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Christmas without Consumerism: Unwrapping some Franciscan Thoughts


Just in time for the holidays, Fr. David B. Couturier, OFM Cap., helps us focus on the reason for the season with a two-part Franciscan Friday series on having a Christmas without consumerism.

Christmas is a time for tradition and rituals. Unfortunately, many of the customs we have been developing lately are stressful and inordinately expensive.

Researchers tell us that the average American will spend upwards of $935 on gifts this Christmas, not counting the tree, the cards, the postage, holiday food and travel, about another $1533.95! When all is said and done, about a third of Americans will go deeper into debt this Christmas and some won’t finish paying this year’s Christmas bill until the year 2023!

Is there a way to celebrate Christmas without going into debt? It is unrealistic to think that one can totally isolate oneself from the commercial aspects of Christmas. In fact, some scholars argue that Christmas shopping is the cultural ritual we use to transform mundane, lifeless commodities into meaningful and personal attachment to other people, creating a “sphere of familial love in the face of a world of money.”(1)

OK. We won’t do away with Christmas shopping. But, shopping shouldn’t define our holiday experience or, worse yet, our Christmas identity. Shopping needs to be re-contextualized. St. Francis of Assisi lived in a time of incredible greed and tremendous violence. The symbols all around him stressed excess for the very few and deprivation for the many. They proclaimed terrifying judgment and a near hopeless despair. It was within that context that St Francis invented a new Christmas symbol: the crèche of Grecio, a calming scene of the wondrous fragility of a God who comes close to the vulnerable with nothing more than open arms.

What does this mean for a Christmas without consumerism? Do what St. Francis did: visualize then make real.

1. Visualize a Christmas not centrally defined by shopping. Then, make it real. Start by crafting a Christmas budget that will not “overshadow” you for months to come. Create a budget you can live with peacefully. Stick with it and don’t apologize for it. If people ask about it, tell them “we’ve decided as a family to live within our means this year.” You will earn the respect of your neighbors.

2. Visualize a more humane Christmas with friends and family. Then, make it real by making the simple and more personal gifts that celebrate and honor your relationships. There are plenty of wonderful websites that detail how you can make gifts with personal touches that make all the difference.

3. St Francis brought people to a religious place they could see, touch and smell, to a symbol that demanded interaction. The majority of Catholics today are alienated from their own religious spaces. They live in spaces of alienation and fierce economic competition. We have a generation of young people who don’t know the Christ of Christmas. Resolve to bring a child to Church who has never or rarely been inside one. Let that child see, touch and marvel at the images that bless fragility and promise peace.

It will do your heart good and it won’t cost a cent.

(1) James G. Carrier, “The Rituals of Christmas Giving,” in Daniel Miller, Unwrapping Christmas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 63.

David B. Couturier, OFM. Cap., director of Catholic Consultations International, an organizational development and mediation ministry can be reached at davecout@aol.com

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