Christmas, Consumerism and a Different Way to Live
I’m writing these words in November and for a while now the shops have been telling me that Christmas is coming.
I wonder, is Christmas the most ironic feast in the entire history of human celebration? Driven now by retail desperation, thinly disguised as yuletide cheer, it has become a festival of shopping. Call it what you will – Shopmas, Presentmas – the high feast of consumerism is beyond parody. This year once again, despite the spectres of over-consumption and debt, we are invited to believe that shopping can be the Saviour of the economy.
And yet Christmas, at its heart, is the antidote to consumerism. The message of Christmas, and the deep rituals hidden beneath its decorations, have the power to free us from the empty cycle of turbo-consumerism. How can this be?
Let me illustrate with two Christmas revelations.
The first concerns the best Christmas I ever had. The best Christmas I ever had wasn’t the one with the most presents. It was the one without electricity. I was up with my family in a small Cheshire village when our electricity was taken out by a storm leaving us in a power cut. I think we all expected disaster – our normal festive season was a carefully choreographed routine of TV, presents and hot food, punctuated by frequent withdrawal to our centrally-heated individual rooms. The power cut changed all that. But it was a change for the better. Instead of the usual consumer Christmas, we found ourselves in greater awe of nature, sharing the burdens of organising a simple feast, and talking late at night around an open fire. Christmas had brought us a gift. It was a glimpse of what simpler celebration could do. At the time, I didn’t know quite what to make of it. It would take a few more years before a way forward would become clear.
The second revelation happened on Christmas Eve 2005. I opened up The Times newspaper and the editorial read like this: ‘Christianity today is embattled. Partly this is because it has yet to find a way of effectively responding to consumerism … in the face of a consumerist onslaught that many find ephemeral and amoral, Britons are looking to their forefathers’ religion for moral guidance’. That was it for me: when national newspapers start calling out for Christians to provide an alternative to the consumer dream then something is definitely going on.
God is on the move, stirring up a desire for a simpler, deeper, more sustainable, more generous way of life. It can’t be drowned out by festive Muzak or crowded out by seasonal special offers. The news of the wealthy God who became poor for others. The message of a Creator who loves the entire world. These stories resonate with people’s souls at Christmas time. And they remind us what our lives should really be like.
This is where Breathe comes in. I started Breathe with friends in 2005 because we wanted to go on a journey with others who felt the same way. We knew that our lives could be less consumerist, more generous, more sustainable. But we also knew that we hadn’t ‘arrived’ at The Simple Life.
Now Breathe connects over 500 people through monthly emails and a blogsite (www.breathenetwork.org). We’ve had two inspiring conferences with Graham Cray and Pete Grieg in London and we’re currently hatching plans for 2010, including conversations with A Rocha and Living Lightly.
If we want to live differently this Christmas, and to do so with grace and joy rather than a pharisaic spirit, I suggest two things.
The first is to talk with others. We can talk with family, friends and neighbours about how we really want to celebrate Christmas. All sorts of things are possible: neighbourhood Christmas drinks; charity Christmas gifts; hampers for elderly folk living locally; open-invite Christmas Day dinners; and more besides. Breathe exists to inspire these kind of conversations. Time and again we’ve seen God bring new possibilities to light as a result.
Secondly, we can connect with others. This year over 200 people have made a Promise of Life with Breathe. It’s not a list of Lifestyle Laws; it’s a set of aspirations that we are travelling towards. You are welcome to join this, perhaps in conjunction with the suggestions on the Living Lightly site. Commit to the Promise for a period of time, preferably with others, and see if your life isn’t richer as a result. More stories from the Promise, and announcements of plans in 2010, will be coming up on the Breathe website or to subscribers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a blessed Christmas.
(Friend of Breathe)
Promise of Life
Because life is a gift, we live thankfully
Savour what we have
Pray for what we need.
No longer hurried, distracted, or worried,
We’ll walk through each moment with God.
Because everything is a gift, we live with open hands,
Tread lightly on the earth
Share freely our homes and our things.
No longer restlessly chasing identity,
We’ll be known by our love not our logos.
Because giving is a gift we live generously,
Give ourselves deeply to family and community,
Give joyfully to those in need.
No longer caught in the consumer dream
We’ll invest in the kingdom of love