Christmas in July (faithful)

I stood at the Starbucks counter last December, chatting with one of the friendly baristas. I asked about her Christmas plans, to which she responded that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

It’s too commercialized, she said.

It isn’t that she doesn’t believe in God’s heartbeat taking human form in Jesus, because she does.

It’s just that society has missed the point and made something holy into something for profit and that bothers her.

And it bothers her enough to opt out of Christmas.

It bothers me, too! But what if, instead of asking ourselves how we might dismiss the season altogether, there was a better question for followers of Jesus to ask:

How can we faithfully remember and rejoice in this God who entered our mess to engage us where we are? Our God who Himself didn’t opt out just because we were missing the point?

In preparation for the Christmas season, choose now to faithfully celebrate Jesus – not to lament the way others are missing the point.

Fix your focus on the arrival of the Christ child and take a different route to the manger this year.

Choose a theme for your gift giving and celebrations, and have some fun with it! Make people smile! There are far too many Grinches and Scrooges in the world already – let’s choose to bring glory to God!

Give a piece of yourself to your loved ones this year.

Give gifts that support a cause and multiply the blessing.

Put your creativity to work now – while there is still time to follow through.

Becoming a victim of the business of Christmas is not a given – it’s a choice.

Choose wisely, my friends!

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas in July (create)

Hand Prints

Hand Prints (Photo credit: chrispwalsh)

With time on your side and a few weeks of summer left on the calendar, creating a meaning-rich Christmas is still well within the realm of possibility! 

God’s creative genius has been passed along to each of us in a variety of ways. This Christmas, why not embrace these holy genesthe image and energy of God in YOU – by creating presents that reflect His presence?!

Hand-Bags

One year my family created Hammit Hand-Bags for everyone on our gift list. We chose a suitable bag for each person – canvas totes, backpacks, laundry bags, camera bags – and we adorned each one with our family member’s handprints. You might add the names belonging to each set of handprints, or consider embellishing with gems and ribbon to represent jewelry (rings, bracelets). Many family members used these bags for years as their library book totes, picnic or pool bags, etc.

Hollow Ornament Gifts

For many years we hung a ball-shaped ornament on our tree that was hollow inside. It sort of resembled an Easter egg, though it was larger and more sturdy and could be tightly closed. Consider crafting such an ornament for the families on your list, encouraging them to put something inside of it each year:

  • Choose one family memory from the current Christmas and write it down, then fold it up and place the paper inside. Add another one next year! Within only a few years’ time you will have a family tradition and stories to tell around the tree!
  • List the names of those who celebrate Christmas with you each year. Keep the list in the ornament and add names each December. This would be especially appropriate for families who welcome neighbors and friends at their holiday gatherings.
  • Encourage each family member to write a Christmas wish or prayer. Save these inside and pray or revisit them year after year.
  • Put the names of each Christmas guest and your family members on separate papers inside the ornament. On Christmas morning, have each person pick a name! This is the person you will pray for in the coming year… the gift of prayer!

Rather than a hollow ornament, a Christmas Box could work for these ideas as well. You might buy plain boxes at a craft store and decorate them, or search local thrift stores for unique and unusual designs!

Photo Gifts

Not everyone is crafty… Thank goodness for digital cameras and Vistaprint! Companies like Vistaprint allow you to put your photos to work as gifts – in many forms. Key chains, t-shirts, ball caps, greeting cards, blankets & tote bags are just a few of the items that can be dressed-up with your photographs and given as gifts to your loved ones.

Check out the Costco or Sam’s Club websites (memberships required), or simply do a web search for custom photo gifts – you’ll have more ideas than you can implement! Thrifty shoppers may want to keep an eye on Groupon or Living Social for vouchers toward photo gift purchases (I regularly see $70 vouchers for Vistaprint product for ridiculously low prices – sometimes as low as $17).

