The day after Halloween, our local Target had all their Christmas stuff up already. So the Christmas shopping season didn't really start the traditional day after Thanksgiving - they've added the entire month of November to extend the season even earlier. Which is ironic because if anything, the Christmas season should be shifted later, not earlier, to allow for the full Christmas season (in the church year) through Epiphany in January. Some churches have been encouraging folks to have all their Christmas shopping done before Advent starts, so the Advent weeks prior to Christmas can be spent in actual spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ rather than frenzied consumer shopping.
This Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is being reclaimed as Buy Nothing Day, a day to not buy stuff as a countercultural move against holiday commercialization and consumerism. My wife and I have been talking about finding something fun to do with our kids that day as an alternative. We haven't quite decided what to do yet; at the very least, we'll likely spend some time at the library. (This past weekend we were in Wisconsin visiting Ellen's family, and after getting back we asked Josiah, "Did you like going to Grandma and Grandpa's house?" He said, "Yeah." We asked, "What's your favorite house?" thinking that he'd say our house. He said, "The library! Because it has lots of books.")
Another alternative to Christmas shopping, of course, are the various ministry catalogs that provide resources to people in need around the world. There are dozens of these available now, and we've used them to contribute goats or other animals, healthcare resources, help kids get out of slavery or sex trafficking, etc. The catalogs we've most often used are from Samaritan's Purse, World Vision and SIM, though of course there are many more. One of IVP's authors, in partnership with Partners International, is working on a book, Harvest of Hope, that will tell stories of how these catalog gifts change lives and transform communities.
Peggy Wehmeyer, former religion reporter for ABC News and now with World Vision Report, had a great NPR commentary about how her own daughters learned global compassion through using these gift catalogs. Her daughters were getting overly greedy and self-centered about their Christmas gifts, so Peggy and her husband revoked their gifts and instead gave them some of these ministry gift catalogs. “Here’s how much we’d normally spend on you,” the Wehmeyers said. “We’d like you to think about giving one of your gifts away to one of these kids.”
The girls took the task seriously. After looking through the catalogs, Lauren compiled a long list of all the things she wanted to order for other kids. “But honey,” Peggy said, “If you get all that, you’ll use up your budget.”
“That’s really what I want to do, Mom,” Lauren replied. “These kids need so much. I don’t need anything.” Peggy concluded her commentary by saying that though there weren't any packages under the tree that year, “the best gift was the one my husband and I received—seeing our girls turn into young women who would choose compassion over self-indulgence."