This one is going to be controversial...

Have you noticed how even complete strangers feel free to ask your child 'And what are you having for Christmas?'. I'm a first time mum, and I've never encountered this really grates, for lots of reasons.

Firstly, I believe that Christmas is about more than buying gifts. Secondly, I feel it encourages children to compete with each other...finally, I am aware that in a recession there will be lots of parents out there who are struggling to make ends meet anyway, and can do without additional pressure.

This morning I dropped my three year old off at nursery and overheard one of the nursery assistants having just this conversation with her group. I found myself speaking to the manager and saying that the Christmas story was actually about homeless people and an expectant mum looking for shelter. I said I was a Quaker and that I didnt' think it was okay to be asking children such questions, especially not in a recession.

It felt like I was taking a big risk, tackling this one, and I'm sure some people weren't pleased. Still, I followed my heart.


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Sanna speaks my mind: "I think more people agree with thee than thee feels." And part of offering up a witness does indeed have to do with going against the grain and risk being "counter cultural."

When someone asked me what I was getting for Chrismtas when I was a child, I had an easy answer: "I don't celebrate Christmas: I'm Jewish." Now it's not so easy, since I'm not a child, I don't practice any form of Judaism, and I identify as Quaker. But I've been very open this year about my plans for this year:

My partner and I are "sponsoring" a couple of households in the metro area that can't afford presents for one another, so we do some of their shopping for them, anonymously. Often what the families ask for are warm clothes or a few frying pans. This year, I'm also buying a teenager a dictionary and a hard-backed Harry Potter book. And we're keeping our home decorations simple--no tree, no garland. A natural wreath for the door and a few smaller boughs in the house.

It feels nice to shed the excess and focus instead on giving to needy individuals and families. And it feels nice to not feel so alone in that anymore.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up
I hate to beat the horse again, especially since Christmas has come and gone, but I thought I'd add in what my intentional community did for Christmas this year. We had a "secret Santa" kind of thing going, except the stipulation was that we couldn't spend a single penny on our gift(s). After a wonderful dinner of sweets and finger foods, we all grabbed mugs of homemade eggnog and crammed into the common room to open gifts. What followed was the most beautiful, warm, loving, and generous gift-giving I have ever witnessed. Johanna gave me an IOU for a luxurious back massage (she's trained!). Joe wrote Tyler a song. I made Ashley a wreath out of greens and berries I'd gathered, with a big bow made out of one of my old shirts. Andrea gave Chrissie a beautifully hand-painted Advent calendar. Maddy made Ben a yarn pom-pom for his hat. Abby tried her hand at painting some of her favorite places for Adria. Some gifts came out nicer than others, of course (I think, for example, of Chrissie's failed attempt at dinosaur-shaped cookies for Eli), but they were all so sweet and personal that it didn't matter. Everyone had put time and love into their gifts, and because it was a $0 gift-exchange, all of the gifts were handmade, foraged, or secondhand.

I love Liz's way of celebrating Christmas, and it seems to me that $0 gift-giving could also accompany a beautifully centered, Quaker Christmas. It would sidestep all the commercialism and wastefulness and focus instead on using our own creativity and skills (really, the gifts that God has given us) while also strengthening human relationships.

I don't have kids, but I remember when I was little and made gifts for my parents out of randomness. Because I was too young for an allowance, all my gifts had to be free. Our teachers knew this, of course, so they often had us take out the craft supplies to make gifts that didn't cost us anything. In fact, I fondly remember when my pre-school class went out to the vacant lot behind the school and picked flowers/weeds for Mother's Day. Jesus wants us to be like little children, right? So, maybe we can return to that mode of gift-giving, where we're not asked "what are you getting?" but "what did you make your mommy?" Let's all get out the dried macaroni and construction paper! ;)

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