out Dan's brother for years- he only seems to care about his really spoiled dog. So I donated to a dog rescue center in his name. Fianlly, success! We also make photo calendars of the kids with everyone in the extended family's birthdays on it, and people seem to like that.

Anyway, hope you have a wonderful and peaceful holiday season. BTW, Evan's favorite word has also been uh-oh for a while, but I have to say it is getting a bit wearing after cleaning up the floor for the zillionth time.

Sharon said...

I worry about the gift giving, in terms of how it skews the kiddos ideas about Christmas. We don't give them a ton physical items, since my parents tend to load 'em up. I've tried talking to my folks about this, but finally realized what was going on: they miss living near their grandkids. And so for them, these physical items are like an extension of themselves. They can't hug Anna goodnight, but perhaps this stuffed bear can. You get the idea.
As for what we give to them: photo books, photo calendars, and (the biggie) our actual presence. Plane tickets ain't cheap. What I give the kids: dance lessons, tickets to the nutcracker, etc. Experiences instead of things.
To quote the Simpsons: "Let us agree that the commercialization of Christmas is at best, a mixed blessing."

Sharon said...

As an aside, we also got our first Xmas card from our realtor. And an anniversary card. This annoys Jon to no end "I want an impersonal realtor!" I appreciate what she's doing, but it's a little touchy feely for me.