Simple Gifts

Every year we complain.

“The traffic is terrible!” “The lines are ridiculous!” “The stuff is out in October!” “If i hear one more Celine Dion ‘O Holy Night,’ I’m going to puke!” “My credit card bill is outrageous!”

And then, every year…every year of the world…we do it all again.

Why do we think this is what the season has to look like? We’ve been programmed, is why. And who is programming us? Retailers. Credit card companies. The vast and varied entertainment industries. They are counting on the chaos and cash of Christmas. It’s crummy and it’s corny. (You’re welcome, English majors).

We’ve been talking for years about shopping less, buying less, and spending less. And yet, for many people, what that means is more trips out into the madness to nail down the best deals, and spend the least amount possible on the most stuff.

What few people talk about–in the secular world, OR the faith community–is the toll on our soul, when this rush lasts for the full season of Advent, AND the 6 weeks before…and the week or so after. It isn’t just the financial strain of all the running and buying; there is a very real spiritual stress that comes from putting ourselves in the midst of this frenzied environment. (Not to mention the very real health hazards that come from road rage, towering aisle displays=concussions waiting to happen, and the crazy [crazy] women at the craft stores. Lord help us all.)

This year, I’m not just spending less–i’m doing less. With a few exceptions (like an area assembly of the Church, and some day trips with our Thanksgiving guests) i am staying within a 6.5 mile radius of my house until January. (I know that is a very specific number–but that is how far the church is from home. So…) I will not be visiting a Target or HomeDepot or HobbyLobby. Nor will i go to Costco or Trader Joe’s, because they are too close to the dang mall. It goes without saying that i will not be going to the mall. If it’s not on amazon.com, then i don’t need it.

We’ll talk on another day about all the ways magazines and ‘news’ shows are telling me to help people out ‘during the holiday season.’ As if Jesus only ever healed lepers on his birthday? Anyway… if you really want to help others this holiday season, think of folks who are lonely would love to spend a few hours of time with you. Think simple.

And also, shop simple. Donate to the Heifer Project; you can tell your loved ones that you bought them a donkey, which is pretty badass (ha ha). And meanwhile, you are helping a family–really, a whole village–in a developing country to develop sustainable means of living. Likewise, you can find a great fair trade store in your area, or shop online at Ten Thousand Villages. Buy really cool, unique stuff from the global community, and help artists and farmers make an honest living. (Also, it’s time we learn to buy things that don’t come from a factory in China. For more reasons than one). There’s also Etsy if you want authentic craft without being such a hippie about it. This is what the crazy Hobby Lobby moms go home and make in their Pinterest-ed laundry rooms. Better than a sweatshop in China…

And if there is that one gift that your kid really, really wants, and you don’t want to be a bad Santa, then there’s this magical thing called amazon.com. They deliver quick, and for free. That’s where my magic princess whatever is going to come from this year, and the rest I’ve been collecting from consignment sales. And when i say ‘the rest,’ my kids each get 3 or 4 things to open, plus stockings. Plus whatever comes from grandma. It is always more than enough.

And what is enough? We ask ourselves the same thing every year. Maybe it’s time to change the conversation; instead of asking, ‘what is enough?’ maybe we need to be saying, ‘what is too much?” I know what is too much for me–with my increasing tendencies toward anxiety in big crowd situations, the mall is too much. Target is too much. The craft store is, Lord help me, more than I can bear. It is costly to my soul, and so I am going to be home, chilling in my sweats with some hot chocolate, while the rest of the world shops. Til it drops. Literally.

What’s too much for you? Your limit might be different than mine, and you might find great comfort and joy in all that madness. But whatever your ‘too much’ might be, know when you’ve hit it. And, for the sake of your spirit, your bank account, and the planet, know when you’ve had enough, and just go home. Be in the presence of the people you love, and maybe even get into the wilderness. There’s a rhythm of grace there, close to your house and your heart, and you don’t even have to wait in line to find it.

Here’s a little travelling music. Do yourself a favor and skip the ad. Then, enjoy the journey…

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • Johnny Wray

    Great piece, Erin — and I love the limited shopping area radius. We have to travel 13 miles just to buy groceries (what we aren’t raising on the farm!) but am certainly going to avoid the big box stores. Hey, and I would add Week of Compassion’s partners -
    Equal Exchange, Prosperity Candles and Church World Service for alternative Christmas giving ideas! Blessings,

  • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

    i’m with you, johnny. we sell equal exchange coffee and chocolate at foothills; you can also buy it through ten thousand villages, and the hand to hand project (through a phoenix-based org) that i linked above. i think we will all be taking a pretty big WoC offering in the next couple weeks, with all the hurricane fall-out…

  • http://gravatar.com/lizdeweese Liz DeWeese

    I always love reading what you write! You and your words inspire me.

  • Pingback: Autumn « julianna's blog

  • http://juliannasblog.wordpress.com jmnitz

    Reblogged this on julianna's blog.


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