Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
December 17, 2001
Christian at Christmas
Church workers tell how they walk the line between Grinch and frenzied consumer
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Teaching countercultural values is a struggle Catholic parents face daily but the struggle intensifies in the Christmas season when the media blare to "buy, buy, buy" threatens to drown out the message about Jesus.
Is it possible for Catholics to maintain the reason for the Christmas season without being a Grinch? When they go Christmas shopping do they take their values along with their chequebooks?
Local Church workers contacted by the WCR say they do but it isn't always easy. Most try to please their kids but will not budge when it comes to toys or video games they deem ethically questionable. Some simply focus on the recipient's needs, substituting gifts that are useful or have spiritual significance for the latest battery-operated gimmick. Many also try to stick to personal guidelines about how much and where to spend their dollars.
Roger Lamoureux, coordinator of youth ministry with the Edmonton Archdiocese, and wife Viva, have been accused of being cheap because they refuse to buy expensive gifts for their four children, aged 1, 4, 10 and 12. "We have always tried to focus on the Christian aspect of Christmas rather than the consumerism part of it," he explained.
"We have always given gifts but nothing over the top or too expensive or too much. We just try to strike an even balance when it comes to giving."
This Christmas the Lamoureux children will be getting board games, books and computer games.
"We try to make decisions based on content, for one. I mean price is also a factor as well," stressed Lamoureux. "We won't buy a $120 present for Christmas because we think anything above $100 is ridiculous. For Christmas we try to keep it very simple."
The children won't complain because the Lamoureuxs discuss ethical issues with them throughout the year. "We don't buy violent games or anything to do with magic or sorcery, wizardry or anything like that," Lamoureux said. "We told our kids that they'll never receive anything about Harry Potter because we disagree with wizardry, magic or sorcery."
What was the children's reaction? "They mostly accepted it because, again, it's a consistent thing. When we talk to them about why it's inappropriate we refer to the Bible which tells us not to be involved with sorcery and magic."
The Lamoureuxs also try to deal with the "social justice" aspect of giving by refusing to buy gifts that are made in Third World countries that exploit workers or use child labour.
"Christmas is a difficult time in our society that's so consumer driven," laments Linda Winski of the Social Justice Commission. "The amount of advertising, the amount of choices that are put in front of kids is staggering. They are almost brainwashed into thinking that unless they have that they are not with it."
Difficult as it is, Winski has always managed to keep her values intact during the Christmas shopping season.
Her son Nathan is now 14 but when he was younger he wanted the same things as other children wanted.
"We talked about things. If he wanted things that were particularly violent or if he wanted a video game that was violent I wouldn't buy it," she said. "For me to say 'no' and to tell him why was important for my own integrity and it was also a chance to educate him as to why I don't think those things are right."
Now her son makes a list in which he usually requests money or gift certificates so he can buy specially-designed T-shirts or CDs. Even music can be a problem, Winski said as she recalled saying no to her son's musical choice only a couple of years ago.
"He wanted CDs from these particular bands and when I read the lyrics I said, 'No, you can't have that in this house.'"
Over the years Nathan has learned he can't get everything his friends get for Christmas and that if he wants something his mother can't afford he has to save for it. And he has. He recently bought himself his own snowboard and his own boots that he didn't get last Christmas.
Winski, like Lamoureux, won't buy and won't allow her son to buy from companies like Nike "because that's a company that supports sweat shops."
Sandra Talarico, chaplain at Louis St. Laurent School, used to buy for a family of six, including her parents. Five years ago they decided to pick names "because it gets carried away," she said. "If you are buying for everybody it becomes not just a financial problem but you get caught up in it. What I find is that we only buy a couple of gifts and that helps."
Talarico is not a fan of shopping but she makes a point to buy a nice gift for the person she picked. "That's important. I think the idea of giving is important too."
This year she is buying for her six-year-old niece, who can be sure she won't get something a violent toy. "I've never been a big fan of violent toys or guns so I've never bought anything like that for anybody. I think there are more positive things that you can give to kids."
Talarico thinks it is possible to keep one's values during Christmas but as she put it, "you have to keep it upfront in your mind. You almost have to be conscious about it at all times."
Doing works of charity and being aware of the needs of the community are important ways to keep one's values afloat, she said. That's what she has been doing at Louis St. Laurent lately. A week ago she and some of the staff went to Sacred Heart Church to help wrap Christmas gifts. And the students at St. Laurent are currently organizing a turkey dinner for the students at Sacred Heart School.
Like Talarico, Winski also does her share of volunteer work during the Christmas season and makes a point of giving to Santa's Anonymous. She also donates used toys to a kindergarten and to whomever needs help.
Christmas shopping is difficult but Rita Strauss, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council's secretary, tries to keep it simple. "I always bought gifts that weren't violent and I always get them something that reminds them of the meaning of Christmas," she said.
Her two adult children will get simple presents relevant to their occupation but one of her four godchildren, still a small child, will get a children's book that talks about the meaning of Christmas.
To Rita and her husband Rick, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ and they spend it doing just that — celebrating with family and friends and attending church. "Lots of church."
Beth Wolfe, secretary at St. Anthony's Parish in Lloydminster, has always tried to keep herself from falling into the consumerism frenzy. She tries to make homemade gifts like baking. These, she says, show more effort and love than simply going up town and buying something.
Her four children are teenagers now, their ages ranging from 15 to 21, so the pressure to buy is not so great anymore.
But when they were small they would make lists of items they wanted. If their parents found something they didn't agree with, they would ask them to find something else.
"We basically tried to make sure that they knew that the family gathering and keeping our tradition of going to grandma and grandpa, the whole family going to midnight Mass and then celebrating with food and family was the focal point, not the gifts," Wolfe said.
That tradition continues and on Christmas Eve the Wolfes' children will get presents but most likely presents that are more meaningful than the latest fad.
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