It is coming- the ringing of the tills and the twinkling of the plastic stars. The singing of the Santa Claus songs and the pressure to eat and drink till we burst.

At some point over the last 100 years- somewhere between Dickens and and ‘A Muppet’s Christmas Tale’ (fine film though it may be)- we were occupied by forces of the Empire. It happened whilst we were looking the other way- distracted by another shiny gadget.

Don’t get me wrong- I have nothing against secular festivals- in fact I think there should be more of them. Anything that brings us closer together and celebrates our humanity is good as far as I am concerned, and you could argue that our Christmas took the slot in the year previously occupied by pagan feasting.

I do however feel a slight tinge of irritation at the fact that Christ gets hardly a mention in the representation of Christmas in popular culture. The icons that survive are ones that seem to me to fit in with the Disneyfication of it all- the tree, snow, twinkling lights, Santa Claus and of course, the giving of gifts. Lots of gifts. There is some mention from time to time of the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ uttered in films by some bloke in a red suit and a stick on beard. As far as I am able to understand this usually involves believing in Santa, being nice to your family and consuming lots of Christmas product.

And there is the rub- the consuming of product.

The incredible pressure exerted by the massive Capitalist machine to suck us all into a vortex of buying, eating, drinking. The system depends on it. Without strong Christmas sales then the whole edifice (already rather rickety) will come tumbling down. So do your bit- credit cards out boys and girls, lets take one to preserve our way of life.

How we Christians continue to live with the contradiction of celebrating the birth of a man whose whole life was a warning against storing up pointless possessions on earth is always a matter of amazement and guilt for me. Jesus- the man of poverty who told his followers that they did not need two shirts for their backs.

More importantly, a man who spoke more about one issue that almost any other- our individual relationship to money. The camel and the eye of the needle, the widows mite, the alabaster jar, the sermon on the mount, rendering unto Caesar etc.

Then there is the matter of exploiting the poor- doing unto the least of these. All those factories in far off places paying peanuts. All those brand names stitched on by people whose whole yearly salary amounts to less than one shoe worn by a pampered western foot. The trade circle controlled by those who have at the expense of those who have not.

All celebrated at the feast of Consumermas.

The older I get, the less willing I am to attend this particular feast. Call me rude, but I have another one to go to- a simpler one. Less shiny, costing far less money, connected with something far more important.

You are invited too.

I mention this friends, as once again, we will be thinking about the shopping. We will be wondering what we can afford, who we feel an obligation of love, friendship or duty towards. It will feel like a power over us beyond our control.

But it is not.

Stop consuming. Share life, share love, share time. Make stuff, gather with friends and do the ‘secret santa’ thing. Give stuff away that you no longer need. Buy gifts only from charity shops ( a great idea Samir!)

Start your own Advent Conspiracy.

Find silence in the clamour of another crap Christmas number one endlessly replayed. Celebrate mystery and light in the middle of darkness.

You have to start somewhere- Consumermas is coming, and will not let you go easily, or without emptying your wallet.

Consumption 2- Advent conspiracy…

Thanks Stewart for this link to the Something Beautiful podcast which has an interview with Greg Holder about a campaign called Advent Conspiracy

Check it out.

(There’s loads more interesting stuff on the Something Beautiful podcast too for those of you with long journeys and an MP3 player!)

Here’s the low down in visual form…

Which kind of set me thinking again…

Christmas and consumption- can we really turn this around?

For us it will not be easy. Friendship and relationship is very important. As Christians we care called to prioritise both- and the more connections and relationships you have of any depth, then the more present-giving you will find yourself in the middle of.

We have tried various measures over the years to break the consumption-obligation cycles that this can place on both us and friends. These have included-

Making stuff
I have painted, hammered, written and made a million jars of pickle (the house has just recovered from the smell of the last lot!)
Michaela is really good with her hands, and makes cards and all sorts of other things. She usually tries to bring other ‘crafty’ friends together and they have a communal session around the table, which always seems great to me.

But this requires a lot of that precious commodity called TIME- and as Christmas approaches, we tend to be very short of this. Kids plays, church services, carol singing, friend and family visiting and (of course) shopping…

Agreeing not to give gifts
With some close friends we have come to arrangements not to give stuff- but then we often weaken, We say “just the kids”, and then end up giving ‘a token’, simply because we like each other…

Giving stuff to people who need it most!
A lot of charities now allow you to give presents to a third party on behalf of someone else. Check out Oxfam unwrapped– we use this at work rather than giving cards and presents.

The advent conspiracy folk suggest these things;

The other thing that we can do is to organise some time for ourselves and our community to focus on Jesus during Advent– before the Christmas business fills all the diary space.

Think about the business of WAITING. Of anticipating the coming king. Think about the giving of God, and the beautiful pregnancy of a season that will give birth to grace…and peace…and truth.