Buy Nothing Christmas Bible study guide for high school youth
by Erin Morash
People not consumers
Luke 2: 1-7; psalm 139
Reflection: numbers or names
Somewhere around age sixteen we start collecting numbers. We get driver's
license numbers, Social Insurance Numbers, health care numbers, student
numbers, phone numbers, bank account numbers, and it goes on and on. We
lose our names and we gain this weird collection of numbers that identify
us to institutions as this particular person. Of course, not unlike the
Roman census in Luke's story, our government frequently counts us and
sorts according to age, gender, employment status, income, marital status,
Names are something from our childhood years. As children, we give names
to things that we think are important, whether animate or inanimate. We
name security blankets, pets, people, our favourite tree, whatever. Most
farm kids are cautioned not to name the pigs or the chickens or the beef
cattle. It's hard to eat a friend. Reverse that: it's way easier to take
advantage of or even kill something or someone who is nameless to you.
As we become adults, the only people who know our names are friends, co-workers
(sometimes!) and family. Occasionally someone pins a name tag to us at
work so the customers can tell one server from another; one friend of
mine hated it and would wear her name tag upside-down or on her belt.
Her name was not something she wanted strangers throwing around as though
they were long time friends.
Names indicate relationship. Numbers indicate a user relationship. My
name is like my face. It has to do with my identity and who I am as a
person. If someone knows my name it's usually because we know each other.
It is far, far easier to dismiss a statistic than it is to dismiss a particular
face or person with a name.
A few years ago UNICEF used the funds from its annual Halloween drive
to have the children in several nations registered-by name. They are hoping
that it will make governments more hesitant about making street kids 'disappear'
or about claiming that only a few have died, when they are disappearing
by the thousands. Names have power.
Numbers are impersonal. My numbers may tell you what I earn, how much
money I have, or what I spend my money on. But they won't tell you who
I am. Names, however, have power.
When Mary and Joseph were ordered to get registered for a Roman census,
this was not the start of a personal relationship between them and the
occupying foreign government. It was so they could be sorted, tracked,
and taxed. If they caused any trouble, the government knew who their family
members were. It was a way of reducing their humanity, making them cattle
Speaking of cattle . . . What does the title 'consumer' suggest to you
and how does it compare with 'citizen' or 'person?' More and more often,
we are being referred to by government, by media, and especially by corporations
and advertisers, as 'consumers.' Somehow the word brings to mind an image
of a cow 'consuming' something so that it can in turn be used, either
to give milk or be eaten.
Citizens and people are thinking, participating, powerful beings. Consumers
exist only for what they can buy and produce. Who exactly is benefiting
from our 'consumption?' Who, exactly, is 'milking' us for all they can
This Christmas, when you are encouraged to be a good 'consumer' and buy
your brains out, be a rebel: be a person instead. Take back your identity
as a person with a name and with value beyond what you can afford to buy.
Thinking about it
1. What are some situations where you have felt like a number or a consumer?
2. What kinds of advertising messages make you feel good about yourself?
What kind of messages make you feel worse about yourself?
Start a flyer collection. If your family doesn't get the paper, see if
you can collect from a friend. For two weeks during December (early December
works really well) save every flyer that comes to your door. Stack the
flyers on a frequently used surface in your home (you might want to negotiate
with your family on which surface this will be): dining room table, kitchen
counter, bathroom sink, whatever. It should be a surface that you have
to clear at least once a day.
As you build your collection, ask yourself these questions:
"Why do these people want me to buy their stuff?"
"What do they believe the central message of the Christmas celebration
is and how do they want me to express that message?"
"Even if I accept that they only have my best interests in mind and
they want me to build closer relationships with my family and friends,
are there other ways I can do this besides buying these products?"
"Where is this stuff made?"
"Who made it?"
"It's a total inconvenience having these stupid flyers piled on the
table/counter/sink. Who am I 'inconveniencing' by buying this stuff? Who
pays for it in environmental terms? Are the citizens of some other country
being overworked and underpaid to make it? What kind of family and holiday
time do they get? How am I 'littering' in the world in a social sense?
And how does that reflect my faith?"
Do you have a Christmas wish list? Here's a research project. Choose one
item on your list and find out some information about it. Where is it
made? Who made it? How well are they paid? What is the social/environmental
cost of producing this item? Who benefits and who loses in the production
of this item? Share what you have learned with your group.
Merry Christmas everyone. Buy less. Live more. Be a person, not a consumer.
Take up the challenge. Be courageous.
Additional activities for church youth groups
1. Use the 3-session study guide for youth. Carry out the action suggestions
accompanying the study.
2. Prepare and perform the Buy Nothing Christmas skit for a worship time
or some other
congregational gathering. Request the skit by sending
a message to the organizer.
3. Greet people as they arrive for a worship service. Hand out small Buy
Nothing Christmas cards or make your own.
4. Invite the artists in your group to design one or more bulletin inserts
about Buy Nothing Christmas. Or have your entire group create posters
(see others) that can be displayed throughout
5. Plan an evening for making and sharing ideas about alternative gifts.
See these alternative suggestions.
Make this an inter-generational event.
6. If you would like to give gifts to your loved ones, but would prefer
not to support big box stories, shop for fairly-traded gifts at Ten Thousand
Villages or make a charitable donation, in your loved one's name, to your
denominations relief and development organization.
7. Plan an evening of carolling. Use the alternative lyrics for carols
provided by Buy Nothing Christmas (see here).
Try doing this in a shopping mall.
8.Rewrite a traditional carol with your own lyrics. Submit it to the Buy
Nothing Christmas web site.
9. Plan an evening of baby sitting for members of your church-not so they
can go Christmas shopping-but so they can visit a friend.
10. Learn about poverty in your community. Get to know the challenges
faced by people living in poverty at Christmastime. Plan a special service
project that reaches out to the poor.
About the author: Erin Morash works as an associate pastor at North
Kildonan Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Canada.
Session 1: Challenging conformity
Session 2: Turning it upside-down
Session 3: People not consumers
Additional activities for youth