Blessing Bags

One way to expand your Christmas cheer and invite others into the celebration of Jesus’ birth is to create an assortment of Blessing Bags to give away. These can be as simple as a gallon sized Ziploc bag or inexpensive canvas tote, filled with items that those you run into on the streets around town may need:

  • A bottle of water
  • Fast food gift certificates
  • Small snack packs (granola bar, crackers, nuts)
  • Tissues
  • Small toiletry items
  • Anything else your family can come up with!

Decorate the bags, enclose a Christmas card from your family, and keep a supply of Blessing Bags in your car throughout the month of December, giving them away as you are inspired to do so!

Secret Angels

A twist on the Blessing Bags would be to pre-determine whom you wish to bless with each bag, fill them accordingly, then leave the bag on your recipient’s doorstep or desktop  – for a surprise discovery!

Wrap It Up!

One of my happiest Christmas memories consists of a roll of butcher paper, some sponges and tempera paint, and our driveway on a warm November day. In one afternoon, my family made personalized wrapping paper which was used to cover all of the gifts we gave that year! A roll of butcher paper and some creativity is all you need to make wrapping paper that communicates your joy to everyone on your gift list.

  • Choose a medium (paint, markers, crayons).
  • Choose a color scheme.
  • Choose a design (shaped sponges, hand or foot prints, lyrics from Christmas carols, words from Scripture, or have each family member choose a trademark word or design and place their mark all over the wrap).

I had never seen so many smiles at the sight of wrapped gifts before the year we made our own family gift wrap!

Christmas in July (cause)

Charity in the dictionary

Charity in the dictionary (Photo credit: HowardLake)

There are many ways for those of us who give gifts at Christmas to bless both the receiver and the one from whom we obtained the gift! Worthy causes exist all around us because of the broken world we live in. This Christmas, why not give strategically to benefit as many recipients as you can?

Secondhand Joy!

Decide early on (now would actually be good!) to purchase your gifts from local charity stores. My little community has thrift stores which benefit a wide range of agencies and organizations – Animal Friends, Humane Society, a local women’s shelter, the Salvation Army, Disabled American Veterans, support and education for families affected by autism... Do your homework and decide which cause will benefit from your Christmas shopping this season!

Do be aware that secondhand shopping is a little different from retail:

  • Best to start with a list of people rather than a list of items that you want to buy, then let things surprise you as you search for treasures.
  • It may take multiple visits to the same shops for the right gifts to surface – be patient (but know that the selection changes often and unpredictably as donations are received).
  • Combine theme-shopping with support of a cause for a way to give gifts with stories behind them. Search for things like funny t-shirts, jewelry boxes, antique mirrors, favorite book titles, mugs (to give with homemade drink mix) or glassware (to give with a bottle of your favorite wine).

Don’t underestimate the potential of thrift and charity stores to contain really nice, comparable-to-retail gifts! I’ve often found brand new appliances and clothing with store tags still attached, along with some well-preserved and very unique glassware and jewelry.

Group Giving

You’ve all heard of families where the adults have gone to a lottery-system of gifting, right? Everyone’s name goes into a hat and the name you withdraw is the one you will be gifting this year. Usually there is a dollar amount assigned, so that all gifts are in the same value-ballpark…

I have a friend whose family has taken this kind of system to a new and charitable level! Everyone’s name goes into the hat, but only one name comes out. A dollar amount is decided upon, and everyone gives their money to the lucky winner! This person is empowered to select a charity organization on behalf of the family. He or she does their homework and chooses a cause that matters to them personally. Whether the organization receives the money, or the money is used to buy items needed by the chosen cause, is up to the designated family member to decide. On Christmas morning, the adults in the family open a single wrapped gift which reveals the details of their family gift transaction!

