For nine years, money-saving expert Martin Lewis has been asking ‘Is it time to ban Christmas presents?’ with his ‘No Unnecessary Present Pact’ campaign aiming to take the stigma out of NOT giving gifts just for the sake of it. For me, it’s a great reminder that there is an uneasy relationship between the essence of the Christmas story and the cynical consumerism and sloppy sentimentality which is so prevalent at this time of year.
Seventy years ago, in “What Christmas Means to Me”, C S Lewis made it clear that he deplored the endless shopping and card-sending which dominated the holiday. In an ironic little essay published in 1954 he tells the story of the people of Niatirb, who celebrated an annual winter festival called Exmas. Cards and gifts were sent, causing market places to be overflowing with people, despite the fact that Exmas occurred at the coldest and wettest part of the year. Every citizen had to guess the value of the gift he would receive from a friend, and then send him one of equal value – whether he could afford it or not. They grew pale and weary, and became afflicted with a condition called Rush. When the day of the great festival arrived, many would be so exhausted that they would lie in bed until noon before staggering downstairs for the feast, where they would eat and drink too much and collapse. The days following the festival were dark as the citizens recovered from over-indulgence and calculated how much they had overspent on that year’s celebrations.
The Christmas season poses a heightened challenge to us: can we look beyond ourselves to the One who has come down from heaven in the person of Jesus? Christmas marks the coming of God into our world, without which there could be no Easter and no Pentecost. Lewis himself loved the story of the birth of Jesus, calling it the “one grand miracle . . . that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him”.
Inevitably there will be much for us all to do this Christmas, and there is no reason for us not to enjoy ourselves. But what a tragedy it would be if we miss out on the wonder of what God has done in sending Jesus into the world. May I encourage you to make sure that you allow yourselves plenty of time and space to take in afresh the wonderful and life-changing message of Christmas.
I wish all of you a very Happy Christmas, and a Peaceful New Year. But even more than that, I wish you a real Christmas – with Jesus Christ at the centre of your thinking and celebrating