How to keep perspective as we approach the holiday season

By Brittany Butler
Senior Features Writer

During the holiday season, Christians balance a fine line between enjoying the gifts, music and decorations, and rejoicing in the knowledge that through God, Mary gave birth to the man who would free us from sin and give us everlasting life. 

I don’t believe that Christians are obligated to forego the secular aspects of Thanksgiving and Christmas — every time I taste a cranberry-apple crisp, hear “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole or see a tree covered with the golden glow of lights, I experience sensations of sentimentality that surpass even the cheesiest of the Hallmark holiday movies. God gave us joy, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying the cultural aspects of the season. 

Yet our culture also indulges in a mucky, stressful tradition around the holidays — materialism.

This materialism not only distracts those that participate in it but also those who write off the season altogether because of the shopping and buying frenzies. It’s tempting to have a cynical attitude when you hear about people being trampled to death in Wal-Mart on Black Friday. Why bother with the holidays if they are only a celebration of consumerism and inflatable Santas in front yards?

If you’re struggling with mixing the cultural and Christian aspects of the season or if you simply feel like walking through campus muttering, “Bah, humbug,” here are some ways to get into the holiday spirit and out of holiday consumerism.

1. Participate in family traditions — or start your own.
So, you’re no longer a “way-too-cool-for-this” teenager, and you’re also old enough to feel nostalgia for childhood traditions. What better way to celebrate than spend time with friends and family?
If you like to bake or cook, find old family recipes. Maybe your family watches “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “White Christmas” every year — if they don’t, find a classic movie and start the tradition. Be creative and actually roast chestnuts over an open fire (and if you’re in a really sappy mood, you can even listen to the song while you’re treating your burns.)

2. Volunteer
Volunteering gives you perspective, which could be a great stress-reliever over the next few months. You won’t worry so much over finding and affording the gifts for everyone in your life when you serve people who are thankful for a meal or an hour visit. 
Local churches have service opportunities. If you can afford it, “adopt” a family in poverty and cook them a Thanksgiving meal or buy them a few Christmas presents.
Look into nursing homes in the Lexington area. Many nursing home residents don’t get any visitors over the holidays. If you aren’t comfortable with a one-on-one visit, gather some of your friends who can play musical instruments and sing and play Christmas carols. Don’t worry if you’re a beginner. Nobody will mind if you miss a note or two.
Contact the Hope Center in Lexington. You can volunteer in the kitchen, clean or decorate — and you can definitely get to know some of the homeless you’re working with. 

3. Consider the Incarnation
Advent calendars are an old-fashioned, but tried-and-true, tradition.  The verses progress from penitential to celebratory as Christmas approaches, giving you the right mindset in the midst of hectic gifting. 

My father, an Anglican priest, takes the holiday season very seriously. When I asked him for advice on staying away from the raucous consumerism during the next two months, he recommended using an advent calendar and taking time to contemplate the Incarnation. “I think that if people would contemplate the Incarnation more, they would see that it is more stunning than anything,” he said. “They would be thinking, ‘Wow — there is more to life than I ever dreamed of. A lot more.’ We should be stunned that the Incarnation happened when it shouldn’t have. God could have just left us on our own, and we could have just floundered in our separation forever. Death would have been real, and that would be it.” 

So, the next time you feel the urge to move to the Grinch’s Mount Crumpit and skip out on the “roast-beast,” remember that there is much more to the Christmas season than stress and consumerism. We enjoy tradition, self-sacrifice and mystery for a reason.