A small but growing movement of Christians is rethinking how to do Christmas. By redirecting their giving, they are discovering the profound simplicity of the Christmas message amid the consumerism of the season.
New York Times bestselling author Ann Voskamp of One Thousand Gifts, tells the story on her blog of how, over 10 years ago, her young son gave her the biggest challenge of the Christmas season.
She writes, “He stops me with just one question: ‘What does Jesus get for His Birthday?” Voskamp tried to answer with something like, “a cake, our love?” But her son persisted, “Why don’t we give up things so we can give to Jesus for His birthday?”
Her son was four or five years old at the time, and ever since that exchange, she and her family give gifts for the Christ Child, rather than to each other every year. “It’s been over ten years since they’ve had any Christmas gifts under their tree,” Voskamp writes.
Every day in the last two weeks of Advent, they pour through catalogs from Compassion Catalog, Samaritan’s Purse Catalog, Partners International, or World Vision. Parents and children alike pick out food packets to send to hungry families, or mosquito nets to protect from malaria.
Voskamp muses over this idea of redirected giving, “Maybe that’s always the only choice we have to make every Christmas: feed our own fickle wishes or feed the real hunger of Christ?”
Advent Conspiracy, a movement started in 2006, follows Voskamp and her family’s approach.
The group says on its website, “It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus.” This holistic approach to Christmas is what the founders of Advent Conspiracy want to restore to the season.
They also want to challenge the consumerism of the holiday season. They ask, “How often have you spent money on Christmas presents for no other reason than obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? Thanks, but no thanks, right? We’re asking people to consider buying one less gift this Christmas.”
Creative Director Tony Biaggne told The Christian Post in an email that Advent Conspiracy is not against consumerism. The underlying problem for them is motivation. “What we are saying is that when those gifts become more important than Christ, when those gifts are gifts given out of obligation or just there to fill up the tree, when hyper consumerism takes over and we go into debt buying things people don't even want, then we say there's a problem,” he wrote.
According to one of its promo videos, $450 billion is spent in this country alone during the month of December. Christmas shopping accounts for the majority of this spending.
Advent Conspiracy asks people to donate some of the money they saved by spending less or buying one less gift to their clean water project, through their partnership with an organization called Living Water International.
Living Water employs people to complete water projects in poverty-stricken areas around the world.
Advent Conspiracy began when five pastors decided to make Christmas a revolutionary event because they were sick of the consumerism. They began by encouraging their faith communities to “Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All.”
In its first year, it raised $500,000, and today its mission has grown to several million dollars. They’re still focused on generating awareness and have already gotten endorsements from Whoopi Goldberg, Rick Warren and Albert Pujols.
Even though its focus is to ask people to donate to clean water projects, it also gives people ideas for gifts that don’t cost money, but are meaningful. A website called Rethinking Christmas was created for people to post stories and gift ideas.
Some ideas include using thrift store frames for family or calendar photos. Others have suggested making photo ornaments. One person decided to give his dad a bag of coffee beans. He told him they had to grind the beans together and then catch up over a cup of coffee.
Some secular organizations also understand, at least in part, that Christmas has gotten out of control. A website called The Christmas Resistance Movement calls on people to boycott the consumerism of the Christmas season.
The site isn’t religiously affiliated, but it asks people to show love to their friends and family by giving of their time and care, “not by purchasing consumer goods.”
A comment on the Advent Conspiracy website gets at the heart of what the secular organization fails to express: “God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love,” it says. “So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall.”