Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.
— Oren Arnold
More and more, the ever-elusive "true meaning of Christmas" seems to get swamped in the annual crush of materialism, busy-ness, and commercialism. E.B. White once wrote, "To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult every year." Interestingly, he penned those words (in an article inThe New Yorker) in 1949—decades before controversy over the public display of nativity scenes and "Black Friday" sales in which customers trample one another in pursuit of the latest gadgets. What would Mr. White have thought if he'd lived to see what Christmas has become today?
We'd suggest that the perfect antidote to the crass commercialism and consumerism of Christmas is an attitude of service. What better way to take the focus off of ourselves and the "stuff" that somehow seems so important at Christmas? The Bible itself reminds us that "The Son of Man did not come to be served,but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28, emphasis added). The Child in the manger is not a portrait of kingly elegance and excess, but of humility and service.
This month's Date Night will give you the opportunity to take a break from the holiday grind—the stress, the worries, the overcrowded schedules, the race to find the perfect gift, and other stressors—and invest as a couple in the well-being of someone else. Through volunteering your time and talent in service to others, you'll know the satisfaction of making a positive impact on an individual, a group, or even your entire community. What is more, you'll likely experience a deeper marital bond and sense of intimacy through serving together.
Your "Christmas date" can go one of two ways. You might want to simply combine your date and your service project into one event. Or, if your crowded holiday calendar allows, you can go on a "regular" date to plan and talk about your volunteer ideas, and then actually perform your act of service at a later time—perhaps on a Saturday. This second approach would allow you to enjoy some quality "couple time" on your date, and then involve your kids in the actual service project later. It's up to you. The following Date Night assumes you'll be planning your service project separately from actually performing it, but it can easily be adapted if you wish to combine your date and service project into one event.
Remember, always act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.
Step 1: Go someplacedifferent for dinner.
Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.
Step 2: Consider what type of service project would be a good "fit" for you as a couple.
After dinner, take a drive around town. If you look around, you'll likely see many opportunities to serve others in your neighborhood, church, or community. Talk about what appeals to you. Do you have a heart for serving the poor? Are there elderly people (or young people, for that matter) in your circle of influence who are lonely at Christmas? Do you want to serve as a couple, or get the entire family involved? Pray together to determine what approach and what type of ministry God might be calling you to.
Step 3: Choose a service project.
Pick an activity that appeals to you both (as well as to your children, if you choose to involve them). Then, put it on the calendar! Pick a definite date and time to make your act of service happen so that it won't get lost or overlooked amidst the general hustle and bustle of the season. The opportunities for service at Christmas are limited only by your imagination. Here are just a few possibilities:
- Volunteer to help with a local toy drive or, if you're really ambitious, initiate a toy drive of your own!
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen or with an organization that collects and distributes coats, hats, and gloves to the homeless.
- Go to a local store and inquire about the possibility of gift-wrapping shoppers' presents for a small donation. Then give the money to a local charity or an organization such as Compassion or World Vision.
- The collection date for Operation Christmas Child boxes usually falls in November. However, you can always find a box of your own, fill it with gifts, and donate it to a local charity.
- Do you know someone who will be alone at Christmas? Perhaps there's a widower living nearby, or a college student who can't afford to travel home for the holidays. Consider buying a present for them, baking Christmas cookies, or something similar to let them know they're loved. You might even invite them to take part in your family's own Christmas festivities.
- Gather some friends and family members and go Christmas caroling. Inquire with local nursing homes and care facilities about the possibility of spending an evening singing Christmas carols for the residents.
- Offer to help a neighbor get their own home ready for Christmas. Perhaps an older couple or a single-parent family near you could use assistance with shoveling snow, hanging Christmas lights, putting up decorations, etc.
Step 4: Relax and unwind.
After you've identified a Christmas service activity and put it on the calendar, go someplace quiet for dessert or coffee. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.
- What was your favorite part of the evening?
- What is the one thing you learned tonight that you didn't know about me before?
- What are some other ways we can serve those around us—not only at Christmas, but all year?
Step 5: Christmas bonus questions!
To add some holiday spirit to this part of the evening, consider adding a few of the following questions to your list.
- What was your all-time favorite Christmas gift?
- What's the worst Christmas gift you have ever received?
- What is one of your favorite Christmas memories?
- What is one gift I can give you this year that doesn't cost money?
- What Christmas activity do you enjoy the most? (Looking at Christmas lights, seeing The Nutcracker, Christmas shopping, etc.)
- Are there any new Christmas traditions you'd like to start in our family?
- Growing up, did your family ever engage in an act of service to others around the holidays?
Step 6: Home sweet home.
As you drive home, spend time talking about your upcoming service project, as well as thinking ahead to your next date. Once you get home, however, it's up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!
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