Nearly all Americans, celebrate Christmas, but only half of them acknowledge its religious meaning with even fewer millennials tapping into its spiritual significance. Some of our Christmas traditions from childhood drop off as we become adults. While many Americans find joy in gift-giving, a third don’t care for the commercialization of Christmas.
People take joy visiting friends and family, eating holiday food, listening to Christmas music, exchanging gifts, decorating their home, attending religious services, and giving gifts. But nearly half of Americans are stretched thin in their finances during Christmas season. You have likely experienced the same thing. You spend lots of money traveling home for the holidays and buying gifts for the family in November and December, then eat lean and spend little in January not because you’re trying to lose weight, but because you need to give your finances time to recover.
Recently, our team here at Catalyst worked on a movie called MULLY. It’s the inspiring life story of Charles Mully, a Kenyan man abandoned by his family at age six, and his incredible journey from street orphan to multi-millionaire. However, he sold his businesses and started rescuing street children. He gave up his pursuit of riches to embrace his real purpose and found wealth and joy beyond measure. To this day Charles and his wife, Esther, have raised over 13,000 children! I believe Jesus wants the same for us. He wants us to stop focusing on buying piles of gifts for family and friends, and get back to the true meaning of Christmas: Him! We should be asking Him: How can I bless you, Lord, and how can I bless others?
There is great joy in Christmas. Many of us have cherished memories of Christmas. Personally, this is one of my favorite holidays of the year, and one of my highlights is visiting with family and friends, especially, since I live so far away from them. Typically, I only see them at holidays and family events during the year. But I also love other Christmas traditions such as the singing Christmas music, enjoying the food and fellowship, and attending Christmas plays. And although I try to acknowledge the gifts Jesus has given me daily, I like taking extra time around the holidays to reflect on Him and spend time in prayer asking Jesus what He desires of me.
However, the statistics show that many find the hustle, bustle, and commercialization of Christmas stressful. I believe Jesus is saddened by how stressed we’ve allowed ourselves to become at Christmas. He never intended His birthday to become a financial burden to us. Birthdays are about celebrating the life of a person, and although gifts may be given, they are typically given to the birthday honoree. We extend that sharing to others at Christmas time, and I like to think that sharing is symbolic of us sharing the love of God with the world.
It’s time to put the joy back in Christmas, and focus on the real reason for the season: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus, and His gift of redemption to the world. Here are our suggestions ways to share a “Joyful Christmas” with your church, community, and loved ones:
- Parents’ Night Off
Give the parents in your church a night out for a small fee, plan kids activities to keep them busy. Newsmallchurch.com charges $10-12 per child and then shares the fees with the workers who help care for the kids that night. Their share of the Parents’ Night Off pie can help them pay for missions trips, conference fees, camp, and other expenses throughout the year.
- Random Acts of Kindness
A Catalyst, we’re about Movies and Missions, and Pastor Michael Todd at Transformation Church kicked off a great example of an outreach and missions initiative that shares the joy of Christmas with others: Random Acts of Kindness. Members take a handful of the cards shown below and then look for ways to be a blessing to others. They do something nice for strangers, anonymously, like pay for their coffee order, grocery bill, or drive-thru meal in the car behind you, etc. Hand the card to the cashier to give to them. The card lets them know they’ve just received a random act of kindness and invites them to church Christmas weekend. This is not a “social” moment; don’t “live video” it, tweet it, create a snappy, or upload a photo to Insta. It’s a ministry moment, a way to share the joy of Christmas and love of Christ with others. If you want these random acts to go viral, keep it going in real life. Extend it to family and friends, and transform your December by looking for ways to be kind to your loved ones.
- Advent Conspiracy
Join the Advent Conspiracy. Greg Holder, Rick McKinnley, and Chris Seay are three pastors who discovered Americans spend $600 billion dollars a year Christmas shopping and $30 billion dollars can make “safe water” accessible to the whole world. They believe “Christmas Can Still Change the World,” and have launched a conspiracy to arm churches with resources to launch their own advent conspiracy campaigns to raise funds for Living Water International. By encouraging the body of Christ to worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all, millions of dollars have been given to make safe water available throughout the world. Check out their site and join the conspiracy!
- White Elephant Game
The White Elephant game works well for family and community as I’ve done this at home and work. As I mentioned earlier, I travel home to see the family for Christmas—typically on alternate years. One year I proposed we switch up Christmas and do the White Elephant game instead. We had simple rules: everyone brings a gift, wrapped, costing not more than $20. We drew numbers to determine the order in which we selected gifts. The prized number was the last one since participants can choose to either pick a present from the tree to unwrap or take an opened one from someone else. Since then our family has played this game many times as most of us now travel in from out of town. Most times I end up drawing a guy’s gift (and giving it to my brother, so he gets doubly blessed)! I may walk away empty-handed, but I have cherished memories of the funny comments, oohs and ahhs, and mini-rivalries that happen as family members form alliances to bring special gifts to the home team—all in good fun! This game is never about the actual gifts, but the memories and great joy we create with each other.
- Secret Santa
Secret Santa is another Christmas gift game I’ve played at home and work. The object is to draw names and buy a gift for the specific individual you pick. Establish spending limits to on focus on the meaning of the gift instead of its expense. This game can be more personal because part of the joy is selecting a present the person you chose will enjoy.
- Three Gift Traditions
The three-gift tradition is a newer trend more popular among parents who tend to buy multiple gifts for their children, but this idea works for anyone who typically gives many items to one person. The idea is to give three gifts symbolic of those given by the three wise men to Jesus. The gold gift is one of precious value, the frankincense gift represents something spiritually meaningful, and the myrrh gift is for the physical body. This tradition simplifies gift-giving for people who normally buy from a long Christmas list and provides a teaching moment to remind others of some of the loving details our Lord’s birth.
Before I started receiving weekly allowances as a young girl, I remember making IOUs for Christmas gifts. The beauty of IOUs is they can be free and priceless! Download IOU print templates, and go! Just choose something you believe that person would love like:
- breakfast in bed
- watching the kids while you sleep in
- wash dishes
- fold laundry
- iron your jeans
- clean your oven
- free babysitting for one night
- home-cooked meal
- dinner and movie night at our house
- Handcrafted Gifts
Handcrafts are a great giving strategy for people who are creative. For those who make this a habit, recipients will often look forward to seeing what you will make for them. For instance, I have a friend who makes the best handmade cards! I enjoy seeing what she will create whether for Christmas or some other time of the year. One of my aunts is gifted in sewing. Her shawls, robes, and other gifts are cherished items. One of my uncles used to make the best banana pudding, and when I went to college, he’d make one just for me to take back to school on the airplane! These are just a few examples of ways people can take their unique gifts to serve and bless others. Perhaps your gift is not calligraphy, handcrafts, sewing, or cooking. But there is something that you can give that others would love to receive. If you need ideas, check out the HGTV site for homemade gift ideas.
Ultimately, Christmas is about Jesus, and we can share His spirit by being a blessing to Him and others. What gift do you want to give Him this year? What gift do you want to give others? And how can you remind your loved ones, church, and community of the real reason for Christmas? Chase the Person (of Christ) instead of presents.
-by Tameca Robertson