Perhaps the best gift we can give this year is permission to do things differently, says Penelope Wilcock

What could be humbler and simpler than the stable at Bethlehem?

The child born that night was on a journey into simplicity beyond anything our imagination can stretch to. Somehow, the great God who created this earth with all its wonders came, himself, from the courts of heaven to share the common experience of humankind. He chose to enter this world among the poorest, the lowliest and the lost. This is humility. This is simplicity.

Perhaps it takes the divine eye to recognise how precious is simplicity. Certainly it doesn’t appeal much to human beings. For us, simplicity is usually the housemate of necessity. The minute we get hold of some money, we put it to work, complicating things.

Over the place where Mary laid her baby in the manger they built a big church, where Christians squabble over who is allowed to dust which chandeliers (yes, really!) As the millennia roll by, we reach the age of shopping fever, when mass production and growth economics almost obliterate simplicity and humility, replacing them with baubles, gift-wrap and stressful socialising.

But you know and I know, it doesn’t have to be like that. In every age and generation, though most cannot have, or achieve everything they yearn for, anyone is free to choose simplicity and humility.

I think the world is ready for that choice, but maybe it needs us to lead the way. Tired and overwhelmed, I think people are as thirsty for peace, for gentleness and joy – and, yes, for simplicity and humility – as a desert traveller longing for a drink of plain, cold water.

But who dares be the first to say, “You know what? We have enough junk already – let’s not buy any more decorations. Let’s skip the January diet and just eat less in December. We’re already broke. Let’s give each person one small gift from the whole family, then call it quits.”

Once you lay it down; all the making lists, scouring pre-Christmas sales, stuffing the freezer, you get Christmas back again for real.

If you have time for a simple meal with people you love, to sit quietly and hear again the message of the angels – you have all you need. And maybe a few goodies to spare for the food-bank, some warm socks and a woolly scarf for those who still live rough on the streets.

May your Christmas be peaceful, holy, blessed.    


Agree what to give

A friend of mine used to say, “Expectations are like stray cats. If you don’t want ’em, don’t feed ’em.” Friends often don’t mind what Christmas traditions you follow, but appreciate consistency so they know what to expect. If you stick firmly to cards only, or whatever you’ve decided, you stop things escalating.

Make your decorations

Simplicity need not mean a lack of good cheer. Good, disposable decorations are bowls of fruit and colourful foil-wrapped sweets; holly, ivy and fir cones from the garden or the woods; nightlights in glasses or jam jars, homemade paper chains or strings of paper stars. Here today and (Hallelujah!) gone tomorrow.

Stick to the essentials

Three staples of simplicity at Christmas-time are firelight (or a safely displayed group of candles if you can’t have a fire), music and going to church. More than any expensive gifts, these create that special combination of joy and peace belonging to the holy season of Christmas. An oil-burner with frankincense and myrrh adds atmosphere.