Tag Archives: christmas

santa is not sustainable

Perhaps the first image of the modern-day representation of santa--done by Haddon Sunblom for Coca-Cola in 1931.

Perhaps the first image of the modern-day representation of santa–done by Haddon Sunblom for Coca-Cola in 1931.



Sustainability is something people in our line of work talk about a lot. How can you stay for the long haul, and not burn out? How can you make sure programs, traditions, and services are not based solely on you and your work, but can continue on for many years? Sustainability is like the opposite of how many evangelicals typically work: quick, fast, results oriented, crash-and-burn. One of the reasons we were so drawn to our mission organization is that they have a commitment to contemplation–recognizing that without taking the space for finding God in your own life, you will never be able to care for others.

Which is why it is super helpful to think about what can be sustained for the long haul when it comes to strategic decisions regarding time, money, and emotional energy. 

Like Christmas.

We made the decision that it wasn’t sustainable to fly to Oregon every Christmas. It’s a hard decision (um, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” by Dean Martin is on repeat this morning, along with “A Tender Tennessee Christmas” by Amy Grant, even though I never lived in Tennessee. Because Nostalgia). But it’s the right decision for us. Neighbors and friends have come out of the woodwork, and we are going to have ourselves a patchy, somewhat merry, somewhat sad little Christmas. Which seems pretty sustainable for our future.

What about celebrating Advent?  

We light Advent candles with our daughter, read some Scripture, and pray. She gets super excited to blow the candles out, and the rest is probably over her head. Is this sustainable? Yes, I think it is. As one of my friends pointed out, if one of my neighbors asked how we celebrated Advent, this would be an affordable, accessible option. Is unwrapping a piece of the $50 Playmobile nativity set every day of Advent a great way to engage your kids in the story of the birth of Jesus? Sure. Are “kindness elves” awesome? Totally. Are fair-trade chocolate Advent calendars the best thing ever? Yes, absolutely.

But are these things sustainable, for our neighbors both near and far? I don’t think so. Many people do not have the resources to pull off these bits of “Christmas magic” that we so casually revere. I am all for whimsy and encouraging imagination and celebrating with some good fair-trade chocolate, but I also want to recognize how so many children do not experiences these privileges in any way.

Which brings me to Santa. 

Santa, and his cultural counterpoint of the perfect, Norman Rockwell family christmas, took ahold of our cultural imagination many years ago. I used to not care at all about this. Growing up, we were pretty lackadaisical about it all (and my parents refused to lie–so if we asked, they told us santa was a fake). But we still laid out the cookies, got a few presents labeled “from St. Nick”. But my biggest memories were of Christmas eve services and sitting quietly in front of a brightly lit tree. 

Now, in my neighborhood, I can’t help but see images of a weird, materialistic holiday everywhere. Red-nosed reindeer and some fat man with presents, as far as the eye can see. And I am starting to loathe it. Because Santa is not sustainable.

For those who grow up poor in America, Santa is another reminder of failure. Kids can’t help but grow up and be saturated with the story, which puts pressure on the adults in their life to find the time/money/energy to get the presents the kids want. People go into debt, people spiral into depression, kids are disappointed and feel shamed, Christmas morning turns into another reminder of the inequalities of the world. The picture-perfect family Christmas is the same way–for many, all of these images we see in the movies and on tv are just a stark reminder of our own families–the mental illness, the addictions, the abuse, the empty seats around the table. The myth of the perfect family Christmas is not sustainable either, because our nuclear families were never supposed to be the point.

What is sustainable, then? 

I have learned some things from my Muslim friends. Their holidays are smashingly good–count yourself blessed if you ever get invited over for Eid. I have seen Eid celebrated in several different states and countries, and there are always striking similarities: the celebrations are marked by food, friends, family, prayer, and generosity. 

That’s it.

A lot of food, or just a little. Your family, what remains of it, plus your new family you have formed in the diaspora. Friends, neighbors, co-workers invited to experience the richness of your culture and celebration. Prayer, early in the morning, and throughout the day, thanking the One who created us all. Generosity–extra food cooked, coins given to the children–reminding us to always extend our table.

That, my friends, is sustainable.

I’ve started to think about what I want the holidays to look like for me and my little family. Food, friends, family, prayer, and generosity. All the elements have been modeled to me from the beginning from my own parents, and it is time to claim them for my little space now. Even thought sometimes I will be far from my parents and sisters, i will still value family, and use the definition that Christ gave me (we are all brothers and sisters). I will cook food, even if it doesn’t look pretty. I will pray the prayers that have been spoken throughout the centuries to celebrate the coming of Christ (the Magnificat, my friends, is extremely sustainable). And I will try to be generous, try to escape the pull to only seek out what is best for me and mine in these dark and bright weeks. I will try and stick around long enough to have space for those who have been bruised and battered by the cultural expectations of Christmas. And there are so many of these souls, more than we can possibly know, longing for a real, sustainable celebration–firmly anchored in this real world, yet a mirror of the great parties we will have in heaven.


