Christmas and Hanukah once upon a time were about struggle, hope, and freedom. Both stories are exile stories pointing out how even a glimmer of light can provide a lasting hope for the triumph of all that is good. While we haven’t altogether lost these themes in our modern interpretations, we have handed over a large portion of the narratives to the big box stores and advertisers bidding us a happy holiday. These accounts once asked us to confront the evils of greed and the misuse of power and see in human efforts a desire for peace and justice. A sad American reality is that we have turned them into commercial bonanzas and hyped up reasons to shop. This loss eats at the self-worth of those who struggle to meet ends. And it corrodes our genetically ingrained, shared values that what is good for all is good for each. And it cheapens the holiday season itself.
So what do we do about this? One answer is to study the stories more carefully and more fully with our families to see what is new in them for us. Another might be to confront the desire to have more things and instead cultivate a desire to do more good in our communities and world.
Each year at this time catalogs build up on my kitchen counter that suggest I give gifts of services to those who can’t afford them, like eye exams done in remote parts of the world for people who have little or no money, not to mention health care. They ask me to “purchase” a chicken or a goat for someone who will learn to farm locally on a human scale for their village in Peru or Haiti. These gifts, along with as many local products as I can find, will be at the top of my holiday shopping lists this year because they challenge the fundamental problem of wanting more and consuming more than we will ever need. Such a discipline is a spiritual confrontation I will have to have with my soul as I stare longingly at the gift of a new electronic e-reader I want to give a loved one, or some amazing gizmo that my son would love. This confrontation and then the discipline to act for the good of the planet and in a more globally minded way can only do me, and in turn us, more good than harm. Happy holidays.