I’m not sure which image is more alarming to me.
I think in America we have replaced Jesus with Santa in very real and concrete ways.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Santa. I actually had a big crush on him (so to speak) when I was a kid. And the historic Saint Nick seemed to be a great guy and probably a solid follower of Jesus.
However, here in America (and I assume elsewhere as well), we have trivialized and commercialized this once sacred holiday and occasion.
Right after Thanksgiving, department stores and radio stations begin advertising for Christmas. We spend so much time and money getting gifts (and then trying to figure out how to pay for them in the months to come.)
Here is one of those infamous Youth Ministry stories…
I remember the first Christmas I was at my church, I brought a handful of students (mostly middle school girls) to the mall before Christmas time. I figured this would be a fun way to spend time together and buy gifts for family and friends. One eleven year old girl was given $300 dollars for the mall trip (yeah, our area is on the wealthy side)
But here is where it got interesting.
When we all met back up to leave, there she was with both tiny arms full of shopping bags.
Yet, a look of shame and embarrassment was plastered on her face as she realized that she forgot to get anything for her family.
She had gone to the mall with money to spend for others and had spent it all on herself!
What an image of how our culture has immortalized the giver of presents (Santa and his little elves)
We love to get stuff, and while giving can feel good, getting sure feels a whole lot better…especially if it is a new Iphone or PS3!
So, this year we have transformed our annual mall trip.
A few weeks ago we decided to sponsor a needy family from our community. Both parents were recently let go due to the bad economy. We asked them if our youth group could help provide a Christmas this year. They graciously supplied us with some wish lists for their four children.
So, our students signed up to purchase the various gifts and now our mall trip is the time and place to go and get those gifts for this family. So, a large reason for us to even go is not for ourselves, but rather to bless a family in need and to be reminded about the true meaning of Christmas.
Christ came to give his life to us and we are called to do the same for others. And Christmas time is the perfect season to give back our time, money, and kindness.
We have also slightly modified our parties as well.
This year at our annual Youth Group Christmas party, in addition to each student bringing a wrapped gift for our gift swap, everyone brought a grocery bag full of canned goods for our local pantry (North Westchester Community Center of Katonah)
Through word and action (and by example) we are hoping to transform our students’ experience of Christmas and get them focused on the “other”.
Imagine having today’s teens willingly go without 1 or 2 gifts to make sure that a family in our area can experience a joyous Christmas!
Yes, the trappings and temptations will still exist but what I have found is that rather than trying to buck the system and not allow the consumerism and commercialism to enter the holiday, use the platforms and systems of our society and transform them into something new.
Malls will still exist. Movies, music, parties, and wish lists as well.
But so does the Spirit of Jesus to use those very things to open eyes, touch hearts, and transform lives. We have found that the majority of students still celebrate Christmas and are very open to hearing more about the true significance of the season.
Heck, even the Grinch realized that it was more than just bells, whistles, and bows.
“He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”