Past meetings‎ > ‎

2014/10 - Christmas

Ruth Grayson, founder of CASCaid, came to talk to us about better ways of celebrating Christmas.
At Christmas many get into debt to fund their celebrations, whilst in other countries people are struggling to afford basic necessities. How can we help reduce this imbalance?

Things the group like about Christmas: lights, carols, family, preparation/prayer during advent, meeting family, family, time together with family
Things the group dislike about Christmas: busyness, logistics of family visits, people buying too much food (and wasting it), pressure to buy presents/cards for people, lots of jobs (cards, etc.), family, commercialism

There is a lot of pressure to buy, to be busy; 30% of retail trade is in the 6 weeks up to Christmas!

Why do we do it?
Advertising - especially at children; this season’s ‘must have’ (peer pressure).
Giving presents held up as a sign of how much you love the children. No time to spend with them, so you buy them something big.

How did it start?
Once post war rationing ended, people liked being able to buy things, so it was seen as better to spend instead of making / fixing.
Pagan winter festivals - midwinter harvest.
Dec 25th not Jesus’ date of birth (probably autumn/spring when shepherds out)
Roman festival of saturnalia - winter festival of gift giving.
Gift giving retroactively connected to the wise men, who actually gave gifts to Jesus, not to each other.

What can we do about it?
Both to reduce the over consumption in this country and the support of those overseas who don’t have enough.
Taking stock of what we would normally spend at Christmas, in advance, then set aside a proportion of this to give away to charity.
Whole retail sector skewed over Christmas.

Pressure to buy too big presents for people who don’t want/need them. Pressure to keep outdoing each gift.
Greatest cause of personal debt in UK (second greatest cause in USA, where medical bills are the greatest), leading to family breakdown, depression, suicide. All in the name of a Christian festival.

A good time to concentrate, instead, on homelessness, poverty, etc.

Practical steps
  • Spend time adding up money spent last Christmas - food, presents, travel.
  • Then add up the money given to charity last Christmas. 
  • Could you set aside some of the Christmas budget to give to charity instead?
  • Could you encourage others to do the same?
£22 billion was spent on presents in the UK last year.

Very easy to spend more than you think at Christmas - spread out over a long time; a little bit here, a little there. 

Average household spending at Christmas was £800 last year. Proportion given to charity 2.5%.

Getting people to think about budgeting for Christmas, in advance.

Households that spend the most are the least able to afford it.

How can the balance be redressed?
Charitable giving is currently down, due to incomes being reduced. In many cases a little bit of money goes a long way.
£22 billion on presents, as much as 40% may be wasted.
At the same time, an appeal to raise £1 billion, to raise support for Syrian refugees.

CASCaid is using the idea of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer - who was despised and rejected, but then took gifts to people who wouldn't otherwise have them. ‘The Good shepherd’ was already an established idea before Jesus used it, so there was already an idea of using ‘pagan’ ideas.

What could we do?
  • Produce some simple leaflets / budget sheets to give out (e.g. at the community cafe)?
  • Find ways of changing the culture - not removing the celebration?
  • Ways of giving gifts, without spending lots of money (e.g. making, offering time) and giving the money not spent to charity. Top tips:
  • How do you get children to connect giving to how it supports others? e.g. giving via operation christmas child
  • Often children have a greater sense of justice than adults, can grasp the idea of children the same age as them not having anything at Christmas.
  • Love languages - different people appreciate different things; time spent together, service done, affirmation, (gifts), touch.
  • Some sort of explanation card to give with charity gifts, to explain why you are giving it.
  • With Tearfund, the recipient gets to choose where the money is spent. Charity gifts need to be clearer about how the money will actually be spent.
  • Would be good if churches could help people with pre-christmas budgeting. Sometime in the 80s, christmas seemed to have grown out of control.