When I saw boxes of candy canes and foil wrapped Santas lining the shelves of my grocery store one week before Halloween, I wasn’t surprised. There are many signs of how far society has fallen from what was once considered sensible. And yet, I thought, have we really come to this? Blitzing through our days so fast that we barely have time to celebrate one holiday before marketers are ram-rodding another down our throats?

I love Christmas as much as anyone. But how did it become so enmeshed with money? The word ‘holiday’ comes from an Old English word for ‘holy day.’ From my understanding, such a religious celebration sometimes included fasting, sometimes feasting. But it always included the acknowledgement and worship of God.

Each year as the holidays jingle by, I find myself asking how I can do this. Filling my shopping cart with candy canes in October has never been the answer. Neither has filling my house with gleaming pieces of plastic to pile under my tree. Instead, I want to fill my mind with the realization of God’s goodness and to pile my heart with his love so that I can share it.

The only way I know to do this is by keeping gift-giving as simple as possible. High on my list are home-made gifts, books, and items made locally or by artisans. So are gifts that lift the spirit, deepen faith, and bring people together. As a family, we also try to give to a ministry or organization that is helping to meet the needs of others.

Listening to the radio this week, I heard about the plight of the people in Afghanistan, facing a winter of severe food shortages. Also on my heart are the seventeen missionaries taken hostage in Haiti last month; those who are sick or caring for the sick due to COVID-19; and all of those impacted by the flood of loneliness, fear, addictions and financial difficulties that have flowed in the pandemic’s wake.

Local businesses need our support, but so do orphans and refugees. Too much is at stake to allow marketers to turn the holidays into a lavish celebration of self-indulgence. Our children don’t need more electronics. Our landfills don’t need more plastic. And I surely don’t need more candy.

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,” scripture says, “for such sacrifices are pleasing to God,” Hebrews 13:16 (ESV).

We are surrounded by people whose needs are truly desperate. Rather than rushing through the upcoming season on a gift-buying binge destined to drain our wallets and ourselves, why not honor the holidays as holy days? Slow down. Take a look around, and ask God how to best use what he’s given you to bless others – not just during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but all year round.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir “Redeeming Ruth,” writes from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book “The Thanksgiving Blessing” and four other books celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. Connect at meadowrue.com

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