“Consumerism”: that nasty “C” word that jumps into conversations that Christians have at Christmas. What are we to think about it? Here are my thoughts on how we can consume with the best and still celebrate.
First, let me say that I like to give gifts—sometimes, when I know that what I give someone is what they really want and need. But sometimes, I don’t like to give gifts. Shopping is stressful for me. I’m not creative to think of what a person would want. It just seems like an exercise in consumerism that I have to do.
However, the act of giving something to someone brings satisfaction for most of us. We are made in the image of God, and in that common grace, the joy of giving is woven into us.
Yet, buying things–often a necessary part of giving–can lead to issues, and at Christmastime, those issues come to the forefront. How consumerism gets in the way of true celebration:
- It pressures us to buy and spend. We feel that buying presents is something we must do (a felt need) to show others that we care, to not be seen as unappreciative or scrooge-like.
- It makes us busier than we already are. Trip after trip to the store adds up until we feel like we’ve spent more time shopping than at church. Consumerism robs our time.
- It skews our thoughts on sacrifice. We come to see sacrifice as mainly financial. The more we sacrifice money for someone, the more we love them. Thus, consumerism also skews our idea attributing value to others.
I have friends who don’t do gifts at Christmas, and part of me envies them. I’d love to focus more on giving gifts at birthdays and not Christmas, but I need to be sensitive to my family and the joy that Christmas gifts bring my children. I grew up, as most did, with the tradition of giving gifts and it didn’t snare my celebration of Christmas. Christmas still felt holy and special because of the Christ Child.
As Christians, we would do well to be warned that the world sees our anti-consumerism as anti-celebration. By hounding commercialism at Christmas, we might be charged with being party poopers.
On the contrary, we should be seen as the life of the party at Christmas. Buying gifts is a way we can show that we celebrate. How we buy can be as important as whether we do buy or not. Just because we buy, doesn’t mean we must be carried off in the stream of consumerism.
With that said, how can we consume and celebrate at the same time? (In other words, how can we guard against the challenges I listed above?)
- Buy with purpose: think less about money spent (but remember your budget) and more about what is being given, where you are buying it from, and whether or not giving that specific gift brings you joy. Think also about the time you spend on shopping and whether or not you have the budget for that time.
- Buy with an eternal perspective: remember that souls are eternal, not gifts. Hold lightly, then, to the gifts you give and receive. Have fun with them, but more so, teach children that gifts are temporary expressions of an eternal reality: the gift of Jesus Christ. Gifts can be the perfect doorway into great conversations about enjoying the temporal but pursuing the eternal.
- You can’t buy identity. Teach children—and adults—that their value comes in being made in the image of God, not in what they possess.
I’m sure there are many more ideas about engaging the consumerism we live in while not being polluted by it. Please do share!