Reclaim Christmas!

Think of the stable described in Luke’s gospel – the straw, the smell of animals, unwashed visitors from the surrounding countryside. Apart from a brighter-than-usual star glittering through the cracks in the wall, the trappings surrounding the birth of our Lord were about as minimal as you can get. Then look at how we celebrate this moment now. What a gift Christmas is to our consumer society, to an economy dead-set on economic growth whatever the consequences, to a system that relies on the distraction of retail therapy to blind us to both climate and ecological breakdown and the fulfilment of finding joy in enough.

Let’s reclaim Christmas!

We do not suggest we follow this list below because “every little helps” or because “lots of little things add up to a lot”. These tend to be untruths perpetuated to make us feel comfortable within our earth-destroying system and making us believe it is up to us to change our own lives rather than to demand fundamental change in our whole economy.

But we do suggest we follow them! Because it cannot be right to celebrate the birth of the creator and redeemer of the world in a way that destroys the world; to remember the vulnerability and humility of Christ and to forget the impact of our Christmas on the vulnerable and humble; to rejoice over the birth of the one we follow, who raged against injustice, by following the societal norms that wreak injustice over the world and into the future.

And of course, as we have learned to expect in God’s upside down kingdom, a truly happy Christmas will be found without the mounting debts to our bank, the Global South and the future, but with the God-given qualities of love, simplicity, creativity and time. 

Here’s some ideas. Do add your own in the comments section at the end.

Advent – Praying and preparing

  • Stillness during this time will help you make choices without rushing later – choices that work for you, and do not cost the earth. Why not continue the pattern of some fasting and prayer during Advent that you start if joining in with COP28 fasting and praying?
  • Write a letter to family or friends explaining why you really want to keep Christmas simple, and write this early, so they do not mistake it for ingratitude or bah-humbug
  • There is a useful Grove booklet, “Reviving Advent, Reclaiming Christmas” by Ruth Grayson, who is a Green Christian member.  One important point Ruth makes in this book is that we can, and should, enjoy Christmas, without making it all about expensive presents. She says “Our Christmas giving should be primarily about God himself, and therefore to all God’s people, in ways that reflect His love for all of us”. See also Ruth’s Advent article here
  • More suggested book titles for reading this year can be found at The Big Church Read
  • Please add titles that have inspired you during Advent in the Comments section below.

Advent – Enjoying and preparing 

  • Local community events … showing up and making links with others at this time of year is great. At fayres, decide before going how much to spend. Decide not to be drawn into buying loads unnecessarily, but offering an affordable donation if you don’t want lots of purchases 
  • Celebrate Stir-up Sunday – “stir up oh Lord the wills of your people” (Common Prayer book)  – preparing by thinking and talking about your hopes for the coming season, while making puddings, if that is your thing. 

Advent – Connecting and making 

  • Some community organisations do workshops – enjoy a couple of hours making a wreath or decorating glass jars
  • If making a wreath, try to take dried fruits, fruit rinds and perhaps don’t include ribbon with plastic, and be willing to mention to others why this is
  • Handmade decorations and cards, brown paper with ink stamps of holly leaves or candles, homemade crackers (with unshelled nuts rather than novelty plastic toys) help to focus on giving and enjoying
  • Take part in the posada – a Latin American tradition which can be adapted to your circumstances. You need knitted Nativity characters – and may not have time to knit those for this year! Each day, the Nativity characters “stay” with someone in the community, and then are passed on to their next port of call. This symbolic journeying and a small ceremony at each of their stopping points can be used to help us recall all who travel or are far from home … particularly refugees, displaced and homeless people. 

Advent – bringing the outside in 

  • By looking for decorations from nature – lasting greenery, and pine and fir cones, you enjoy the outside and then bring it in. Decking the halls with holly and ivy is a pre-Christian tradition, now with some adopted Christian symbols, and provides a continued connection with nature during the dark months.

Advent – using candles

  • This and other Advent traditions come from Scandinavia, when candles were lit midwinter to welcome back the sun. Then it evolved into lighting bigger coloured candles for Christmas, particularly on Christmas eve to welcome Mary and Joseph as there was no room at the inn for them. 