Like Mary, may our souls magnify the Lord. May we seek out the humble and exalt them, fill the hungry with good things.

And most of all, may we be ever mindful of His mercy.











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all hail the refugee king


the hubs took this rad picture of our tree.

the hubs took this rad picture of our tree.

Are you sick of reading about Christmas-related stuff yet? I hope not, because I have one piece I want you to read.

I’m over at A Deeper Church today talking about what it means to hail the refugee king. As many of you know, several months ago we up and moved to the exotic midwest, far from friends and church and family. It isn’t exactly the end of the world, but sometimes it feels like it is. Shedding off so many layers of our built-up lives has been painful, costly (in many ways we did not expect), and worth it, without a doubt.

In many ways I wonder where this journey will end (thank goodness, that isn’t for me to know). We all have invisible lines we will not cross–I will not put my child in danger, give up my morning coffee, say goodbye to my family (just as, you know, “theoretical” examples). And I’m not saying you have to jump those lines just yet; but what if you simply started to wonder about what you might be missing out on, while you keep your hands held tight over your eyes and ears.

We visited a church this past Sunday and the sermon was on “Jesus as a Refugee”. It was so lovely to hear it from a pulpit, gray heads nodding in agreement, candle lights flickering in the background. The pastor also showed a clip from God Grew Tired of Us, an amazing documentary detailing the experiences of several Lost Boys of Sudan. Here is the clip, which juxtaposes the recently arrived-refugees experiences with American Christmas and how they celebrated in their refugee camp (Kakuma, where many of my friends lived for years and years). It just made me sob:



After that clip, the worship band ended with a song by Rich Mullins, “My Deliverer“, which left both the husband and I with Ugly Cry Face big time. I used to play that song and pray it over my refugee friends, all the time.


So all of this to say, the concepts of refugees and Christmas have been swirling around my brain. So I wrote about.



Head on over and check it out? Don’t be shy, now.

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christmas bonanza!


j/k, people.

But srsly. I like talking about advent as much as the next person, and I also really like curling up on the couch and watching a good ol’ secular holiday movie. I have a bit of a suspicion that you do to, if you grew up anywhere in western culture. This is the dichotomy we were served, that we ate up with abandon: our most spiritual of days blended with capitalism, consumerism, a misplaced sense of longing.

In years past I tried to combat this. I got really into the Advent Conspiracy, Buy Nothing Christmas, and have for quite some time now made horrible, horrible presents for people (my poor family). I also passed out Thanksgiving food boxes, brought my refugee friends chocolates and oranges and delivered toys to their homes. I felt good, about these actions; I was taking back Christmas.

Except, it was still all about me. My holy endeavors, my enlightenment, my charitable heart. And in their own way, most of my actions still revolved around what I wanted (to feel good, to feel free, to feel righteous). I have always wanted to be the holy rebel, the non-consumer, the self-righteous advocate for the voiceless. But as I am learning, every day, even these actions scream of my own poverty, of how hard it is to be in relationship with people in my life. I would rather write a blog about all that is wrong in the world than engage intimately with its people. I would rather scorn other’s choices than inspect my own selfishness. I would rather deliver presents (made in a sweatshop!) than spend the entire day with people so different from me because . . . I want Christmas to be my way. I don’t want to change everything about my life. If I invite alchololics over than that puts a damper on things. If I have muslims over then I have to dress differently, eat differently. If I have one of my crazy locavore friends over than I have to spend an arm and a leg at the co-op to make a meal that comes from sustainable places . . .

I don’t want it. As much lip service as I pay to justice, it becomes clear I don’t want it. I am fine with staying poor in relationships, because it allows me to do what suits me and mine, much better. So in the past, I have rushed head-long into charity, into finding small ways of helping that fit into my already-solidified life. Some of these made it into my Christmas rituals, and I am now in the slow process of purging them. I am moving beyond Advent Conspiracy here; I am starting to find out that everything is tied into relational poverty, in my inability to get down to the muckety-muck of those around me. And thus, Christmas is starting to feel joyous again, as I look to the supreme example of someone who gave up everything of himself for the love of us. I feel a great hope, actually.

Now how did we get here? I was just going to write a little post talking about some of my favorite, silly, cultural expressions of this season that mean something to me. I guess you can take the girl out of the conspiracy but you can’t take the conspiracy out of the girl. Or something like that. But I am starting to believe: as we move from living in a season of charity to a life of justice, there is room for these small celebrations.

