Christmas Morning- 5:00a.m…every year: I shook my little brother awake and we raced down the stairs. A wall of perfectly packaged gifts greeted us and we giddily hovered over them. Sizes, colors, bows, wrap…we soaked it up and could hardly stand the following two hours- the longest of the year- until we would be allowed to rip them open. Our stocking hoard was strewn across the floor when my mom trudged in, rubbing the late night wrapping circles from her eyes. At her cue of readiness, we lunged at the packages like hungry lions. We devoured them, our piles of plunder rising high. When we neared the end of our gift feast, we circled the tree, hoping to find one last morsel that we could dig our greedy claws into. I glanced at my pile, the things I had dreamed of since Thanksgiving, and felt a loss. The wonder of the season disappeared. Every year, I tried to make the “feeling of Christmas” last unto the next day, but it was always lost after that ripping of gifts.
I share this story, not because it’s unique, but because it’s average. If you are an American under the age of 40, I have a feeling that my annual Christmas experience sounds a lot like yours. It doesn’t come at the fault of the parents who have good intentions to bestow every good thing on their children. No, it is just following the grain of an entire culture that tells us that happiness and the Christmas spirit come in the form of gobs and gobs of stuff. Though it has taken me years to break free from the temporary exhilaration that comes from the shopping and the wrapping and the unwrapping, I am thrilled for the very “non-American” Christmas that has taken my home captive.
After opening gifts a couple of Christmases ago, I watched my toddler go from present…to present…to present, overwhelmed by all of the crap that encircled him. It was that Christmas when my husband and I decided we needed to make some drastic changes to the way we celebrate. Last year was our first attempt at righting the discontent and simplifying our Christmas. It was refreshing, but we wanted to cut back even more.
Dear readers, if you are tempted not to read on for fear that I might try to make you feel guilty for your Christmas list that includes a new iPad and a pair of pajamas made by the finest silkworms and fairy poop on the planet, fear not. It is neither my business, nor my desire, to make you feel guilty for the way you celebrate. However, I wanted to write about this topic in the chance that, like me, you have been left wanting at the end of the season, wondering if you missed something like our sad sad friend, Charlie Brown. And to offer you a couple of ideas that have helped us to experience peace and joy long after the pressies. (Pet peeve time…why does American Christmas come to a halt on December 26th?? Three Kings Day/Epiphany is January 6th; let’s make it last until then, people.)
When my nephews were tiny and my children were not yet born, I became ecstatic about a Christmas tradition that my in-laws started with their boys, and I began the same in our own home when our oldest was just a wee guy. For the first 24 days of December, we do a daily activity to get in the Christmas spirit. This is the start of my list for this year. (Apologies for the blur…just click on the photo and you will be able to read it clearly. I’m sure I could figure out how to fix this quite quickly, but I am just too tired to bother with it. Blasted computer.)
Friends, I cannot tell you how much fun it is to watch our tiny offspring’s excitement for our daily “Advent Calendar activity”. This year I also bought a beautiful book by my favorite writer, Ann Voskamp, that I am crazy excited about. It includes a scripture reading, discussion, and activity each day leading up to Christmas.
For the past few years, my husband and I have been rethinking our gift giving. We both L O V E giving and receiving gifts, but we were aware that our focus was more about things than about love. We thought up a plan that kept the fun of gifts without the emptiness that comes with excess. Each of our boys gets a book, a shirt, and a toy from us. Santa brings them each one toy and fills their stockings with fun goodies. That’s it. With a gift from each grandparent, they are not left wanting, I promise. It is also okay to set limits on sweet, generous, well-intending grandparents who would wrap up a whole toy store if they were allowed (wink wink, mother). Setting these limits for ourselves has saved us money and has enabled us to be very intentional gift-givers. When I did my shopping this year, I took my time to find the one toy that each of my sons would truly enjoy, rather than providing each of them with twelve toys that they “sort of like” that will end up at Goodwill in five months.
I would love to hear what works for your families to keep the spirit of Christmas alive rather than the spirit of consumerism. Yay Christmas! I simply cannot wait.
Lastly, don’t forget that this is collection week for Operation Christmas Child!! I linked the photo below to their website, where you can find instructions on how to pack your boxes, items needed, drop off locations, etc. This is a perfect way to prepare your little people’s hearts for the season of giving.
P.S. Next time I will try to write something shorter. 😉