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Christmas on a Tight Budget
By Fr. Thaddaeus Hardenbrook
Nov 22, 2010, 10:00
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Source: The Grapevine: A Newsletter of St. Lawrence Orthodox Church, November 19, 2010



Already this year, I’ve been a part of several conversations revolving around Christmas gift-giving anxiety. Many of us are much tighter than ever financially, which conflicts directly with the cultural conviction that gift-giving is somehow tied to how successful we are as a person or, worse, how much we love someone. Both are rotten fruits of capitalism. Neither has anything to do with the birth of Christ.

Whether it is our own family experience or not, as Orthodox Christians we have to submit, at some point, to the spiritual reality that it is our relationships that matter the most: our relationships with God, neighbor, and self. The best times are had by intentionally being together. That’s all. Knowing that, the rest of our energy can joyfully go into creating the opportunities to simply be together.

Stated in extreme simplicity, “being together” is the life of the Holy Trinity. It is the cause for which mankind was created. It is essential to natural human existence, the purpose of the Incarnation, and the root of every liturgical celebration. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).

As Christians preparing to celebrate Christmas, our communion with family, friends, strangers, and God must remain as the central purpose. Being on a tight budget is a blessing in the sense that it makes it much easier to practice the spiritual reality. The Incarnation is not simply one of many themes to be coordinated during the season; it is the root of the season from which everything natural to it springs forth. Those practices (and anxieties!) that do not graft successfully to the Incarnation are cut away.

Here’s a couple of practical ideas that can help us get past the debt-accruing urges and free up some time and energy for planning an affordable, Christian Christmas:

-       Reframe expectations. Compared to many, locally and globally, having a roof over one’s head, some personal belongings, and memories intact is a state of abundance and blessedness. Want what you have, not what you don’t have.


-        “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Take up the work of giving love and blessings to others rather than financing expensive gifts.


-       Extravagant spending doesn’t make the holidays any more special. What you do, not how much you spend, defines how joyous and memorable the season will be.


-       Curb gift-giving. Many families draw names, so that everyone gives only one gift. Many couples agree not to buy anything for each other but only for the children.


-        Set a price limit on gifts. Instead of shopping impulsively, set a maximum amount you can spend per person and shop accordingly.


-       Make gifts when you are able (everyone loves cookies). Don’t buy new decorations. Take a stroll around the neighborhood for natural, free décor you can use indoors.


-       Ask what a family or person needs. Inexpensive gifts that are actually needed are more appreciated than that expensive trinket bound for the dresser drawer.

If communion is the goal, center all the being-together time around a potluck Christmas meal where the burden of cooking is shared equally. Make sure there is lots of time after the meal to sit around and just be together. Listen to music and play board games, tell stories, attend the services, discuss Incarnational theology over eggnog. Build memories together. Relational bonds are natural to the process of salvation and will enter with us into eternity. And tasting of our eternal communion is just plain better than more junk in the garage.

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