Charitable Retail

Many organizations now offer goods for purchase that support their charity as an organization by providing jobs for individual beneficiary-craftsmen & women behind the scenes. It’s important to research these companies so that you know how much of your purchase goes to the business aspects of the charity and how much is returned to the craftsmen and women, but this kind of giving can be a powerful use of your gifting dollars. Here are a few websites to get you started:

Rahab’s Rope – Jewelry & accessories (you can even host an in-home product party through this organization that buys women out of the sex trade in India)

Equal Exchange – Fair trade coffee, tea & chocolate

One Hope – Social impact wine, with a portion of each bottle’s sale price going to specific and/or buyer-selected charities

Justice Ventures, International – This site offers products made by women who have been rescued from slavery and sex trafficking, with profits from sales working to buy more women into freedom

Some retail chain stores have product lines that support specific charitable efforts of their organization. Kohls Cares products support causes like kids’ health and education and breast cancer research, with a nice variety of inexpensive items offered online.

Charitable Gifts Bazaar

Holiday bazaars are offered at churches and in communities everywhere before Christmas – why not work to plan an event where each vendor sells products that support worthwhile causes? Invite organizations like the ones above to showcase their giftable items, but also encourage those who craft and create locally to donate items whose sales price (or a portion thereof) will be given to a cause. The details are up to you, but I’m certain that shoppers would support your charitable efforts!

Imagine the difference you could make around the world simply by choosing to give for a cause this Christmas!

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Christmas in July (gallery)

Eastern Mediterranean (Antioch?), Processional...

Today we continue to explore alternatives to market-driven gifting from the perspective of collections, with a special emphasis on gifts that connect you to your recipients and your recipients to one another.

Personal Collections

Several years ago my mother-in-law, who has quite the Precious Moments figurine collection, decided to gift her collection to the family. Gathered in her home, she asked every grandchild, child and spouse to choose a figurine that meant something to us. This was our piece of her – and our memories of time spent in her home – what a wonderful gift! Each of us took home a memory, but also a connection to one another. Those figurines now sit on shelves across the country – a daily reminder of Grandma, her faith, and our family.

Perhaps you have such a collection – something that has outlived it’s shelf-life or outgrown its space in your home. Something that others connect with thoughts of you. Something that would mean the world to those who have grown up around those shelves. Maybe this is the perfect year to gift out your collection – and foster new connections among the ones you love!

Creating Collections

The same idea can be harnessed for those who don’t have personal collections… Create one! Take an item – something you like, something that tells others about you, something funny – and create a collection from which to give!

Crazy Socks – start a collection of silly socks as you find them on sale or online. Give each person on your list a pair that reminds you of them!

Hats – I did this one year with stocking hats – for my nephews. Each one received a different goofy hat – some were animals, others were woven in loud colors or wild designs. Start early in order to have the opportunity to buy on sale or in bulk!

Crosses – I have a wall full of crosses in my home. Each one has been gifted to me by someone special, with a unique story to go along with it. I’m definitely not looking to re-home my own crosses, but because I value my collection, I could spend the next six months finding uniquely crafted crosses to give as gifts in December. Recipients would know the connection if they’ve been as far as my front door, and they would also be connected to each other by receiving such a gift from me.

Any type of item would work as a gifting collection: picture frames, jewelry boxes, salt shakers, sand castles, a particular color of glassware, seashells… Simply make the connection to who you are and what you love!

Gallery

One year my sister gave original framed art gifts to everyone in the family. Each was hand-painted by my nephew (who was 4 or 5 at the time), numbered like an art collection, and framed. This could easily work with a single picture, photo, painting or sketch as well – simply number the prints and frame them! Consider enclosing a card that pictures each print given, so that you can share the entire gallery with every recipient.

Books

Giving from your own library is another way to pass along memories to those whom you love! If your family is spending the holiday with you, consider inviting each to choose a book that would be meaningful to them from your collection. If you have a favorite title, begin scouring book and thrift stores (and amazon.com) for enough copies of that title to share with everyone on your list! Favorite author? Select a book for each recipient from his/her list of titles.

Tell Your Story

Some of the most enjoyable gifting experiences stem from the events you’ve lived.If you had a funny or meaningful thing happen to you this year, is there an object connected to the story? Look for ways to give that also share that story with others.

