Rants, Musings, and Mental Meanderings of a former Conservative Christian Mother. Standing Strong against ignorance, preconceptions, labels and excessive housework. Celebrating original thought, religious freedom, parenthood, free enterprise and chocolate.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry, uh, Holidays?

I have to admit sometimes I'm a little slow to notice things. When I am on a mission, focused on one task, I am not easily distracted. So, it took me a while to catch on to the whole "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" war while I was doing my Christmas shopping. At first, I just thought people thought I was hard-of-hearing. They would lean forward, give me a meaningful look and say "Mer-ry Christ-mas!" enunciating it like it was some kind of secret code. Or, I would say, "Merry Christmas" and get a smirk and a pointed "Happy Holidays" from an attitude-laden teenager. I was beginning to feel like I was back in junior high and a group of friends had formed a club without telling me, complete with secret passwords. From what I could gather, Merry Christmas was good, Happy Holidays was bad. And I could tell that, to the people who were "in the know," it was very important to give the right greeting, since you were also making a statement. Something like, "Merry Christmas" means "I love God" and "Happy Holidays" means "I don't like God." This seemed rather silly and trivial to me, but then I am never the type to jump on bandwagons. They are always smelly and crowded with people who have bland personalities and need to be told what to think. I certainly don't need to be told what to think, but I did decide to try to get to the bottom of this. I got the scoop by accident, when at a holiday gathering, (or should I say Christmas gathering, so you don't think I'm an atheist?) I mentioned that I was sick and tired of all the "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" business. Before I could elaborate, she began gushing, "Oh I know! I went into a store the other day, and the greeter said, Happy Holidays, and I told them I wasn't even going to shop there! I have been going out of my way to say Merry Christmas anytime I hear someone say Happy Holidays, just to prove a point. We can't let them take Christ out of Christmas!" It was one of those rare times where I was actually speechless. Not because I couldn't think of anything to say (never have that problem) but I could think of TOO much to say and I didn't want to start an argument.

However, here's a list of facts that ran through my mind:

Would you really stop shopping at a store because they say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, and do you really think this helps point the lost world to Christ? I mean, last time I checked, we were a free country and people were allowed to greet people however they choose. It's not like they are saying or doing anything offensive like flashing you or flipping you off. Not to mention, many companies have a lot more questionable practices than the specific wording of their greetings, and I don't see anyone caring about any of those.

Second, as far as taking CHRIST out of CHRISTmas, oh puh-leeeeease. When was Christ ever actually in Christmas? Do I need to remind you that it wasn't so very long ago that the winter solstice was a PAGAN celebration, honored by such religious figures as virgin-sacrificing druids? It was combined with a celebration of the birth of Christ by a pope in order to allow Christians to celebrate with their non-Christian friends without feeling guilty about it. A classic case of, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." I hate to burst the bubble of a lot of holier than thou Christians, but Jesus was not born in the winter, the first candy cane had nothing to do with the shepherds hook, and the Christmas tree was not invented by Martin Luther (an entirely different figure than Martin Luther King, for you who are historically challenged) after seeing the stars shining through the fir trees to thank the Lord for showing him the proverbial light. These are all heart-warming stories, but they were invented to make Christians feel good about themselves. Now, that's not to say I believe it's wrong to celebrate Christmas. I love Christmas, but I take it for what it is. It was not originally a Christian holiday, so any references we see and hear to Christ and the Nativity, I take as a bonus. I love to hear the Christmas carols that give the salvation message, I love the attitude of goodwill that is promoted, I love to see all the different nativity scenes, and I love teaching my children the Nativity story and watching them act it out. But I still don't kid myself that this is some kind of religious institution. It is, after all, basically a societal compromise.

Third, is it a very Christian attitude to say or do anything to prove a point? Seriously, when you hiss "Merry Christmas" at the hapless cashier who has been instructed to say "Happy Holidays," are you really demonstrating the love of God?

The fact of the matter is this: Yes, I get frustrated when the world tries to scrub anything that has any kind of "religious" flavor to it in order to not offend the non-religious. Yes, I believe Christianity is picked on more than other religions, and yes this is not fair. But that all being said, GROW UP!!! America is far, far away from her Christian founding, and it's not going to change anytime soon. I don't need a contrived holiday to glorify the birth of the God and Savior I adore. I don't care if they call it a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree - God made all the trees whether people choose to acknowledge Him or not. I read somewhere that if Christians worked as hard at keeping Christ-honoring symbols in their own lives, it wouldn't matter if they had a Nativity in the town square. There would be millions of them in the yards of Christian homes! We can get so caught up in proving a point that we lose the loving attitude that is supposed to truly define a Christian. Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to celebrate the Birth of Christ, but we are commanded to spend our lives trying to reach a lost world who are drowning in a sea of sin, hopelessness, depression and despair, especially at this time of year. They don't need a so-called Christian giving them a snide "Merry Christmas," they need a caring person to offer to help them carry their bags, be compassionate with the harried store staff that is being run ragged, drop a few coins in the Salvation Army kettles, and overall treat people the way Christ would have us treat them. America is not going to be bullied back to her Christian roots, and in fact may never go back to her Christian roots. The people who do decide to become Christians, or to return to Christianity after leaving it, are going to do so because of the genuine people who were caring, kind and REAL. If Christians put as much effort into being exemplary in every other aspect of their lives and they do in jumping on the bandwagons of these created "causes" we would probably get a lot more done.

