Where there is no vision, the people perish….
What are your plans for the coming year? Do you have any? It may be something as concrete as already-purchased plane tickets, or as ephemeral as “find a better job,” “exercise more,” or the eternally optimistic “lose weight.” Still, it’s good to have goals. We’ve all heard the old adage, “If you aim at nothing, you’re bound to hit it.”
Christmas is rapidly approaching, we have three granddaughters to spoil. They’re now ages 5, 6, and 7, and I’ve been spending my time checking out toys both online and in our local toy stores. What am I finding?
That the toy manufacturers have a long way to go.
When our first grandchild was born, we promised her parents that we would:
- not add to the already overwhelming pile of stuffed animals (difficult, but so far, so good)
- avoid toys requiring batteries (at least while the kiddos are young)
- avoid toys with trademarked ads promoting movies and TV shows—no Sesame Street characters, no Disney princesses (we’ve done fairly well on this one).
Christmas reminds me of a sticky ball rolling down a hill, accumulating bits and pieces from everything it passes, until it’s one big adhesive mess and it’s hard to tell what the original ball looked like. We’ve gone from a simple explanation of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth to the huge holiday extravaganza we now experience. This is one holiday that needs to go on a diet.
Some of the traditions we associate with Christmas make sense—at least I can see the connection. Giving gifts is a reflection of the magi’s offering of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Advent calendars and wreaths help us focus on God’s purpose in sending His Son. Decorating with lights reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the world. And of course, there are Christmas carols (which may or may not be relevant or accurate).
You’re going to hate me. I’ve already finished all my Christmas shopping. The gifts are wrapped, and most of them have already been delivered. I can barely believe it myself. Now I’m looking forward to spending December focused on other aspects of Christmas —putting up some decorations, meditating on the birth of Jesus, and perhaps baking our family’s favorite Christmas cookies.
(Okay, I’m bragging. I just happened to be extra motivated this year. We traveled a long distance to spend Thanksgiving with most of the people we exchange gifts with, and I wanted to haul everything in the car with me to save on shipping costs.)
Christmas is drawing near and there’s still that hard-to-buy-for person on your list. They certainly don’t need more stuff, yet you want to gift them with something special, something that shows how much you appreciate them. Don’t give up. You don’t need to buy that fruit cake or “tower of chocolates.” Invest in a memory instead!
Christmas is coming!
Does that warm your heart? Are you excited to find or make perfect gifts for everyone on your list? Do you anticipate relaxed evenings gathered around the fire, delightful afternoons making cookies, evenings caroling and partying? Will you decorate your home with the most beautiful Christmas tree ever, and brighten the neighborhood with your extravagant light display?
Most of all, will you spend extra time with God, focusing on the incredible significance of His light shining in our darkness and thanking Jesus for coming as one of us?
Sometimes it’s hard to know when Christmas is over. The advertisers certainly waste no time switching from hawking Christmas gifts to promoting New Year’s specials. It takes me a little bit longer. I yearn for just a few more days of magic. I know that eventually we need to stop playing Christmas carols, attempt to stuff our tree back into the box in the garage, and eat one last guilt-free cookie, but does it have to be on December 26? On the other hand, I’d rather not let the holidays slowly fizzle out, gloomily dissolving into months of winter, winter, and more winter. For years, I wished for some definitive event to put a firm period at the end of the season. Then I discovered Epiphany.
As the holidays approach, we’re all trying to find True Meaning amid the spending and the gathering, the sugar highs and exhausted lows. I had been thinking about the coming Christmas season when I received this little list from a well-meaning friend. These are all good things, no doubt. But as I read the list, that annoying little red flag started waving at me. Will they truly make Christmas more meaningful? I hate to bah humbug, but there are some assumptions made here that I take issue with.
“Here, you will need to learn these recipes!” My future mother-in-law pressed the cookbook into my hands. She was smiling, but I knew that she was serious. Pete’s mom was 100% Finnish, and now she expected me to help carry on her family traditions.
The Finnish Cookbook, by Beatrice A Ojakangas, was published in 1964, and to a great extent, the contents reflected that era. There were numerous casseroles and few vegetable dishes. Almost half the book was devoted to the “coffee table”—a spread of cookies, cakes, breads, tarts, and tortes all containing huge quantities of butter, cream, and sugar. It all looked delicious—and really, really bad for you. I quickly realized that while I might learn to make these things, I was going to have to ration them carefully!
It’s that time of year again. The Salvation Army bell ringers are stationed in front of stores, markets, and malls, soliciting donations. My email inbox is full of requests for funds from organizations as diverse as World Vision and National Audubon. Our small group has “adopted” a single mom and her three kids—we’re helping with decorations, gifts, and special meals. We’re all familiar with the idea of donating food and clothing, or perhaps simply cash, especially during the holiday season.
But do these donations really help?