Buy Nothing Christmas Bible study guide for high school youth
by Erin Morash
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
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?
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 http://buynothingchristmas.org/alternatives/index/html).
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
- I believe that Christmas is about the birth of Christ and not about
- I-and most other people I know-already have far too much stuff; I don't
- 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
- 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.
Session 1: Challenging conformity
Session 2: Turning it upside-down
Session 3: People not consumers
Additional activities for youth