And from now on, I'm just going to wish everyone Happy Hanukkah and be done with it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How to have a financially stress-free holiday season!!

No, this is not a post yelling at people for spending too much, getting caught up in the commercial side of Christmas, being too busy to focus on the birth of Christ, or lecturing you to make all your gifts from scratch because homemade gifts are cheaper and more thoughtful. The facts are these: Yes, we all spend a lot, probably too much this time of year, but that's just the way it is. Yes, we do get too busy to focus on the birth of Christ, but call me cynical - The birth of Christ wasn't on December 25th anyway, and don't we get too busy to put Christ first in our lives at various points all year long?!?! I mean, is this really something confined only to December? And as for making all your gifts from scratch... if I did that, I'd really be stretching the limits of the saying, "It's the thought that counts." (I'm not a particularly creative person.) Sorry to be so blunt, but that's not what this post is about. It is, quite literally, just about the ca$h factor.

I mentioned to my hair stylist that my hubby and I do the majority of our Christmas shopping all in one day - the day affectionately nicknamed "Black Friday." Yep, the day after Thanksgiving I am one of those crazies in line somewhere at 4:00 a.m. clutching a strong coffee and my Christmas planner. (And yes, by all means, get a baby-sitter.) We spend the evening before planning our battle strategy - choosing which stores to go to first, depending on who has the hottest "Early Bird" specials. Our group has grown over the years, and now we drive in a caravan of two or three vehicles. (This is great for having people take turns standing in the often l-o-n-g lines.) Anyway, she told me, "Well, there's no way I could do that. I just don't have the money to shop all at once. I end up missing a lot of bargains because I have to wait for each paycheck and then rush out and shop." That's when I revealed our secret for financially stress-free Christmas shopping: our Holiday Club account. Go to your bank or credit union and see if they offer this great service. Our credit union takes a set amount out of our checking account all year and puts it into the "Holiday Club" savings account. (And ours is an interest bearing account, to sweeten the deal...) Even if it's only $10, you will have over $500 next Christmas. Do the math, and you'll see that $20 will net you $1,000 to spend next year! Who wouldn't love an extra $1,000 at Christmas?!?!! On November 1st, the money is automatically transferred from the holiday club to our savings account. (And then summarily dumped into my checking account to pay off my credit card charges...) We may over-spend a little bit sometimes, but for the most part we can start the New Year without the debt of a pre-Christmas shopping frenzy... and yet I still get all the fun of a pre-Christmas shopping frenzy. This is also the money I use to get us girls new holiday outfits, eat out when we are out shopping all day, or grab an overpriced drink at Starbucks without feeling guilty. I have heard so many people this year really struggling financially this Christmas, especially those of us lucky enough to be in the fine economy here in Michigan. One woman told me in tears, "I barely have money to make ends meet! How am I supposed to buy Christmas gifts?" Even a few dollars set aside all year would help relieve that burden. If you are the creative, crafty sort, you can use your saved money to make tasteful, inexpensive handmade gifts and stretch that holiday dollar even farther. (I am generally NOT the creative sort, unless I am duplicating something that someone else created, so I am better off bargain hunting.)

Don't procrastinate - get to your bank or credit union and set up this account!!!! Now is the time so you will have an entire year to save for next Christmas. And DON'T think, "Well, that's a great idea. I'll just set aside a few bucks on my own." Because, frankly, you won't. You'll either forget, misplace the money, or wait a few weeks and plan to "catch up" later... and then forget about it before April. Have the bank do your thinking for you and take it out before you even notice it. I have been preaching this to everyone who has cried to me about how difficult this holiday will be for them... so I figured I'd preach about it here, too! Hey, if it helps one other person have less stress next Christmas... it's worth it.

Now, if your problem is just that you spend spend spend like crazy at Christmas, you will have to take it a step farther and set up a budget. I use a Christmas planner, and it is a lifesaver. For those of you who itch at the thought of being organized, just use a regular old notebook. Write out a list of all your Christmas expenses, including your per person spending limit, holiday outfits/accessories, holiday cooking/baking ingredients to buy (Yummy! It's not Christmas here without piles of cookie, candy, and fudge!), Christmas cards, pictures, and postage, etc... plus a little extra for all the little "extras" that come up. Add it all up, then divide this total by 52. This will be the amount you need to save each week. Next year, you can do a little happy dance that you were so smart in thinking ahead!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Heart-breaking Story

There are so many tragedies wrapped up in this story! I could hardly take it all in when I read it.