Finding real hope and lasting joy this Christmas

Published December 1, 2009

ADVENT IS A season of preparation and expectation.  In North America, our personal expectations and hopes for December 25 are not only inflated but often impossibly high.

In the book, Unplug the Christmas Machine, Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli note that powerful commercial messages speak to our most profound needs and desires.  They woo us with promises that our families will be together and happy. They tell us that at Christmas we will have time, money and fun. We will feel safe and truly loved.

Most of us know we can’t get these needs met by buying a particular product or setting our table a certain way. Still, we are vulnerable.

Identifying your Christmas priorities

Freedom to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way starts with figuring out what you truly want.  I heard of a Franciscan nun who said that since she celebrated the birth of Jesus every day, the chance to make gifts for her family and friends was what made Christmas special for her.

To help you better understand your focus at Christmas, list the following goals in order of their importance from 1 to 10.* Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers and feel free to edit, delete or make additions to this list.  Christmas is a time:

  • to promote peace in the world
  • to enjoy time with my family
  • to reunite with my extended family
  • to celebrate the birth of Jesus
  • to create a festive and beautiful home
  • to show my love through gifts
  • to remember and reach out to those who are less fortunate
  • to be active in my church community
  • to celebrate with friends
  • to relax and be renewed    

Gifts that keep on giving

Two Christmases ago, I gave my nephew, Robbie, who turns six this December, a special bank. Made out of sturdy, clear plastic, it has three sections: one each for spending, saving and giving. The spending section helps him learn to save money to buy the things he wants. Caryn Boxer and Gail Dunner, co-creators of this award-winning bank (, claim that when a child learns to save and spend his own money, parents will “be amazed” at how often he will decide a coveted items is actually something he can live without. “Don’t give in and buy extras,” they advise.

Robbie earns up to $1 a day when he performs tasks such as getting dressed, setting the table, eating nicely and tidying up. This last task regularly trips him up so his average daily income is 75 cents.  That amount means one quarter can go into each of the sections of his bank.  

Robbie is learning that he has to make choices when he can’t afford to buy everything he wants. It also gives his parents a proactive way to deal with the “I want” chorus by reminding him that he can use his own money to buy the item he wants.  

Like most people, Robbie has caught onto the spending idea a bit faster than the giving one. Still, children have a natural inclination to be generous. Robbie has saved 80 quarters or $20 for giving and soon his parents will be talking to him about how he would like to contribute this money to make a difference.   

A similar type of bank is offered by Moonjar (  Older children and teens may prefer the sleek 3S_tube banks available through Share Save Spend, an organization founded by Lutheran financial advisor Nathan Dungan, author of Prodigal Sons and Material Girls: How Not to be Your Child’s ATM ( 

The gift of gratitude

“Be thankful in all circumstances,” encourages the author of the first letter to the Thessalonians. But let’s face it: this is easier said than done. Yet, as Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance, and creator of The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude says, “When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, reconnection.”

So perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the gifts I look forward to receiving each Christmas is my gratitude journal. The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude contains a list of 150 overlooked blessings as well as inspirational sayings. And it offers me five lines to record the five things I’m thankful for each day of the year.

Even at the close of one of those terrible, rotten, no-good days, you can be thankful it is over.  My husband has even taken to asking me how he made the list today!  Any journal or daily calendar can be adapted to this purpose, but I’ll keep using Breathnach’s.

Lisa Chisholm-Smith is on staff at the diocese of Ottawa where she is responsible for lay leadership development.  

* Identifying your Christmas priorities has been adapted from one of four exercises in the Unplug the Christmas Machine workshop developed by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli.  The workshop materials and their companion book, Unplug the Christmas Machine: A complete guide to putting love & joy back into the Season, are available online through the Simple Living Network at


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