Expensive Presence

It was my granddaughter’s second birthday on Tuesday. And my other granddaughter’s second birthday on Monday. Two years ago my daughter and my daughter-in-law both gave birth to two wonderful little girls, just a day apart.

Zoe & tractor.DVDjpgAs you can imagine, there were lots of celebrations. Zoe, in Perth, had one big party on Sunday. Counting the grown-ups, there were about 70 guests. There was a pony for pony rides, and there were tractors. Zoe loves tractors. There was a tractor DVD, the birthday cake was shaped as a tractor, and Zoe got tractors for presents.

Aurora is having a week-long series of small family parties. I haven’t calculated the total number of guests who will celebrate her second voyage around the sun, but it will also come to quite a crowd. Aurora has a cake at each party, and lots of presents.

Presents: they’re an issue, I think, for our affluent society. Grown-ups like to take care that the presents Aurora sparklesthey buy are appropriate for the child, and the thought that goes into gift-giving expresses love. We grandparents sometimes buy expensive presents because we know that quality items will last longer and be safer for our grandchildren. The internet, with e-Bay and specialist toy-shops, opens the choice of presents wider and wider. There’s a real sense in which we can’t avoid buying presents. On the surface not to buy good presents would appear to be denying our grandchildren.

But the end result of two birthdays for our granddaughters is more presents than they can appreciate; a sense that they deserve a never-ending cornucopia of material goods, and a profound connection between material goods and family love.

It disturbs me.

We can’t fix the problem simply by stop buying presents. Unless we are superb at crafts, even making all our presents will not counter the messages of an affluent society.

We need to talk about it. We need to raise the issue with our friends, and speak prophetically where we can. We can set out to change the way our culture thinks about gifts.

And we need to flood the children in our lives with presence, countering the culture of expensive gift-giving with the valuing of time and attention lavished on the children we love.

[Published on the Starts at Sixty website]

Preparations in July

Getting ready for Christmas in Australia for a child often starts when school closes for the year. It’s hot. Sometimes the day temperatures in south-west Western Australia rise to the mid-thirties Celsius in December, and the dry easterlies start to blow.

For a farm kid in the fifties, those weeks before Christmas were a time of great freedom. We were discouraged from staying indoors, and the wide open spaces of the farm were literally that. We could run, or ride our bikes, as far as we liked, and simply enjoy the gift of creation.

But there was also the excitement of preparing for guests. Some like my mother’s parents, would come only for Christmas Day, after church services. Others, like Dad’s sisters, Auntie Kate and Auntie Pix would come and stay for some days.

We expected presents. More about them later.

This year, I am beginning my preparations early: my book of daily meditations for Advent is at the printers now.  I hope it will be launched in Perth in October, but the books need to be ready in good time. I feel excited about this book. It has been a joy to write; as I reflected last Advent on the Scriptures for next Advent, I was able to wait on God for inspiration. My prayer is that what I have prepared will encourage readers as you prepare for Christmas 2014