The Advent season consists of the four weeks preceding Christmas. This is a time of renewal, a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord. A time to take stock of what is important in our lives and how we can best honor the birth of Jesus. Unfortunately, many of our Christmas customs are shaped not by Jesus, but instead by the celebration of Santa Claus, reindeer, spending money, and buying lots of stuff. But is rampant consumerism how John the Baptist would want us to prepare for the coming of the Lord? Quite the contrary:
He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?" He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
If John were here today, I think he would have us eschew overt consumerism and ask us to adopt a minimalist, humble Advent. One that involved slowing down, reflection, forgiveness, and renewal. Now I am not saying that all gift giving is bad, especially when done in a selfless manner. But rather than bestowing gifts on those already having plenty, why not bestow gifts instead to those having little and those who are suffering.
That is why I plan to reduce my gift giving to family and friends to a bare minimum and instead redirect my efforts to making donations to organizations that are at the forefront of taking care of the needy and the marginalized, as well as those organizations taking action on climate change and caring for abused animals and the environment. And I can connect our donations back to my family and friends by making donations in the name of those loved ones. This is something that we started doing several years ago and most recipients are more than happy to have received a gift that has zero carbon footprint and really benefits the meek, the voiceless, and future generations.
When it makes sense, we try to fit the donation to the recipient. For example, a niece interned for and now works for Doctors without Borders, so we made a donation in her name to this amazing charity. For my mother, a lifelong Catholic, we donated to Catholic Charities in her diocese. And for my children, we adopted orphaned animals in their name from Sheldrick Wildlife Trust: one adopted Apollo, a rhino; the other an elephant named Olorien. Other relatives received donations in their name to groups doing good in the climate change space, including Climate Covenant, Laudato Si Movement, Climate Reality, Pacha Mama, and Project Drawdown.
To me, this sort of gift is superior to the usual shrink-wrapped fill-in-the-blank. It certainly feels better to me and I think John would approve.
Working together, we can help take care of our common home.