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Making a List, Checking It Twice View Comments
by Susan Hines-Brigger

Very early on the day after Thanksgiving, many people mark the beginning of the Christmas season by heading to the stores to start their shopping. I, for one, will not be among them. Besides not liking crowds, in recent years I have also become more and more disheartened by what I feel is the over-commercialization of Christmas. In addition, I am troubled by the way people seem to throw their values out the door when it comes to gift-giving.

As parents, my husband, Mark, and I constantly struggle with trying to find a balance between our beliefs and pop culture. Never is this struggle more evident than during the holiday season. We’re competing with store ads, TV commercials for the latest and greatest toys or gadgets and the most difficult influence of all—our kids’ friends.
Rethinking the Season

A few years ago, completely exasperated and overwhelmed by what I felt was a lack of focus on the season’s meaning, I was ready to give up on Christmas altogether. Frankly, I was tired of spending the better part of the season searching out this year’s hottest toy, coming up with the perfect gift idea for each person on my list and making sure I spent just the right amount of money on everyone so as to avoid any hurt feelings. After coming to terms with the fact that opting out of the holiday altogether was not realistic, I decided that I was going to reclaim Christmas through the gifts I gave. No longer was I going to just run to the store, load up my cart and start checking people off my list. No, I was going to give gifts that let people truly know what they mean to me, that I care about them and, most important, what Christmas means to me.
Practice What You Preach

Here are some ideas to help you keep the message of the holidays alive for the people on your gift list:

Use your talents. Last year, my son, Alex, painted pictures for his aunts for Christmas. Both had admired his pictures that hang in our house and had commented on how much they would enjoy having one themselves. So Alex took the initiative and created two paintings that now hang prominently in his aunts’ homes.

Perhaps your talent is cooking. If so, gather some of your favorite recipes, along with some family favorites, into a cookbook.

Like to take pictures? Photograph your friends and family and present the photos in a nice frame.

Shop with your values in mind. It always surprises me how quickly parents seem to throw their beliefs out the door for the sake of fulfilling a gift request. If I don’t want my kids using certain language, then I shouldn’t buy them—or anyone else on my list—a CD that uses that language. Or if I talk to them about being a peacemaker, then it doesn’t make sense to buy a violent video game. The same goes for movies, books and clothing.

Emphasize your faith. Since Christmas is at its heart a religious holiday, it makes perfect sense to give gifts that emphasize that point. Try to shop for gifts that connect with your faith, such as a necklace bearing an icon of the person’s patron saint or a statue for his or her room. My favorite gift for little ones is the Fisher-Price Little People® Nativity Set.

Think of others. For years, my family selected at least one name from our parish’s giving tree. For the past few years, however, I have had our children each choose a name and take responsibility for shopping for that person. It’s a good opportunity for us to talk about those who are not as fortunate as we are and discuss our need to be charitable toward others.

The gift of you. Rather than spending money to buy something for people on your list, why not give them the gift of time? Plan a day or evening together doing something that you and that person or group of people enjoy. Or you can offer to babysit, run some errands or do some work around the house and yard.

For instance, if you’re handy, offer to take care of some projects for a friend. You could promise to do some snow shoveling or yardwork for them. Be creative and use your strengths. You can even create coupons to give for the various tasks you’re willing to do.
For Teens and Kids: The Christmas Challenge

One of the challenges of Christmas is how to afford presents for everyone on our list. But what if you didn’t have to spend any money at all? Think it can’t be done? I bet it can, and I challenge you to give it a try. In fact, some of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten were ones that didn’t cost a thing. Here are some suggestions for just a few gifts from the heart:

■ Write a letter telling people what they mean to you or what you love the most about them.
■ Create a small photo album of pictures of the two of you.
■ Make a CD of songs that mean something to both of you.
■ Spend a day together. This one might be especially nice for an elderly relative.
■ Use your computer to create a video featuring photos and music that hold meaning for the recipient. If you can, burn it to a DVD so it can be shared with others.

Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at "A Catholic Mom Speaks," 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to CatholicMom@franciscanmedia.org.

Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

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Athanasius: Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, the teaching by Arius that Jesus was not truly divine. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church. 
<p>Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, entered the priesthood and was eventually named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East—Arianism. </p><p>When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul. </p><p>After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters. </p><p>Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peace—reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism. </p><p>Among his ascetical writings, his<i> Life of St. Anthony</i> (January 17) achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.</p> American Catholic Blog Suffering is redemptive in part because it definitively reveals to man that he is not in fact God, and it thereby opens the human person to receive the divine.

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