Feel free to share yours as well, as I suspect many of us are on this journey of figuring out what to do with our weird holidays. So here is what gets me, D.L., into a holly jolly mood:

1. Old-Timey Christmas Music.

Srsly. On spotify look up Doris Day singing Christmas music. I love it! Plus: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin. Also, I found this amazing video of Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing Little Drummer Boy. You’re Welcome.

2. This Amazing Nativity Video.

This is what happens when hipsters re-create the nativity scene with their children! And the accents! I die, I die. And my toddler loves it too. I am happy that she now thinks that when Jesus was born there was a giant, kid-friendly rave at the beach. Perfect.

3. Subversive Crafts-As-Gifts

I wish I could show you some pictures of the “art” I am making for people this year. Oh family, you have no idea what’s coming!

4. Kids Crying When They Meet Santa

This is my favorite thing ever. Just google it.

5. Unexpectedly Amazing Christmas Movies.

Love Actually (warning: langauge/nudity alert. but ya’ll can fast forward. or buy the edited version–like my mother-in-law).

You could use this movie as a personality test. What is your favorite sub-plot, and why? I am partial to the Colin Firth one, as an ESL teacher (“Just in cases”!) but the storyline between the Rock Star and his manager makes me giggle-cry all the time.

Little Women

Classic. It opens at Christmas-time, so this makes it Christmas-y, right?

Classic Claymation Christmas movies

Am I the only adult person that thinks claymation is magical? I don’t think so. Rudolph was awesome, but my family grew up watching a Claymation Christmas, which you should definitely check out. Or just watch this clip:

The California Raisins! Children of the 80s, Unite!


This might be my most favorite Christmas movie ever. Danny Boyle (28 hours, SlumDog Millionare) directed this amazingly beautiful, slightly tense story of a young boy who talks to saints and gets embroiled in a robbery. This one makes me sob big, fat tears. You must promise me you will find this video and watch it. Please?

6. Good Thoughts on Advent

I have a lot of cool internet friends. And a lot of them are writing about Advent. My friend Amy is doing it for the entire month, which you should totes check out. My friend Kelley expressed the ache so well, and my friend Addie talks about Christian cliches and depression (so good!).

So there’s my grown-up Christmas list. Some of the stuff I have been into, as we live out our lives in the dark and the cold and the bright. What about you?

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Waiting for Advent

i'm the christmas unicorn-felt ornament.

i’m the christmas unicorn-felt ornament.

December is creeping along. The midwest does not have as much snow as I would have thought; I wish it did, for snow seems magical and new.

We are several months into our move, several months in to this new way of life. We have learned so much. My brain might explode. Someday, it would be lovely to talk about some of it with you all. But I am still young and tend to sound angry when I rant, so I will let these things keep percolating. Also, I have been realizing lately more than ever, that we are playing the long game here.

This is the first year I feel like the word “Advent” is starting to make sense. For the past several years I have been wandering around December, adoring every kitschy light display there is, and then complaining about how I just want to get back to the true meaning of Christmas. This year, many of our safety nets have been stripped. Without family and friends (and our annual Christmas parties–last year was themed “A Tender Tennessee Christmas Party” and we encouraged everyone to dress up like their favorite CCM star from the 90s) it feels sort of like . . . a winter month. Another week, another head cold, another blustery day. I find small comfort in the fact that for the majority of people in our neighborhood, they feel the same way. It is not all hot cocoa and marshmallows, gift-guides, warm fuzzies over here. It’s another season of getting by.

But I feel the wait, this year. I have the space the feel the bleak midwinter, and I am grateful. It has given me the clarity about Christmas I have long wished for. I long to see Jesus and his kingdom come. As tempting as it is for me to think about Jesus coming to save the rest of the world from their brokenness, I have been both shamed and thrilled to realize he came for my own darkness. As I am spending this time waiting, I am encouraged: may the light of Christ rise up in my soul, may he cause me to see his light in others.

I would love to end this post on that dramatic, soulful note (I kid, I kid), but later on in this week I will be sharing some of my favorite Christmas movies and music with ya’ll. I am still very much not into gifts-you-can-buy-at-a-regular-ol-store, but there are elements of celebrating Christmas here in America that I am hell-bent on redeeming. Horribly ugly and thoughtful crafts, treats baked with butter love, engaging all of our senses in this period of hope and expectation . . . now THAT I can get into. I’ll also highlight some friends of mine who are churning out thoughtful (and thought-provoking) pieces about this season.

So hit me up: what are you doing as you wait for Advent?

Ps. That awesome ornament was found here on Etsy. But, poor you, it’s sold out. So make your own! And give it to me.


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