For 20somethings: Let’s hear from you

A new article by a 20something in WaPo’s On Faith discussion examines Christmas shopping for 20somethings.

My question: What are you doing for Christmas shopping?

What does this mean for our consumer habits? This Christmas, how are twenty-something Christians engaging in the requisite shopping/buying/gift-exchanging?

Fed up with the consumerist excesses of Christmas and the maddeningly widespread association of celebrating Christ’s birth with going in to credit card debt, some young evangelicals are opting to spend less on presents and instead are giving money to charity, as in organizations like “Heifer International” — a nonprofit where donors can gift things like llamas and tree seedlings to struggling communities across the world — or the “Advent Conspiracy”– a coalition of churches that ask their parishioners to curtail the retail habits of the holidays and instead give their money to organizations that build water wells in Africa (see video below).

But I would wager that for most evangelicals my age, buying and receiving gifts at Christmas isn’t necessarily a terrible thing — as long as the gifts in question are meaningful or edifying, or just good. For them, giving a friend a hand-carved smoking pipe or a copy of Augustine’s City of God is an entirely appropriate way to celebrate the birth of Christ. An album by a groundbreaking artist or a box set of French New Wave DVDs celebrates the Advent season just as much as something traditionally seen as “sacred,” simply by virtue of the fact of its being artistically excellent.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://benjskramer.wordpress.com Ben

    A few years ago my wife and I became really convicted that whomevers birthday we are celebrating should be the one to get the presents. It only really makes sense. We don’t go to our friends birthday part expecting be showered with gifts, so we don’t celebrate the birth of Christ expecting a lot of gifts, but instead give gifts to him.

    We spend just about all the money we would have spent on presents on the kids we sponsor through World Vision, and projects through World Vision and MCC. We still buy a couple small stocking stuffers for our boys (hot wheels car or two, etc) so they can have something special on Christmas morning, but the main focus is on giving to Jesus when we celebrate his birthday – taking him quite literally at his word when he said, “whatever you do unto the least of these my brothers you have done unto me.”

    Over these years we have slowly managed to win more and more members of our family over to this way of thinking too and now do very little shopping for gifts for friends/family at all.

  • Matt Edwards

    We did the Advent Conspiracy. I bought “clean water for Uspa Uspa” for a number of my loved ones. (I hope they’re not reading this!)

    My church was able to raise over $16,000 through the Advent Conspiracy. We’re going to implement a clean water initiative in Uspa Uspa, Bolivia in June 2011. 190 families will get clean water for 10 years.

  • Aaron

    Advent conspiracy- try to Spend less and give relational gifts. Use that money for our church community project in Africa.

  • http://homekettle.wordpress.com David N.

    As in most areas, I think balance here is the key. We have definitely cut down on what we spend on Christmas presents, but have not eliminated gift-giving entirely. We give to charitable organizations like Heifer International and Show Hope, but also get each other and our daughter small gifts. I think if gift giving is done in an intentional, thoughtful and responsible way it can be a powerful thing. We want our daughter to have a desire to help “the least of these” and think of others before herself, but also to know the joy of receiving an unmerited special gift at this season when we celebrate the ultimate example of that.

  • http://twitter.com/friesenma05 Mike

    Thanks Scot,
    I find myself saying to myself, what the point is to all of this? If I cannot be caught up in the mystery of Advent, the darkness of a world awaiting its savior, and, the joy of the present messiah, then am I trying to fulfill something within me by expecting loads of gifts, and, buying others love with my money. I can only see myself buying something out of the excess of my heart, but, doing so in a financially responsible way.

  • http://concretejungle.posterous.com/ Jes Kast-keat

    My partner and I do very limited gifts. Since I am a new pastor in Manhattan we got all our family members the iconic “I heart NYC” shirts as a fun way for them to partake in our move.

    Mostly we make contribution to organizations we support:
    -20 Liters, http://20liters.org/
    -Room For All, http://roomforall.com/

    Another way we offer gifts is by taking our friends and family out to drinks, coffee or dinner. That way we are giving the gift of our presence as well.

  • Pat

    I agree, Scot. I believe it’s the motive behind the giving. To me, the giving of gifts, lights, singing, etc. are all celebrations of the goodwill that Christ brings. When we get caught up in impressing people, one-upmanship or just plain feeding of our own egos, then we’ve lost the meaning of the season. But to give and to bring people joy in doing so, whether that’s a “regular” gift or a charitable donation can be reflective of the real meaning of the season. I would suspect that for some who are going the route of the charitable donations, it’s an attempt to make a radical departure from the consumerism of their childhood and to also reflect what they feel the Church should be about.

    An intersting note: the other Sunday in church I thanked the congregation for their contribution to two outreaches we did to needy children. The audience, led by a 20-something, applauded. When I followed that announcement with a thank you for helping us meet the shortfall in our Missions budget, no reaction. People want to give to something tangible. It’s hard to get excited about a missions budget, but gifts to needy children in which those kids are represented by tags with their names, ages and wish list is more real. Now both are missions-related, but if churches really want to connect with the 20-somethings or the un- or dechurched, they’re going to have to make connections for people. Tell the congregation what the missions budget is and whose needs are being met. We get so used to being in our cocoons where nothing is explained and everyone just complies, we’ve forgotten what it is to really connect with people. We just sort of go on auto-pilot and expect people to come along for the ride.

