So I’m curious, are you a Christmas season purist or are you a free range Christmas celebrater? I mean, do you stick to no Christmas until after turkey day or do you call bunk on the legalism of strict Christmas music listening and decorating rules and do what you want when you want?

Generally, I’m a purist. I scoff at Walmart for candy striping the bollards in front of the store in October and I’m disgusted with Michaels and Hobby Lobby for setting up the kitsch right after the 25 cent crayons sell out in August. Please, can we just do Halloween and then Thanksgiving first?

But I get you, you Christmas libertines. Sometimes Christmas music just feels right, I’ll give you that, even though I still hold out. Why can’t Thanksgiving simply be a welcome addition to the Christmas season, you say. This year even I’m thinking about pulling out the red and green a little early! (I didn’t do it though, A+ procrastinator here. Maybe this is really why I’m a purist.)

If you’re a free range Christmaser, does that make you an early shopper, too? According to a poll done a couple years ago a little less than half of us start Christmas shopping by the end of October and the rest of us wait until around Thanksgiving (#purists). With the bustle and hype of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when stores make 30% of their sales for the year, shoppers are expected to spend $90.14 billion this year. 77% of shoppers are buying for themselves for about 30% of their total purchase. And it’s estimated that 52% of shoppers regret a purchase they make during the sales. Yay, all the Thanksgiving feels!

In an attempt to balance the chaos and of course reel in more money, sales are spreading out though. In some sense this is appreciated like I said…to balance the chaos, but it pushes the season ever earlier. Each year it seems that wish lists need to be made and the pressure to get things done sooner only grows. A friend told me several weeks ago about seeing a woman in Target with an overloaded shopping cart frantically accosting someone over the phone about which thing they or their child wanted because she was getting her shopping done today (!!!).

While I’m a Christmas season purist, it does sound nice to get some to-dos checked off a little earlier and hopefully save some time and stress during December. And I actually do like the idea of Thanksgiving as a fixture in the Christmas season. Like every kid, I loved Christmas growing up, but I really enjoyed Thanksgiving, too. With Thanksgiving you get all the great food and family togetherness without the pressure of everything being super exciting and expectation filling. Why not add a heaping dose of thankfulness, family, and friends into our overall celebration of all that is Christmas?

Most of us though often fall into the humdrum and the guilty obligations of the holidays. If you’re a parent I’m sure you already know this…but making wish lists for your children (for the grandparents, say…) is work. It’s the balancing act of what is reasonable to ask for and what kinds of things do you want to welcome into your home oh, and also including enough ideas for everyone buying for you. And then…add in the struggle to be grateful and the accompanying guilt for not.

Then there’s making your own list of presents to buy for others. It’s a different kind of balance—what would they like, what kind of thing do you want to give, what can you afford, what kind of gift (and pricetag) can you give to this person in relation to everything else on your list? And then…add in the struggle to be cheerful and the accompanying despair. #firstworldproblems, eh?

But that’s Christmas, isn’t it?

The idea seems to be that we give gifts to others as a way to reflect The Gift that God gave to us on Christmas—a Savior. Some even say do it up big, let Christmas be extravagant and material because Jesus is tangible, and salvation and abundant life are real and not to be limited to the ethereal.

But what are we supposed to do when Thanksgiving (the holiday for thankfulness) only seems to usher in the feelings of frivolity, greed, and obligatory giving for the next holiday, one that’s supposed to be super meaningful?

I’ve got a feeling that this is a balance we’re going to have to keep on measuring out as the years come on, but here are some thoughts to help us restore some reason for the season, if you will:

  1. Give a good gift. Consider the actual person you’re buying a gift for and give them something that they might actually want and enjoy or need. This means that maybe you should reconsider the amazing things that you really want to give. Giving is about them. Don’t be afraid to give them something they need! (Don’t be too uptight to gratefully receive something you actually need!)
  2. It’s okay to be unimpressive. Give a good gift within your means or maybe way below. Be generous, yes, but wowing them isn’t the point. Reflect God’s joy and care and generosity in giving, but let him be the perfect and extravagant one. It is good to give and receive, but it is also good to be able to see how much better God’s gifts are.
  3. Remember the why. We love because he first loved us and we give because God has given to us. God has given you people in your life to love and care for, even your ____. Give like a Christian, with humility and cheerfulness. That means no apologizing for what you didn’t or couldn’t do. With care and thoughtfulness. And with a heaping dose of reality. Don’t be weighed down to give gifts to every last dog walker and once a month volunteer in your kid’s classroom. Go for it, if you can and you want to! If not, be free!
  4. Be a good getter. Throw your family members a bone and give them some good ideas! (See number 1.) Temper your expectations, that doesn’t mean turn into Eeyore. (See number 2.) Be thankful. (See number 3.)

Whether you’ve got your list already marked and checked or you’ve yet to even consider a list, remember what we’re doing here with these holidays. They can be wonderful reminders and celebrations, or they can be heavy burdens.

 “…put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Col 3:14-15)

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