Here are a few things to consider when gallery-gifting:

  • Start early – especially when collecting harder to find items.
  • Give the gift – share the gallery! Include a photo of the entire collection so your recipients will see how what you have given also connects them to others.
  • Buy in bulk – especially with books! If you plan to give many of a single title, shop around for case discounts online.
  • Shop off-season! You will find great deals if you wait until the end of the season to stock up.
  • Write out the story that connects your gift to you! Include a copy with the gift, even if you plan to tell the story in person.

Christmas in July (Operation LOL)

English: A Comedy icon, based on the Drama Icon

English: A Comedy icon, based on the Drama Icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Make Them Smile With Quotes & Sayings

A Google search for funny sayings, greeting card humor or humorous quotes will produce a plethora of giggle-producing words for the folks you celebrate with (you can even search by specific types of humor: golf humor, computer humor, teacher jokes, animal jokes, etc.).

If you land on one saying or verse or joke that makes you laugh tears, consider using it as your theme; gifting something to each recipient on your list with your chosen humor as the highlight. Or, you might enjoy personalizing the words you choose for each recipient instead, in which case you could give the same type of gift but with a different saying on each.

Frame it! Use computer graphics, embroidery, cross-stitch or even a photograph to create a frameable version of your words.

One way to make this a family project would be to write out the words (boldly) on posterboard and then photograph your children, grandchildren or yourself holding the board. You might even enlist your family to act out the saying or joke in a photo and surround it by a matboard where the words have been written or mounted below. Purchase frames from your local craft or dollar store and dress them up to suit your recipients.

Knock Knock Jokes! Woodworkers might enjoy creating 8×10 doors with a drawer-pull for a knob, and writing or painting (or even decoupaging) a Knock Knock joke onto each. This would make a fun gift for families to create together – let the kids help choose the jokes!

Magnetic Words! Buy magnets or sheets of magnetic craft paper (with peel-off sticky surface) and make your humor refrigerator-ready. This option is great for people who enjoy creating on the computer.

Environmentally or Socially Conscientious? Secondhand, thrift and consignment stores hold untold treasures for those who are choosy about how they shop (and have the time to hunt and explore). With six months to go until Christmas, you could have an obscene amount of fun searching for plaques, t-shirts or mugs with funny sayings to suit everyone on your gifting list!

This theming idea is rich with memory-making potential, since each piece will have a story of its own to be shared as your gifts are opened.

Bundles! Consider giving family gifts instead of individual gifts this year. For each family on your list, create a bundle of funny items that suit your recipients:

  • Age-appropriate joke books (try your local Christian bookstore or christianbook.com for clean humor for kids)
  • Comic books or a collection of funny pages/cartoons from your local newspaper
  • Fun candy (Cost Plus World Market has some pretty interesting options) – things like candy pacifiers, yellow snow, chocolate coal, marshmallow snowman poop…
  • Humorous games, like Mad-Libs or The Game of Things for family fun nights (check out the game section at Target or on amazon.com)

Stuff your funny finds into a basket or hand-decorated smiley face bag!

Calendars! Enlist your children’s help in creating joke-of-the-month calendars to share! These could even be handwritten and signed by the contributing child so all recipients can connect with the monthly humorist. Maybe even put a photo of that month’s contributor – smiling or laughing, of course – on the page with the joke.

Have an idea to share? Use the reply option below!

Christmas in July (theme)

Pile of gorgeous gifts

 

If you really want to make some Christmas memories, pick a theme!

There are lots of reasons that gift-giving holds such great appeal for us, and of course not all of them are particularly redeeming. Retail bullying, the noose of empty tradition and multiple applications of guilt often drive our gifting choices, but there is another way to frame it…

Simply put: Gift giving can be fun!

When believers choose to focus on Jesus at Christmas, our giving of gifts and sharing of life take on deeper meaning than the contents of the packages underneath our tree. A Christ-centered Christmas ought to free us up to celebrate – we are God’s kids, after all! – and to generously spread our family’s joy in any way the Spirit moves. Including the giving of gifts to the people we love.