Advent – making small changes 

  • Reverse Advent Calendar – many local food banks run this scheme when you put something aside each day to give to food bank users
  • Challenge yourself to do small gesture of kindness each day during Advent, such as visiting and carol singing in a local care home, popping in to see a neighbour, buying a coffee for the person behind you in the queue, and telling them why – to spread kindness and goodwill.

Advent – going deeper 

  • Enjoy an Advent Carol Service – often more reflective than Christmas ones
  • Read your advent reading and reflections 
  • Find and sign up for an online Advent calendar with reflections, such as this one from CAFOD 
  • Church leaders – find resources from global aid agencies like Christian Aid, CAFOD and Tear Fund for preparing Christmas services, and include climate and environmental justice themes
  • Consider a half day, or day Advent retreat, in person or online
  • Reflect on the meaning of a Christmas carol, perhaps one each day leading up to Christmas 
  • Perhaps re-write a carol to include care for the planet, and all creation, and climate justice.

Advent – leading to Christmas

  • Keep things simple, put up a Nativity scene, but only with the stable, and Mary, Joseph and the donkey could move a little closer to that each day
  • If there are children in the house, put Jesus in the stable after their bedtime on Christmas Eve. The magi could still be further away 
  • Use a simple card Advent calendar – with the Christmas story and not with chocolates.

Christmas – decorating 

  • Gather more of those pine and fir cones
  • Use coloured strips of unwanted paper for paper chains
  • Have a competition to make a camp angel for the top of the Christmas tree from recycled bits and pieces 
  • Save decorations from one year to the next
  • If you want to buy more decorations, consider buying from Fair trade shops like Oxfam, Tearcraft, We Are Fair Trade
  • Christmas tree – consider buying a recycled tree, or a tree with roots, that can be planted. The Soil Association website has up to date information on sustainable Christmas trees and replantable trees.

Christmas – reducing 

  • Reduce the number of extra gifts by doing Secret Santa in families, or with friends
  • Handmade gifts – that don’t take all year to make – there is still time to make: seed bomb, bug hotels, pot of plants or indoor garden, homemade hamper, homemade mince pies.

Christmas – connecting 

  • The shepherds came in a group, not as individuals.
  • Spend time with family and friends (presence and connection not presents and consumerism) 
  • Board games socials, making use of church halls to invite more to those
  • Share your meals by plating up or inviting others round 
  • Connections – global family – think about Christmas around the world, and perhaps have something in your home, cooking or conversations to reflect some of those. 

Christmas – joining in with saving the earth 

  • Rent a Christmas tree, or use locally sourced greenery
  • If you have fairy lights, use ones with LED bulbs
  • Buying – source plastic free toiletries. Agree on the spending limit
  • Alternative gifts – consider the donations to charities that arrange alternative gifts, for example a tree being planted, support for basics in a community impacted by Climate change, endangered species support. 

Christmas – spending time alone

  • It’s really okay to not do any of these things
  • If you are alone for much of Christmas, or do not feel festive, perhaps connect with those things you’ve not had time for during the year – books, music, crafts 
  • Find a local “Blue Christmas” or “Quiet Christmas” service to join, or connect to one online if that would help
  • Light some candles and if there are people you miss, light one for them and connect with the memories.

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Author: Ruth Jarman | Date: 25 December, 2023 | Category: Climate Emergency Opinion | Comments: 4


Comments on "Reclaim Christmas!"

Liz Francis:

December 17, 2023

I highly recommend Redeeming Advent: Pursuing Christ through the haze of tinsel, giftwrap and Lebkuchen by Lucy Rycroft

Ruth Jarman:

December 14, 2023

Thanks John, I will try to remember this for next year - I missed my Parish Magazine too.

John logan:

December 13, 2023

Thanks for this - very useful suggestions, which I will save for next year!! I edit our Church Magazine and each issue is printed to be out on the last Sunday of the previous month, so December issue (a joint one with January!) needs material in time for the magazine to be printed mid week before the last Sunday - even if all I am putting in is a link to such a long article as this.

Catherine Fish:

December 1, 2023

I also love Jan Richardson's Advent Doors - entering a Contemplative Christmas. Today's is here: https://adventdoor.com/2016/11/27/advent-1-the-vigil-kept-for-us/ Tomorrow's - really useful on Hope - is here: https://adventdoor.com/2016/12/04/advent-2-blessing-of-hope/


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