The beautiful season of Advent is upon us, and with it a desire for the simplicity which fosters spiritual depth. This desire often runs into headwinds during December. A season which is often marked by excess and over-consumption coincides with the poverty and simplicity of the manger. It’s a conundrum for the Christian steward. We are increasingly aware of Pope Francis’s call to be stewards of the environment. But let’s face it, how many of us have felt a twinge of guilt on Christmas morning as garbage bags full of unrecyclable wrapping paper and protective plastic toy containers are carried to the trash. Do our children really need so much? Do we?
There’s been a movement afoot in the last few years to cut back on Christmas buying, especially as it pertains to our kids, whom we sometimes overindulge on that special day. The easy-to-remember plan is called “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” Following those four pointers, our children can receive four well-thought-out gifts that fulfill both practical and fun desires. Think quality. Refrain from lots of “stuff,” which we excuse as “stocking stuffers” and often are broken or discarded by New Year’s Day. The plan can work for a spouse or another special person as well.
Another important consideration for the Christian steward is to remember that the Christmas need to give extends far beyond family. Schools, churches and faith formation programs often promote “giving trees” where we select a person or family in need who may not receive a gift without our help. This is a great program for kids who can become totally involved in the selection, and perhaps with their allowances, even the purchase of a gift for a stranger. Shelters collect socks, nursing homes need carolers, the clerk at the busy grocery store needs an extra smile, your pastor and your teacher might appreciate a special thank you note.
There are scores of ways to give during the Advent and Christmas seasons. If we commit to keeping it a little simpler under the tree on Christmas morning, we’ll have more time and energy for other forms of giving. We’ll do the environment a favor, and we will give our kids a lesson in giving rather than getting. And that, of course, is an authentic Christmas message.