Friday, November 4, 2011

Holiday excess in a starving world

How, as missional Christians, should we handle the extravagance of American holidays?

There was a time when Thanksgiving and Christmas made me sick. How could I stuff myself with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie when others are starving around the world? How can I justify the ridiculous amount of spending on stuff that doesn’t matter by people in our churches who should know better? Who should want to do better things with their money? Having seen what we have seen, how can we enjoy the holidays? How can we keep from being a scrooge yet still honor Jesus’ calling on our life and stuff?

The first step to handling the holidays is to recognize and accept that there will be dissonance. Your life should be disrupted by your experience. If you come back and are immediately okay with the world as it is, especially your life, then you are probably blocking out what God is trying to tell you! We spend a lot of our existence finding ways to keep ourselves busy enough that we don’t have to realize the way we feel. Think about it…when was the last time you felt something and just accepted it. Somehow accepting that there is tension frees us up to deal with it.

As you know, admitting there is a problem is simply the first step to solving a problem, not a solution itself. There are many ways to deal with the excess of holiday times, but let me give you a few ideas of what we do at our house:

  1. Emphasize the true meaning of the holiday. On Thanksgiving, take some time to reflect and talk about what you are thankful for. On Christmas, make a birthday cake for Jesus and blow out the candles with your kids. If you’re kids are older, considering doing a “Jesse Tree” with them. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are emphasizing the true reason for the holiday each day.
  2. Find a way to serve. Whether it is volunteering at a soup kitchen or being a part of a program like Operation Christmas Child, find a way to make the holidays “others-centered” instead of self-centered.
  3. Change the way you give. Check out the website for Advent Conspiracy. The basic idea is to change the way we give, so that we can love others the way that Jesus loved.
  4. Be intentional. Don’t just complain about American excess, lovingly do something about it. If your family always throws away a ridiculous amount of food on Thanksgiving, then talk ahead of time about how and why you can reduce the amount made. You don’t have to skip anything, maybe just scale back how much is made. The key is to talk ahead of time, affirm the joy of the holiday, propose solutions, and talk about why.
  5. Be passionate about the holidays. Don’t lose a passion for the holidays, just make sure you are passionate about the right things. Make sure the holidays are a time of joy. Encourage more family time. Talk about how great it is to have a time of year that encourages us to remember Jesus, to love each other in special ways, and to spend some special time together.

Our life-change can and should include how we treat the holidays. I love the holiday season even more now than before I started getting involved in short-term missions because I have a healthier view of them! There is no doubt our world is a broken place and it has even corrupted Thanksgiving and Christmas. My prayer is that we can actually use the holiday season as one more way to proclaim Jesus and focus on Him as the one who brings healing, hope, and salvation to the world. If you would like to discuss this issue further, feel free to call me at 520-404-0841 or email me at

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