Let’s face it: Christmas is a consumer holiday. It has little if anything to do with celebrating the birth of a peasant child whose teachings have inspired countless acts of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. Even Christians put the Christ-child in the backroom at Christmas time. Indeed, quite often the only difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that Christians might — I say might — drag themselves to a Christmas Eve worship service. Otherwise there isn’t much difference.
Check it out for yourself these next couple weeks. The Christians you know don’t do things any differently than most folk do. Christians put Christmas trees in their living room, teach their kids about Santa, hang stockings, participate in shopping orgies so as to give gifts in abundance, devour lots of chocolate, eggnog and other beverages. Christians, just like their non-Christian neighbors, eat, drink and are merry throughout endless rounds of Christmas parties, decorate their houses, play Christmas music throughout December and enjoy a few days off with family and close friends.
I’m not knocking this. After all, even the consumption orgy is most often for the enjoyment of others. We give gifts as expressions of love and affection. We give gifts out of a sense of gratitude and connection. The season might wear us out and strain our pocketbooks, but it does have some redeeming features. And unlike some, I actually enjoy a month of Christmas carols and jingles. Heck, I even like watching Rudolph, Charlie Brown and all the other fluff shown this time of year. It reminds me of innocence lost and causes me to yearn for a better world to be born.
So I don’t frown on the frenzy. But I would like to endorse an idea put forward by Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community (sojo.net). Reverend Wallis is calling for a “Christmas tithe” as a way to balance the frenzy of consumption with a living example of actually celebrating the birth of the Christ-child. Wallis says:
“Let’s keep it simple: Keep track of all your holiday spending for gifts this year, and then tithe a percentage of that amount to an organization that directly serves the poor. A tithe is traditionally 10 percent, but you could decide to do less or even more. But make a decision about your Christmas tithe and pledge it to groups that are now struggling to respond to the highest number of Americans in poverty in half a century, and to those who focus on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world. This is a time to give more — not less.”
I think the Christmas tithe is a good idea. But instead of giving to an organization, my tithe will go directly to the Real Change vendors I know. In the spirit of the child who brought good news to the poor, it’s a way of honoring their good work.