As our season of Advent begins, it almost seems like we are late to the party. After all, Christmas has been a part of what has surrounded us in our culture for weeks already. We have lived through Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and on and on. We have been bombarded with Christmas music, Christmas movies, Christmas party invitations, Christmas sales and Christmas decorations.
In the midst of all of this, there are cries of the "war on Christmas" - accusations that the secular world is trying to "take Christ out of Christmas." I don't know about you, but I'm not much on waging war in the name of the Prince of Peace. Instead, why don't we find another way to make sure that what we do during Advent and the Christmas season really reflects our values and the true message of the Incarnation?
One example of how to celebrate Christmas differently is the effort of five Christian pastors that was begun about 10 years ago. Tired of the commercialism, the stress and the debt of the season, and convinced that "Christmas can still change the world," they came up with something called the "Advent Conspiracy" (www.adventconspiracy.org).
The pastors who began the Advent Conspiracy settled on four tenets: Worship Fully- because Christmas begins and ends with Jesus; Spend Less - feel less stress, and free up resources for things that matter to Jesus; Give More - give relationally to offer one another presence, rather than merely presents; and Love All - love the forgotten, the poor, the marginalized, and the sick in the ways Jesus asked us to.
I have seen so many people embrace these tenets, even if they were not aware of the Advent Conspiracy, by turning Christmas into a season of giving not just store-bought presents from bulging wish lists, but gifts that actually improve the lives of others. Here are some ways to transform the season into one that is happier, more connected and freer to focus on Jesus:
Giving Tree. Your parish is probably connected to a food pantry or knows of a food pantry in the area. You can collect gifts from parishioners to be given to the clients of the local food pantry.
Adopt a Family. The food pantries at Catholic Charities regularly have opportunities to provide some necessities like warm clothing and toys for the children for poor families in our area. You can contact the Parish Outreach department of Catholic Charities.
Ethical Trade. You can do your Christmas shopping at ethicaltrade.crs.org and when you purchase something you will know that you are supporting companies that uphold the highest standards of ethical and fair trade.
Gifts of Hope. You can go to https://gifts.crs.org and make a life-saving donation to the poor around the world, such as $25 for 12 health exams for children or $40 for a flock of chickens, or $150 for 10 vaccinations. You can let loved ones know you've given a gift of hope in their name.
This Christmas, Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All, and show that Christmas can still change the world.
Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and is a Global Fellow with Catholic Relief Services. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.