Shopping, peace and goodwill

By Jill Segger
December 22, 2014

'Panic Saturday' is behind us. But the panic does not seem to have diminished greatly. The compulsion to buy and the strain of doing so is on almost every tongue. Like many Quakers, I don't give presents. This makes Christmas both easier and more demanding.

Easier, for obvious reasons; demanding because the substitute for purchasing and parcels is the consideration of how best to give time and careful attention. It's about seeking to meet needs which may have remained unspoken and which cannot be met by any amount of spending

Of course, I get it wrong. Often. But being liberated from the pursuit of desirable objects and glittery wrapping creates a space for reflecting on the nature of giving.

Much present giving and card sending seems transactional – “Oh dear, a card from X. We didn't send them one” is followed by hasty rectification and a dash to the post box accompanied by a grumble about the cost of stamps. The very act of the panic buying of presents suggests thrall to convention and deadline rather than the inhabiting of a graceful space offered by taking a longer period of reflection on what an individual might really like. Which might be something simple, home-made or particular to a relationship developed over time. It may even be the unwrappable gift of simply spending time and listening with respect and affection.

Where this gentler and more spacious approach is absent, it is not difficult to see how vulnerable we may become to assuaging guilt or seeking affirmation – the expensive gift as a measure of one's worth as parent, child, partner. In this time of frozen wages and rising prices, to say nothing of benefit caps, sanctions and food banks, it is alarming to see that a study from the TUC found that the average UK adult borrowed £685 over Christmas and would still be paying it off in June of the following year. For those spending Christmas alone or struggling with sickness, disability and poverty, this is an obscenity.

I am agnostic about the Christmas story. But I have no doubts about it as revelation of a truth which has nothing to do with our frantic shopping. It is that the Divine chose to unclothe itself from the vesture of unutterable otherness to focus our attention on a child, new-born in unpromising circumstances.

And the first gifts made under that dispensation were not the exotic and impractical offerings of the “star-led wizards” – they were peace and goodwill. So I wish for you all those transformative and demanding gifts at this time called Christmas.

* More on Christmas from Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/christmas

* More on Advent from Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/advent

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.