buy nothing christmas '03
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Buy Nothing Christmas Bible study guide for high school youth
by Erin Morash

Session 1

Challenging conformity

Luke 1:26-38; 46-55

Reflection: the challenge

It often seems that most images of teenagers going against culture, against conformity, and against the way the world thinks things should be run, seem to be negative. We keep getting these news stories about teenage killers, about violent rebels, about hackers who send out viruses. Maybe that's why I like the Christmas story so much: a teenage girl accepts a challenge to go against the grain, despite the risks, and do something powerful and positive.

I mean, think about this young woman (we don't know how old she is, somewhere between fourteen and eighteen seems likely): She's engaged, but not married, and she's from a poor rural family (going into debt to give each other gifts would not have been on their 'to do' list). She picks up the challenge this angel messenger from God tosses her and accepts the pregnancy. She will give birth to a child who will eventually turn the entire status quo of the 'way things are done' on its head.

It's pretty clear from the story, that she understands that the reason this is happening is to shake things up, rattle the culture. She believes that this child's destiny is about a complete power reversal: the rich and powerful go away empty and the poor and stomped on will finally be heard, honoured, and fed. Mary's words are a song and a manifesto. After all, she's the poster child for reasons why someone couldn't make a difference: she's a girl, unmarried, from an enslaved people, living in a tiny rural town in an occupied country.

So looking at Christmas, we celebrate Mary's courage and her willingness to be part of change, by buying hundreds (or thousands) of dollars worth of gifts. Most of those gifts will, likely, have been made in factories that employ . . . guess what? Teenage girls in, say, Mexico, Burma or Vietnam, who work fifty to sixty hour weeks for $25 to $50 US. When they finish work at the end of the day, they likely go home to sleep in their family's dirt floored shack, with no running water or electricity. If they've moved to the city to work, they might live in an overcrowded dormitory with hundreds of other girls and they're charged for their bed in the dormitory.

Some of these young women speak up. With incredible courage they take the risk of telling about the conditions in clothing and toy factories where they work in 30° C heat and 100 percent humidity for sixteen hours a day, so that we can buy another sweater for our sibling or our best friend for Christmas. They risk being beaten, fired, or even killed for speaking out on these abuses. Mary would have understood them.

Someone once said that the greatest shortage in our society was a shortage of courage and creative imagination. We tend to think inside the same worn out tracks. We go along with the lights, the exhausting spending spree, the debt, the frantic parties, because we can't think of anything better to replace them with.

We also don't want to make our relatives mad, and the gifts are pretty nice, even if we've already run out of closet space a long, long time ago. Then there's the courage thing: When we do toy with the idea of doing something different, we back out of actually carrying it through.

It's become pretty standard for businesses, advertisers, and even schools to drop the name 'Christmas' for this holiday and simply call the whole thing 'the Holidays.' It says something about what we see as the point of the whole celebration. I know, I know, it seems like another church protest thing, 'taking the Christ out of Christmas,' but the essential story behind the 'Christ-Mass' celebration is an interesting one that basically challenges every single thing we currently do to celebrate it.

What do you think?

1. Can you imagine yourself in Mary's difficult position? Or can you imagine yourself in a modern day parallel like the teenage factory worker? Why would God choose you? What would be your response to the angel?

2. Have you ever rebelled or spoken out against a great injustice that you witnessed? What helped you to do this? How did others respond?

3. What does the reflection say to you about your celebration of Christmas? about the message that you would like Christmas to carry?

Changing tracks
1. Baby step version #1. Try keeping a two-week diary of every single cent you spend during two weeks in December. Ask yourself what else you can do with this kind of money. Tax yourself on the money you've spent. Donate 1 hour of work to charity for every $20 you spend.

2. Baby step version #2. Choose one friend/family member with whom you always do the gift giving thing. Ask them if you can give each other the gift of time together, rather than having to shop for each other.

3. Extreme or cold turkey version #1. Tell your family you would prefer not to exchange presents this Christmas, or that you would prefer to share home-made or alternative gifts (check out the suggestions at They may be impressed. They may think you're crazy. Talk with them about the reasons why you want to go counter cultural. (Check out the list below). Ask them why they think they have to conform.

4. Be a rebel at work and tell them that you're willing to donate a little cash to a charity, but you're not going to do the gift exchange thing at work. Tell them you're rebelling against culture (this is especially challenging if your after school job is in retail!).

What to say about why you are celebrating a Buy Nothing Christmas.
Some suggestions:

- I believe that Christmas is about the birth of Christ and not about shopping.

- I-and most other people I know-already have far too much stuff; I don't need more.

- The corporations and advertisers try hard to keep me unsatisfied with myself and my life; I want to resist this.

- I would like to use my Christmas spending money to help people living in poverty.

- I would like to spend special times with the people I care about, rather than spend many hours at the mall looking for gifts.

- I believe this is a way that I can make my faith real.

Skip to:
Session 1: Challenging conformity
Session 2: Turning it upside-down
Session 3: People not consumers
Additional activities for youth groups