I love advent, the countdown, the candles, the excitement, the Christmas cards, the carols and the lights. But it has a dark side, lurking, ready to jump up and blow out the candles and stamp on your mince pie. It's the consumer side to advent.
As the day draws nearer the pressure builds: find the right gift for the right person becomes find anything that will do (and fast). I am sure there are little gremlins that grow increasingly stronger, feeding on the blind panic of Christmas shoppers who don’t have a clue where to start. Fazed with a dazzling array of choices and offers the poor shopper slowly begins to suffocate in a dense fog of pressure and confusion.
On Christmas Eve fever pitch hits. The gremlins reach the height of their power and you can easily spot the haunted souls who have fallen foul of their schemes. You see them piling high baskets with gifts and food that family and friends will probably not like or never open. Auntie Vera really will never use that luxury bath oil and Uncle Arthur already has 3 pairs of unworn, extra warm totes non-slip socks that you got him in 2004,3&2.
What have we done with Advent? How have we let it become this consumer binge? You have probably heard of the Oxfam Unwrapped or Christian Aid's Present Aid, or another such scheme. I like them. They are like pure water in a sea of filth. They offer us an alternative and a perspective on the world that we're not going to find amongst Boots' 3-for-2 offers. I am plucking up the courage for the Christmas that everyone I love simply gets a chicken, or if they are really special a donkey. But for now I am incorporating it gently a tree here, a water tap there...
The most important thing we can gain this Advent is a little bit more self-awareness: who we are in the world and the riches and power we hold over people we will never meet. So, I would encourage you, when the gremlins come to over-whelm you this Christmas: resist, stop, think and put the shopping in perspective. Maybe even get a donkey instead?