  • http://www.intothedesertblog.blogspot.com Nate

    My family and I stopped giving material gifts for Christmas a few years ago. Personally, I’m not against material gifts, but I just can’t confine my gift giving to a date. It was creating unnecessary pressure and anxiety, often leading to dumb gift choices. if I see something that screams someone’s name, i’ll get it for them no matter what the day of the year though. As for Christmas, I now try to mark it memorably somehow: a gathering, preferably with some kind of intentionality to it including a large meal. Often people will bring some creation- a song, a story, a reading, etc. Being with people and remembering Jesus’ birth is enough of a celebration for me without excessive decor, gifting, and hoopla.

  • http://faithinireland.wordpress.com Patrick Mitchel

    We are in our second year as a church community (in Ireland) of doing the Advent Conspiracy. Even though a small group we raised €7500 (about $9000) more than enough for a well in Africa. Another nice spin off is trying to be creative rather than entering the ‘buyosphere’ – so today we were given by different people homemade chocolates, jellies, jams, toffees etc! We’ve simplified presents and its been good for us as a family to have a ‘built in’ sense that we are spending less on ourselves & friends on presents in order to give to those who need it more.

  • http://www.travismamone.net Travis Mamone

    I’m trying to collect money for Charity:Water (mycharitywater.org/travismamoneadvent), but I ain’t having much luck!

  • Adam

    My church has done Advent Conspiracy for a number of years, and I thought it was a great idea; but by the 3rd year it had reverted into ‘consumerism with a twist’. Instead of buying someone a cd, they bought a t-shirt where the proceeds went to a well. Instead of having more time to spend with friends and family, all the time was spent making presents and I still never saw my friends.

    So, I like the idea behind Advent Conspiracy, but I think a deeper issue is the idea of gifts as a whole. Why am I OBLIGATED to give you a gift? Is it ok if I don’t give you a gift? Can we have the same level of relationship if there is no gift? And what if, I gave a really great and appropriate gift that deeply impacted your life earlier this year because the timing was right? Is that gift diminished because I don’t get you something during the appointed gift giving season?

    I think as a culture, we have lost the language of gifts and have replaced it with mere stuff.

  • http://noumbrellas.blogspot.com Lindsay

    I’m a twenty-something for another year or so and a full-time seminary student. Nearly all of the presents I’m giving this year are handmade- mostly with my sewing machine and some paper and watercolors. I enjoy making gifts for my friends and know that they appreciate it but I often wish I had the resources to provide presents that might be better tailored to each of them, and more specifically, for my family.

    It is frustrating to me that the anticipation of giving presents often leaves me feeling ashamed on Christmas day- ashamed that I can’t gift or reciprocate in the ways I’d like. I know that shame is not God’s will for my celebration of Christ’s birth. I also know that gift-giving is not what Christmas is about, but it is a large part of my family’s tradition.

    This year, my parents will be receiving handmade parcels, but also a gift in their name to MercyCorps. They adopted me and I donated care for orphaned children in their name, thanking them for what they’ve done for me and continuing in that tradition for and with them.

  • Alberto Medrano

    My wife and I decided to divert our wants for Christmas to WorldVision. We gave it on the 19th. We felt so good about it. Boo-ya consumerism!

  • Peter

    Dear Lindsay (#12) – as a father of two adopted children (now adults), I would be thrilled with a gift from either one of them like the one that you gave to your parents. I am sure that you have blessed them thoroughly. Merry Christmas.

  • http://bradschrum.wordpress.com Brad Schrum

    My fiancee and I are getting cards for one another, but we’re getting our parents normal, though less expensive, gifts because they don’t quite share our convictions. We are just asking for simple, needed, things from our parents. I just graduated from undergrad, and I’m starting grad school in a few weeks, and she’s still in school, so we don’t really have much money. When we do, though, we’re planning on celebrating Christmas together through Advent Conspiracy, or something similar.

  • Stacey

    I’m in my late 20′s, and my husband and I bought some of our gifts from Etsy. We really want to support people who make things and not give our money to big chain stores. We also made several gifts (I’m a knitter), and we’re giving cards out with several options of baked goods listed that people can choose, and then I’ll make those items for them. We try to give gifts that each person will use, like, and value.

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

    We as a 20somethings couple set a small budget for all of our gifts to each other and other family. We also make sure to give something to an organization as a Christmas gift and this year 1/3 of my budget of gifts for my wife went to buying some animals from World Vision to feed hungry families in Africa. So yes I would say the article fairly depicts how many 20somethings are doing Christmas gifts.

  • http://cboye.wordpress.com Colleen

    I’m a 20-something and I have always been unsure what to do. If you have close friends and family who aren’t doing Advent Conspiracy-type things, it’s hard to participate without seeming incredibly smug (“I’m not getting you a gift because I’m rejecting consumerism and focusing on the things that really matter!”). And so I have never been able to really divorce myself from standard gift giving.

    But I don’t like it at all. It’s stressful and filled with obligation and I often find myself buying stuff that isn’t meaningful to me and they don’t need. My husband’s brother-in-law is this huge Dan Brown fan for inexplicable reasons and we had to give him the Angels and Demons movie last year because that was what he wanted. It frustrated me to give someone something that I think is total crap (the theology doesn’t bother me–they’re just really bad stories). The whole thing becomes a game of guilty reciprocity.

    On the bright side: My parents just inherited a boatload of money and we shall get to give away a whopping $10,000.

  • http://faceofdeep.blogspot.com Garrett League

    23, didn’t buy much (spent too much in years past). Got City of God last Jesusmas, though I’ve yet to finish it, so I’m good :)

  • http://noumbrellas.blogspot.com Lindsay

    Thank you, Peter (#14). I appreciate your comment. I pray blessings over this season of your life.

    Peace


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