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Sundblom-Coke-1959“Tis the season to be jolly, fa, la, la, la, la – la, la – la, la.”

So begins the benign little jingle that marks the advent of the richest economic season of the year. Last year was the highest impact of some $61.8 Billion U.S. according to Statista.com. But Professor Waldfogel says that “giving presents is stupid and bad for the economy.

While people go wild this “Black Friday” others will decry how materialistic this season is….as if we have no control over it…as if we are swept up into the current of consumerism and can’t get ourselves out.  And, as if consumerism isn’t epidemic enough, there is the dependancies of charities at this time of year; some being only for this time of year – especially local Christmas gift and food drives.  (Note Stats Canada‘s report on charitable giving by Canadians).

Organizations like World Vision provide a fairly practical gift guide for those in developing nations, all the while contributing to the economy of that nation. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank for example, successfully convinced the government of not “dumping” food grains in developing nations, since this would artificially depress the local economy, and actually have a net negative impact. Generous Canadian farmers and supporters now make a portion of their harvest available to be sold, with proceeds to purchase grains in the area of the nation needing food (I say” area,” because sometimes drought has affected the ability to grow enough food in the first place; in that case neighbouring countries’ economies can benefit from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank).

Meanwhile there is a kind of anti-materialism movement emerging in response to the vapid senselessness of it all.  It is no more “go big or go home;” the new minimalists might suggest “go small and stay home…and by the way, your home can be a lot smaller too.”

The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus describe minimalism as “a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.”

“Freedom” is a loaded term, but their ideas are gaining traction in a culture uneasy with un-sustainability (that’s the buzz word these days for an economy that consumes itself at a rate faster than it can produce, and at enormous social costs, all the while following a trajectory like that of Easter Island: an ecology (economy) that collapses in on itself).

No doubt there’s a lot of silliness to the season about how the tradition of gift giving began.  Was it just that simple act of Wise Magi “bearing gifts we traverse afar” to deposit them at the foot of a baby Jesus?  Did this set in motion a repeated act of worshipful giving? It does not appear that gift giving was even a part of Christmas at all.  A tradition grew in most of Europe to celebrate St. Nicolas Day (December 6) weeks before Christmas – whilst Christmas Day remained firmly a religious holiday.

Some would say that Charles Dickens‘s festive classic A Christmas Carol (1843), marked a new course to think far more generously. Historians note that at the time of Dicken’s writing, Christmas was not so festive, and people were not so generous.

Dickens was forced to leave school to work in a factory when his father was thrown into debtors’ prison. Although he had little formal education, his early impoverishment drove him to succeed. Over his career he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas and hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education, and other social reforms.

I suppose people can develop a “dogma” from the shreds of anything.  I like the intentions of Millburn and Nicodemus; I just don’t think you can get there from here.  “Freedom” is a big idea – not just an economic idea. To be fair, they call minimalism “a tool that can assist you in finding freedom.” I will lament if/when minimalism becomes a dogma on its own, devoid of the happy relationality that initiated it.

I am far more interested in the enigma.  Tis the season to be…

  • To be at peace with the Creator who initiates restoration with His own coming.
  • To be at peace with your family, your neighbours and your enemies.
  • To be aware that there can be no peace without justice.
  • To be aware that giving and forgiving always costs something.
  • To be cheerful giver – caught up in generosity without guilt – having a childlike purity to giving of yourself.
  • To be content with making the most of what you have, and the least of what you have not.
  • To be who you are created to be, and to become more you as intended by the One who created you for Himself.
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