I'm not a big fan of McDonald's, especially after reading Fast Food Nation and seeing Super Size Me. But every February/March, they reel me back in with their Shamrock Shakes. It's smart marketing on their part that they only have them available for St. Patrick's Day each year. That way we are eager for them when they're reintroduced, and just about the time we get tired of them, they disappear, so we can look forward to them again the next year.
Same thing with Girl Scout cookies. They intentionally don't sell them year-round, just once a year, so we make a tradition out of picking up our annual boxes of Thin Mints. To a lesser extent, we see a similar dynamic with peppermint stick ice cream being available only at Christmas. (Is it just a coincidence that the above three examples are all mint-related? Or does that say more about my own tastes than anything else?) In a different way, Disney does a similar thing with their backlist animated movies by periodically cycling through old classics and releasing special editions of them for just a limited time before they go "back in the vault."
This past weekend, on the same day that I had my first Shamrock Shake of the season, I also got a newsletter from Samaritan's Purse that highlighted the results of this past Christmas's Operation Christmas Child, in which shoeboxes of Christmas gifts are distributed to kids around the world. Our family has participated in Operation Christmas Child for several years now, and Josiah is old enough to be wide-eyed and excited when he sees pictures of Christmas shoeboxes going around the globe. He eagerly told Ellen, "Guess what, Mommy? Our Christmas boxes went to China!"
And it occurred to me that the annual Christmas shoebox drive functions for Samaritan's Purse in much the same way that Shamrock Shakes do for McDonald's or Thin Mints do for the Girl Scouts. It's an annual reminder and reinforcement of the organization's identity. And it's also a very savvy way of building Samaritan's Purse's donor base, since shoeboxes are collected by churches, but individuals send personal donations to cover shipping and handling costs, and thus Samaritan's Purse gathers addresses of church members to whom they can send ministry gift catalogs and other mailings. All this would probably not work nearly as well if they tried to have shoebox campaigns year-round. But an annual Christmastime shoebox is very effective (and "sticky," in Tipping Point terminology).
This suggests to me that churches and parachurch organizations can likewise be intentional about finding annual occasions for particular ministries. We do this already with Christmas pageants, drive-through live nativities, Last Supper dramas and Easter cantatas. But perhaps there are other seasonal opportunities apart from Christmas or Easter that Christians can make the most of. In campus ministry, some parachurch organizations have annual Jesus Week or Christian heritage emphases to parallel things like Black History Month or gay pride celebrations. Some churches have annual summer fun fairs for their community. Other churches have annual garage sales that people look forward to every year.
As an Anglican, I'm quite conscious of the cycles of the church year and the regular rhythm of feasts and festivals. And I've occasionally been critical of evangelical churches that are often more prone to celebrate secular invented holidays like Mother's Day or the 4th of July rather than Christian holidays like Pentecost. But there's certainly room for Christians to participate both in our own Christian calendar as well as civic holidays, especially if Christians can find ways to connect with our neighbors through them. Perhaps we can celebrate environmental stewardship and God's good creation as part of Earth Day in April, or we can call for racial justice and societal shalom in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Whatever we do, we should find creative, sticky ways to share our faith that will linger in people's memories like shakes and shoeboxes.