The holiday season is in full swing with Thanksgiving and Hanukkah already behind us. Black Friday has corrected the market, and everyone sighs some relief as Cyber Monday seals the deal. Everyone, that is, except many Unitarian Universalists who interpret our principles in a way that clashes with the commodification of our values in a consumerist society. We shun the early morning black Friday deals in exchange for shopping at small businesses. But at the end of the day, we still feel empty because those purchases still feed the consumeristic nature of giving rather than the generous giving from our hearts. We may make this turning to some extent in our family, but still have to face the relatives who feel the need for a gift exchange, even if they know it burdens family members who may not be able to afford this. And we are often caught in the middle of unrealistic expectations, high demands and competing needs. We gather with friends and families to eat and drink too much, and by January, we are exhausted and purge the holiday memories through a new strict diet and exercise regimen.
We work hard in our church communities to resist this trend, and I’ve seen some real success. Southwest UU in North Royalton, OH, formed a simplicity circle a few years back where people exchanged concrete ideas on how to handle the holidays. One of these ideas still stand out to me: instead of exchanging gifts, they give the gift of “experiences.” Now it may involve some cost, but they may have bought tickets to a movie that they could see together, or a concert, or art museum- some interest that was shared that they could talk about after the event.
Other successes involve people- First Unitarian Rochester involves the children in generous giving. The Youth was selling soup to support one group, while another table was staffed to fund microloans to the community and food to the area food shelf. What is their secret to success? As Rev. Tina Simpson says, “There are two parts to giving. There is the generous heart that gives and also the generous heart that receives. Both are equally important.”
Knowing the needs of the receiver can make a huge difference. The best gift I ever gave? Cleaning my grandmothers house from stem to stern when her mobility limited her from cleaning the way that she would like. She didn’t want presents, she wanted to make the food, but she sure did appreciate a clean house when company came for Christmas. Somewhere deep inside us, is a holiday spirit that matches a need that we can meet, and makes us feel good and generous. That is the spirit in the season of generosity.
Rev. Chris Neilson
Congregational Life Consultant, St. Lawrence District