By Scott Bessenecker

Buying for Christmas Without Selling Your Soul

My wife and I once received a glass chicken as a gift. Inside, you could place colorful soaps for decoration. We made the best use we could of our gift, displaying her ornamentally on the toilet tank in our bathroom, but she eventually succumbed to the Goodwill box. Apparently glass chicken soap holders were just not our style. We could only hope she might be enjoyed by someone with a greater affection for glass chickens.

I shouldn’t complain; I’m awful at finding gifts for others. I wring my hands, fret and fuss over picking out a gift, and almost never feel like I hit a gift-giving home run. The polite smile and, “Oh, how perfectly…unusual,” give away the recipient’s true feelings.

Part of the impetus for giving gifts to one another is to imitate the ultimate Giver – God – who “did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all,” Romans 8:32 (NLT). We give gifts because it is a reflection of God’s character and it is a way to love and honor people who are important to us. But when experiencing Christmas in a society that identifies luxuries as necessities, believers can forfeit our souls as we partake in the frenzy of gaining the world. This Black Friday, how can we prevent the culture of conspicuous consumption from robbing us of the gracious art of honoring someone with a meaningful gift? Here are a few suggestions.

Spend Black Friday with people you love.

Maybe that means camping out in the Wal-Mart parking lot together Thanksgiving night and then elbowing your way through the crowds at 5am to beat someone’s grandmother to the last wristband iPhone holder. For most of us, however, enjoying friends and family, and battling the crowds at the mall are mutually exclusive. Trying to save a few dollars by shopping on Black Friday can be soul crushing. I say spare your soul (and your body). Sleep in, heat up some leftovers, and sit and listen to Uncle Frank’s silly jokes.

Buy used.

Our love of all things new, shiny, and encased in impenetrable packaging is unsustainable for our planet and probably for our spiritual health. Last Christmas my family went with a “no new gifts” policy. Some made gifts, others searched used item websites (like and thrift stores.  The excitement, appreciation and/or secret disappointment with gifts was unaffected by going used.

Give the gift of time.

Some of the most meaningful and practical gifts are gifts of our time and talents. The gifts my wife and I treasure most from a recent anniversary were a picture she painted for me and a poem I wrote for her. An elaborate meal, a deep cleaning of the basement, or a special date can be the sort of gift that ends up speaking a language of love far more eloquently than a Snuggie can. As you develop a culture of giving these sorts of gifts, those around you will begin to understand and value your declarations of love through your sacrificial service and the time and attention you give to them.

Buy a goat.

Granted, your four-year-old nephew may not find it a  good gift idea (unless you bought him a real goat), but Heifer International, World Vision, and Compassion International all have gift catalogues that allow you to buy livestock and other things for poor families. Alternatively you can buy some cool stuff from organizations helping women escape the sex industry at Nomi Network and Freeset Global.

We have the benefit of having older kids who understand and appreciate an alternative Christmas. But there is a growing language even in the most consumeristic circles which understands the value of dialing down our materialistic appetites. So this Black Friday, if you must get out and shop, check out Goodwill. There’s one near us that has a great deal on a glass chicken.

Scott Bessenecker is Associate Director for Missions for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He is the author of The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World’s Poor among other books and blogs at

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Thanks Scott! I have been struggling with what a Christian response should be to the Christmas consumerism of today. My wife and I just had a discussion about it yesterday! This is very helpful in navigating what it looks like to reject the culture and keep the beauty of the Christmas holiday alive and well! I especially agree with your encouragement to give of our time and talents! For many Americans it seems that money is not nearly as limited of a resource (maybe contributing to the debt problem) as our time and talents. What a gift to give away our time that we covet so much! Thanks again Scott! Ryan Lospaluto

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