I feel the tension at this time of year. Often the news will report on how many billions of dollars that Australians spend on Christmas related paraphernalia, gifts, food etc. and it is hard to stomach. Whilst giving gifts to each other is great, the sheer enormity of some of the unnecessary stuff that we buy sets my thought process into a negative place where I imagine what that money could do if it was spent in other ways. How much emergency aid and relief it could give, how many small loans could be distributed to those living in poverty so they can start a business, or how many refugees that could house. We could choose to put our money towards these things, but we choose to spend it on Christmas. That’s what we want to do.
The tension I feel is related to celebrations and how important they are in building relationships, strong communities and social capital. It is incredibly valuable to celebrate the annual festivals that we have in our calendar, because that is a part of our culture and makes up some of our identity.
So I sit with the tension.
Then I realise that it is ok that this tension exists. Because it is not necessary for us to choose between the two options. We don’t have to be generous with our money to care for the poor at the cost of celebrating. We also don’t have to celebrate Christmas and leave the poor outside, cold and hungry. We can do both.
There is a strong Jewish tradition which encourages the people, when celebrating festivals, to do so with your family, friends and household, and to extend it even further than that.
“This festival will be a happy time of celebrating with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows from your towns.” Deuteronomy 16:14
They have a good balance. One that says we have the freedom to celebrate and enjoy the festivities together without the feeling of guilt, because this is good for us, our families and our community. At the same time, we can find ways to be generous to the poor in our celebrations. How this is done is non-prescriptive. Some people I know buy gifts that empower the poor on behalf of others, others host countless people for a Christmas meal, and still others volunteer their time on Christmas day. What it looks like for you is your call. But let me encourage you to find a nice balance this year, where you can celebrate and be generous to the poor at the same time.
So, don’t be stingy with your celebrations, and don’t be stingy with your generosity this Christmas.