Not only will theming your gifts make shopping less tedious and potentially less costly, but the memories created as your gifts are opened and shared will build community and connection between friends and family in a way you’ve not experienced before.

Choose a theme that makes you smile, laugh or gets those creative juices flowing!

Choose a theme that says something about you – your focus for this Christmas, your values and causes, the way you like to spend your money and your time.

Beginning now – with months in front of you to git ‘r done – the options really are (almost) endless!

Think brainstorm as you make your way through the ideas that will be rolled out during this Christmas in July! And please let us in on your own gift-giving themes by using the reply option below each future post!

 

 

 

Christmas in July (focus)

In only a few short months, Christmas decorations will hit store shelves and the countdown to December 25th will commence.

NOW is the time to decide how you will celebrate the birth of Jesus in 2013!

Each of us has a history when it comes to the holidays. Much of what we have come to expect or require comes from what others have expected and required throughout the years.

Of course, we can continue to perpetuate cycles that are grounded in someone else’s idea of what makes for a meaningful Christmas… or we can build momentum toward authenticity by simply shifting our focus from tradition to expression.

Expression of our love for the God who could not stay away.

Expression of our growth in the ways of the Kingdom.

Expression of appreciation for those whose lives we are tethered to.

Expression of the child’s heart residing in these aging bodies.

Don’t get me wrong – tradition isn’t the enemy. But tradition can be a bully if we choose not to keep it in check.

This year, why not choose your focus instead of defaulting to an old one?

Ask yourself what word, phrase or question matters most to you – then use it to guide your holiday decision-making over the next six months. Perhaps these questions will help you in the process of finding your Christmas focus:

  • What is my fondest Christmas memory? Who was there? What made this time special?
  • What do I look forward to most when I think about Christmas?
  • From this vantage point – six months out – what one thing matters most to me about this particular Christmas?
  • When I – and my loved ones – look back on Christmas 2013, what word(s) do I hope will come to mind?

Compile your words. Consider the connections. Ask God to show you how the celebration of His birth can bring something new to life in you. Through you. Then sum it up as succinctly as you can.

That’s it for today… Choose your focus!

It may sound ridiculously simple, but it just might be the beginning of a very beautiful thing.

 

And You Are Loved III

 

 

 

Christmas in July! Celebrations… NOT Lamentations

MERRY CHRISTMAS - BERLINER MAUER 1980

MERRY CHRISTMAS – BERLINER MAUER 1980 (Photo credit: m.joedicke)

For as long as I can remember, I have found myself among circles of friends during the Christmas season, lamenting over how far we have strayed from a faithful celebration of the birth of Christ.

Materialism.

Entitlement.

The embarrassing-to-admit but altogether too familiar art of one-upmanship.

Obligation.

Panic-induced shopping.

And a steady stream of post-holiday thank you’s in the form of credit card bills.

This past Christmas, after partaking in many such conversations, I decided to be proactive in creating a Christmas of celebration for my family and friends rather than once again defaulting to the culture’s best effort at mass-producing joy that can only, really, come from meeting the Christ child Himself.

What struck me about this past year’s laments is how easily we have played into the hand of the mainstream, and how loudly we protest after the fact. Some of us need to be reminded – I need to be reminded! – that becoming a victim of the business of Christmas is a choice.

So this year, I choose a different route to the manger!

One that honors tradition without bowing the knee to retail-bullying.

One that embraces fun and giving without breaking the bank.

One that engages more of me than just my schedule and my pocketbook.

One that celebrates Jesus at every turn – telling the story of redemption and God-With-Us instead of another tedious narrative about how hard it is to find a gift for so-and-so and how another stressful holiday gathering might just be what pushes us over the edge.

You can expect Christmas in July posts to be short and practical. Ideas and snippets intended to plant the seeds of intentional celebration in your head and on your to-do list now… while there is still time left to see it through.

I hope you will engage and share your ideas with us as well! Use the comment option to add your own inspiration and encouragement for the rest of us. Together we can make Christmas 2013 a faith-filled celebration of God’s creative Presence here with us!