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The Twelve Days of Christmas Challenge, Part 2

In my last post I laid out the case for how we have totally abandoned the original intent and spirit of Christmas. All that remains anymore for most people is a hollow, broken shell of the celebration of Christ’s birth. For that reason, we must make some radical changes in how we honor God’s gift of Christ.
I want to suggest that a redefinition of Christmas can come about in several ways:

  • Instead of a post-Thanksgiving shopping, party, and event frenzy with an anticlimactic one-day Christmas, we can celebrate a twelve-day Christmas beginning on December 25, preceded by a much quieter, thoughtful Advent season.
  • Instead of gifting others with things and stuff, we can follow God’s example of honoring and blessing them with the gift of ourselves.
  • Instead of overspending on time, money, and energy, we can narrow the field and focus on fewer, but more thoughtful gifts that would honor and bless our loved ones.
  • Instead of falling into the same old typical Christmas traditions and expectations, many of which have lost their meaning over time, we can establish new traditions that mirror the generosity, love, surprises, and grace of God’s gift of Jesus Christ.

Even if you’re not a fellow believer but find yourself somehow participating in the Christmas culture, I think believer and non-believer alike can find some meaning in what I’m about to propose. We all can try this twelve days of Christmas challenge and find ourselves at the end of it far more closer to our loved ones, feeling far more generous, and experiencing the heart and life of Jesus by living out his generosity and grace as a way of  honoring of his birth.

So… hold on to your seats and read on. Here is the twelve days of Christmas challenge:

The Christmas challenge takes place during the traditional twelve days of Christmas, beginning December 25 and ending on January 5.
Here’s how the Christmas challenge works:
1)      Have your family, or a group of friends, neighbors, or office friends decide to go into the Christmas challenge together. Assemble the group as soon as possible.
2)      You each randomly draw the name of someone else in that group.
3)      Beginning on December 25, the Christmas challenge begins, and on each of the twelve days of Christmas, you give one gift to that person whose name you drew.
4)      Each gift you give must be well thought out and designed to truly love and bless that person. A gift could be something like:

  • a note or card that encourages the person or expresses your love and support.
  • a handmade gift—something you made for that person.
  • an object you own that you decide to give the person—something you know they would truly appreciate
  • some planned quality time doing something the person would truly enjoy
  • help with a chore or job
  • a poem, song, or picture that would honor or celebrate that person
  • a mission project or act of service you decide to carry out in that person’s honor
  • a small, purchased gift, but something that required some thought and creativity

If you belong to a family with small children (like ours): small children can participate, too. Modify the Christmas challenge to fit their needs and abilities. Perhaps they can give one or two gifts to a few other family members, and those family members in turn can gift them. And if they are too young to able to participate much at all, have other family members take turns gifting the child for those twelve days. Bottom line is that all people, no matter their age or ability can be a part of the Christmas challenge.

Is there room for traditional gift giving? Absolutely. But note that traditional gift giving should take a back seat to the kind of giving in this Christmas challenge.

Please also note that taking on this challenge is going to require a loft of guts and intentionality from you. If you take it on, you’re bucking a mountain of traditions and expectations, especially from those who might be closest to you. Then again, that’s very much in the mold of Jesus, too. He resisted fruitless traditions and expectations in order to live out and uphold a more authentic, sincere life with God and others. Most of the time, the best, most meaningful things in life come at a high personal price. But in the end, the treasure far outweighs the cost, and the treasures to be found in experiencing the heart and gift of Christmas will be well worth the sacrifice.

Lastly, I’m sure those of you who participate will find ways to tweak and improve upon what’s here. Please do that and share with me and others about your experience, what you learned, and how to build upon it. All in all, however, I’m convinced that if enough of us give in a way that honors the person and spirit of Jesus over the twelve days of Christmas, we’ll discover and rediscover a pattern of living, blessing, and generosity that will carry us throughout the whole year.

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The Twelve Days of Christmas Challenge, Part 1

As much as I love the intended spirit and purpose of the Christmas season and the memories I have of past Christmases, I have grown to dread the whole deal. It has only gotten worse, the older I get. But then, after a few years of rethinking things, all confirmed in a conversation I had with my daughter Kathryn one night, my family has decided to try something that is both ancient and unique this year for Christmas.
But before I get into what we’re doing, I want to give some background in this post about how I came to almost entirely dread and even loath the Christmas season. Some of this is personal, but I think you’ll find yourself relating to much of it in your own way. Then I hope to whet your appetite to join my family in your own version of the twelve days of Christmas.

For me, the veneer of the Christmas season began to wear off during the years I worked retail while in high school and college. Many of those years were spent in the Annapolis Mall at Hudson Trail Outfitters. If you’ve ever worked retail during the holiday season, you know exactly what I mean: hours upon hours of being swamped by shoppers, some far more unpleasant than others, while being pressured by the company you work for to sell, sell, sell! I saw first hand both the materialistic greed of shoppers and retailers, and yes, I was a cog in the system.

I vividly remember my first retail Christmas season. At times, I had to step off the sales floor for a few moments to relieve my people claustrophobia. Week after week, especially on the weekends, I endured those notorious crowds of shoppers intent on fulfilling their Christmas obligations of buying this and that for so and so, most of them with only a tiny sliver of thought or joy behind their purchases.

Then, that same year, I worked the day after Christmas. As I showed up for work that morning, I thought (rather naively!), “Whew, glad all of that is over! Now I can catch my breath.” But that day was an intense reoccurring nightmare. On December 26th, the crowds were back in full force, returning items they didn’t want, exchanging something they were given for something better, spending gift certificates, and bargain hunting. The day after Christmas felt like a bad hangover from a month’s long materialistic binge. I felt dirty even being there that day.

As I became a Christian, I began to appreciate more deeply the message of Christmas. I learned about the promise of Emmanuel, God sending the gift of his own Son to be born among us and to be God with us. I grew passionately in love with that story, and I still am. It’s one of the most beautiful, profoundly impacting treasures I have, and over time, my life began to meaningfully mesh with the story of the birth of Jesus, God’s greatest gift. This, friends, is why I keep attempting to eek out some meaning behind this whole Christmas thing. The reason for and the way in which God presented himself to us in Jesus is the reason I haven’t become a complete Ebeneezer Scrooge.
But then, my encounter with the nativity story began to sour me even more. I looked around at my fellow Christians and saw that while they, too loved the nativity, they were also, along with me, trapped in the cultural web of the Christmas season. Over time, I began to sense a great disconnect between the Christmas message we celebrate in church and the ways we unwittingly participate the culture’s whoring of it. Every year I have heard Christians piously shout, “Jesus is the reason for the season!” Yet for the most part I’ve only seen lip service followed by the normal stew of sentimental spiritual and cultural traditions simmering in the gluttony of materialism.

There was no room for the Holy Family in the inn over two thousand years ago, and there still isn’t in the way most of us disciples of Jesus (myself included) live out the reality of Christ’s birth.

Many of us do a fine job of complaining about this quagmire we’ve inherited, but few of us have had the guts to shake off the shackles of tradition and expectation to do differently. But then again, it’s not merely a question of proceeding differently. It’s more about honoring the birth of Jesus more authentically, sincerely, and in keeping with the heart of God’s greatest Gift.

So, after exploring the various ways people have honored Christmas in the past and probing more deeply into God’s heart behind the giving of his Gift, my family and I have begun to discover perhaps a better way of honoring God and each other by creatively observing the twelve days of Christmas.

And even if you’re not a believer but still participate in the Christmas/holiday ritual, you might find something here worth exploring for yourself.

Details are forthcoming in my next post…

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