Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Gift?

Today, to an increasing degree the emphasis of Christmas is shifting away from ancient events in Bethlehem and many complain that Christmas is becoming more and more commercialised. And when the decorations come out in department stores at least three months before Christmas few could argue.

Some Christians proclaim we should "Put the Christ back into Christmas". Others point to the fact that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday appropriated by the church and never really had any connection to Jesus.

I have recently heard preachers talking about the valuable gift that God gave at Christmas in the form of His Son. They refer to a well-known verse in the gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.”

Who could deny the value of such a gift given by the Creator of everything, the gift of His Son, the giver of eternal life?
But is it right to associate that gift with Christmas? Is it right to make a comparison with that gift and the presents we exchange with friends and family?

Was God’s gift, written about by John, the baby in a manger with no crib for a bed? Was the gift the baby Jesus, meek and mild?

Or did God’s gift come much later? About 30 years later. When Jesus, a grown man died a cruel death on behalf of mankind?

Is there any irony in the acceptability of a helpless baby that allows even non-believers to sing about His birth for a few days each year? Have those non-believers bothered to think about the words they sing?*

Why is it that similar singing is absent from the other significant time on the religious calendar? Why aren’t the “Easter” hymns so well known?

Could it be that a beaten and bleeding man nailed to a cross isn’t as appealing as a cute baby surrounded by cuddly animals?

Jesus suffering and dying for our sins, the brutality of the crucifixion, the sheer ugliness of torn flesh and shed blood - well it's just not acceptable is it?
It's too confronting.
A baby receiving birthday presents from kings and visits from angels and shepherds - all of the peace and goodwill messages… THAT is much nicer and unchallenging.
But move that baby on to adulthood and look at the end purpose of His life and the world doesn't want to know. They'll celebrate His birth with songs of praise - but His death?

Don’t even think about it. Just pass the chocolate eggs.


*Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Illustrating photo from here:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Gifts and Emotions

Christmas is a time that brings about conflicting emotions. It is a reminder of a lost childhood and separation from loved ones. This separation from my wider family (Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and cousins) started with our move to Australia. Over the years we compensated by spending Christmas with friends who were in the same position.

In more recent years separation from family has taken a different form. My childhood was spent within walking distance of most family members. Back then all generations lived in the same or neighbouring villages. Today, even my immediate family are widespread. My daughter has lived on the Australian west coast for five years. My parents and sister live on the east coast.

Gloria and I live four hours inland from my parents and Gloria’s parents are a further four hours inland from us. I try not to think of the distance to my daughter.

The days of family gatherings are over and choices have to be made when times like Christmas come around. This year we have decided to spend Christmas at home after alternating between our parents for the last few years.

While I’m looking forward to a quieter and less hectic Christmas, both of us will miss spending that time with our families.

The part of Christmas I’ve never enjoyed is gift shopping.
I was always a last minute shopper and most years I’d be rushing around on Christmas Eve trying to find the perfect presents I should have thought about weeks before. This last minute shopping rush was not only stressful, it defeated the point of giving a gift. Rather than finding something I knew would be appreciated, the gift became something obligatory, but unwanted gifts are more likely to inspire disappointment, even embarrassment, rather than gratitude.

Fortunately I’ve avoided that Christmas Eve panic for many years now. I’ve been much more organised and often start buying gifts early in the year, putting them aside for when they are needed. Gifts for parents tend to be books (for mum who reads a lot) and wine (for dad but not because he drinks a lot). I also add items of local produce in a hamper – things I know they will use. It is pointless to buy impractical things to fill up their shelves and cupboards. Like many elderly people they are thinking more about downsizing and reducing their possessions rather than adding to them.

My daughter is the easy one. While I would love to be more imaginative and be able to help her to establish her own home, distance and delivery costs makes the sending of material gifts impractical. I now send her money.

The only person whose gifts need considerable thought is Gloria. It is logistically difficult to shop for her. Unless I can find something suitable in our small town, I have to find something during a shopping trip to Canberra, and since we go together surprising her is difficult. (She of course has the same problem shopping for me).

This year I have discovered internet shopping. While this makes it easier to find a variety of things she’ll like – their delivery at home, while I’m not there, can spoil the surprise a little. This year I bought her some art glass. While she knows she is getting glass she doesn’t know what it will be like. For me, the excitement of Christmas this year will come when she receives it.

