Hundred Dollar Holiday

August 15, 2011

I re-read Bill McKibben’s Hundred Dollar Holiday this summer, and I loved it just as much as I did the first time I read it. It was one of the main texts used in a lecture at L’Abri, which was given by my tutor, Mardi Keyes. I love and respect her, and I enjoyed her lecture. So, I bought the book.

It’s a short and easy read. I’m a slow reader, and I finished in two days. My friend Laura just finished it in a day. I’m going to give you a very quick and dirty synopsis of the book. But, I can’t encourage you enough to read it for yourself. McKibben spends the first third of the book giving a brief history of Christmas. For me, it was so helpful to see the history of Christmas as a construction. It helps me to be less sentimental at Christmas (not in a way that makes me feel cynical in hearing Silent Night; but more in a way that helps me question it when I see images of children with lots of lavish gifts on Christmas morning). The second third of the book talks about the current state of affairs in celebrating Christmas. Essentially, McKibben sees the current situation as being one of excess for most of the year. Because we live with so much throughout the year, in order for Christmas to feel special, it’s gotten more and more elaborate. With this elaborate Christmas, we’ve also gotten more frenzy, chaos and debt. In the last third of the book, McKibben helps the reader to envision another alternative. An alternative that focuses on Christmas as a deeply meaningful time. A time that focuses on family and friends. A time of preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus. A time of giving and service.

The first year after I read the book, my husband was unemployed. In light of the richness of our time at L’Abri and with the helpful perspective given in this book, we had one of the simplest, least materially bountiful and most joyful holidays that we’ve ever had. In the two years since then, we’ve continued the journey. Two years ago, we gave the book to all our adult family members, and last year, we did mostly charitable giving for our family. It’s never simple to fundamentally change the way that you celebrate a holiday which is so bound in the tradition of gift giving. Never easy. It’s a slow process. It may be messy. People may not understand. I think it’s helpful to think of this journey as a process- one that may take several years. But, let me share what we’ve gained:

  • We’ve gained re-set expectations from our children.  They now expect to give lavishly to children in need.  They had a great time going through the toy store last year and filling our basket with gifts for children that we didn’t know.  They were so excited about giving this basket full of gifts so that lots of children in our area would have a few gifts on Christmas morning.
  • Their “normal” Christmas has been re-set.  They now expect to get just a few well-chosen gifts.
  • We’ve gained a wonderfully relaxed Christmas season.
  • We’ve gained a mom (that’s me) who is sane in December.
  • We’ve gained white space to do crafts and cook together during the holidays.
  • We’ve gained the tradition of our Christmas Day St. Francis walk- feeding the birds as we walk as a family.
  • We’ve gained the tradition of the Jesse Tree.

I also want to share a few ideas for gift giving that I’ve done over the last few years.    If you want to give small gifts to your family and friends, now is a great time to think about what you would like to do.  It will help December to be less stressful if the gifts are already taken care of.  So, here we go:

  • Hand made stationery
  • Hand made soap
  • Honey from our hives
  • Dried herbs from our garden
  • Cookies and candy for the neighbors
  • Give your loved ones the gift of a gingerbread house party.  You can do this so easily by purchasing the kits from Trader Joes.  Heads up my friends, I’m wanting to do this in December with a group this year!    Click here if you want to read about our experience doing this with our kids last year.
  • Get together with good friends and cook a meal together.
  • Host an Open House in your neighborhood to nurture your neighbors.

If you have ideas, I would love to hear them.  I would also love to hear from you if you’ve read the book.  Many people loved Hundred Dollar Holiday, but McKibben also took a lot of heat for the book.  What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

On a related note, you can read here about my thoughts last December as I was celebrating a Christmas with White Space.


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