For a Healthy Celebration of Christmas, Christians Must Do More Than Reject Consumerism

Three years ago, my husband and I decided that we would no longer travel for Christmas. Our parents, all of them living in the Midwest, were devastated. When we’d moved to Toronto from Chicago, the terms were clear: If we were moving the grandchildren across an international border, we were responsible to bring them home for the holidays. But where was home? Even if our passports declared us strangers, our house in Toronto had begun to feel more like home than the one we had left behind—the one we actually owned.

I’ll be home for Christmas, we sing. And it’s for good reason that Christmas lures us home. As I can attest, waking up in a hotel on Christmas morning and shuffling to the lobby for your first cup of hot coffee does a number on the holiday spirit.

What makes a home a home, then?

For the past several years, IKEA representatives have traveled across the globe to ask people about their domestic experiences and expectations. In 2016, they visited 12 cities and interviewed 12,000 people; in 2017, they traveled to 22 countries, surveying more than 22,000 people. In the first survey, respondents concluded that a home was composed of four intangibles: comfort, safety, belonging, and love.

Even if IKEA’s findings (detailed in their annual Life at Home reports) primarily aim to sell us more furniture, lamps, and posters of Paris, they tell us something about the fundamental human longing for home. For Christians, they also illuminate this surprising truth: Neither consumerism nor anti-consumerism defines a true home.

Roy Langmaid, a psychologist cited in the 2017 IKEA Life at Home Report, talks about home as moderns have come to think of it—as the expression of personal identity. Identity is a narrative, Langmaid says, and home tells part of the story. If we change the objects, we change the story, which is why some of us find it so difficult to get rid of things—so difficult, in fact, that 1 in 10 Americans is paying for off-site storage. (In the UK, that number is 1 in 100; in Japan, 1 in 300.)

Despite these emotional attachments, respondents to IKEA’s survey admitted that half of their domestic arguments involved the problem of having too much stuff. On the one hand, we feel more and more tied to the objects in our home; on the other, we feel more and more anxious about the physical clutter. In other words, we want to clear our space but can’t bear the burden of negotiating what stays and what goes. (Inevitably, Christmas will add to our pile of things wanted and unwanted.)

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SOURCE: Christianity Today

Jen Pollock Michel is the award-winning author of Teach Us to Want and Keeping Place. She lives with her husband and five children in Toronto.