I’ve seen it.
It’s stunning.
She’s going to love it.

Christmas Lost

Christmas has never been the same for me since I moved from England to Australia at the beginning of the 70s. I was 13 when my family paid the token ten pounds to travel half way around the world to start a new life.

Until then Christmas had been a big family occasion spreading over the 25th and 26th December and shifting between two homes.

Christmas day was always spent at our house with members of my mum’s family coming over for dinner, and then on Boxing Day we would walk to my Dad’s parents and spend the whole day there.

It is the second of these days that stands out in my memory with so much ritual and family tradition surrounding it.

The day started with a visit to my Grandparents’ neighbours to borrow a large dining table. It came in pieces which were assembled in the lounge room, taking up almost all of the room. It was a huge table and all of it was needed for all of the family and friends that were there every year.

A large traditional Christmas dinner was served shortly after midday, turkey with vegetables followed by Christmas pudding.

After dinner we would all sit around the table playing cards for pennies. My Grandparents collected them for months to share among the children while the adults provided their own. The game was called “Newmarket” but I’ve forgotten how it was played. It was the one time of the year when there was any “serious gambling” in my family.

Late in the afternoon we would have our Christmas “tea” – I don’t remember what food was on offer apart from trifle and Christmas cake.

After tea the snowman would be brought out. This was a hollow container (shaped like a snowman) filled with small presents labelled with numbers. The snowman’s hat was opened and we each drew a number out of it and were given the corresponding present which were mostly cheap toys that would keep the children amused for a while.

Early in the evening most of the adults would walk to the nearest pub for an hour or two and the children would be left in the care of our Grandparents. While our parents were away I’d often lose my remaining pennies to my cousin. We’d toss the pennies against the wall and the person closest to the wall would win the rest of the pennies thrown in the game.

One year an older child tried to demonstrate “levitation”. One of us lay on the floor surrounded by the other children and after a repeated incantation we were supposed to be able to lift the prone child into the air using only one finger each. The incantation was something quite spooky, mentioning death and evil spirits. The attempt failed when a noise from an empty room scared us into abandoning the “game”. My grandad found out what we had been doing and warned us against doing anything like it again.

All of that came to an end in 1970. It was our last Christmas in England. For the first time in my life Christmas day was not spent at my house. My dad had to work and we went to my Aunt’s place for dinner and we had to walk there in the snow.

The following year we were in Australia and spent Christmas with some new friends, also recent migrants far from their family. We heard later that the Boxing Day dinner went ahead at my Grandparents but my Grandma was so upset about our absence that the family Boxing Day tradition was stopped altogether.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Tale of Two CDs.

IT was the best of buys and the worst of buys…

Two different CDs from different singers – to be shipped from the same country. One cost US$9.99 the other cost US$14.99.

The more expensive CD is autographed by the artist.

Converting the cost to Aussie dollars brings the price of each to well below the normal cost of a CD in Australia, particularly with the current exchange rate or about 96 US cents to one Aussie dollar.

But there’s a slight catch that explains the opening phrase of this blog entry. That catch is the shipping cost.

The Autographed $14.99 CD comes with free shipping. The cheaper CD, while inclusive of postage within the US, has added costs for overseas mailing. And what would that cost for a single CD be? A couple of dollars? Maybe $5.00?

No! They are charging US$28.00 for mail alone, in addition to the original $9.99 for the product!!!

I am hoping this is an error – maybe a misplaced decimal point. The CD was ordered before the supplier realised they hadn’t taken into account overseas shipping. Now if I still want the CD (which hasn’t been mailed yet a month after ordering) they will enclose an invoice for the additional $28 shipping cost.
I’ve asked them to check their costs and have requested a refund if the cost of shipping remains at $28.00.

Until this is cleared up I’ll only reveal the identity of the singer who isn’t making ridiculous shipping charges.

He is the very generous Richie McDonald, former singer of Lonestar.

Update, 9 MArch 2011: The singer with the expensive postage costs has now negotiated a much better rate and I ordered a copy for Gloria. It seems his sales people are new to the process of internet sales and through experience are improving their service.

This photo is the cover of his latest album as it appears on his website.