Christmas is, by far, my favorite time of year. There is something magical about it all. The hustle and bustle of the crowds as they shop, the music, the Hallmark card scenes played out with horse-drawn sleds prancing in the snow and the glistening lights throughout town fill my soul with a happiness I can’t describe. It is truly a time of joyous celebration and one I look forward to each and every year.
Two years ago, we stepped away from the tradition of overloading our kids on presents and went to the 4 Things approach: something they WANT, something they NEED, something to WEAR, something to READ. Each of our children received those four gifts, along with a gift on Christmas Eve where each gets a pair of pajamas, and as a group they get a new kid-friendly movie (that we pick up at our local Family Video at a fraction of the cost!). We loved scaling back for a number of reasons, but this year I wanted to take it even further. This year, we decided to cancel Christmas.
Growing up, Christmases at our house never left us wanting more. There were loads of gifts under the tree for both my brother and I, and while I’d like to say I was beyond thankful for it all – I was very thankful – but I also know I took it for granted. I went in to Christmas every year expecting to receive a lot because that’s just what I was used to.
When I reached the point that I had a family of my own, I felt very strongly that I needed to make Christmas full of gifts for my children, just the same as I had experienced growing up. While the first couple of years weren’t financially supportive of that theory, we did eventually get to a point where we could fill under the tree. And I loved every minute of it. I felt good as a parent that I was providing my children with so many “things”. But the problem is, that’s all they are. Things. And it made it so that Christmas in the eyes of our children was becoming more about “what all I can get” and nothing else.
Look. I get it. We live in a society of “want” and “now” and throwaway. We’re constantly surrounded by messages that tell us what we should want and why. That’s advertising! And they’re doing a good job of it! I remember sitting down with the Toys R Us catalog every year and circling just about every darn thing in the book as I made my Christmas wish list. Seriously! It was ridiculous the amount of things I wanted and didn’t even know until I opened the book! Funny how that works, isn’t it? We never know we “need” something until we’re looking at it. But that’s where we get confused. We don’t actually need it. We want it.
I know that every kid does it. I know it’s a normal feeling for a child, and it’s very standard in our country where we don’t experience true need like other places in the world. But I’m flat worn out from hearing “I want” “I want” “I want” every time a commercial comes on or we’re in the store or so-and-so brought their toy to school. I’m exhausted from the expectations that money is growing out of peoples’ ears. Not just ours; grandma’s, papa’s, their aunts and uncles. You get the picture. They naturally assume that if they say they want it, someone will end up getting it for them. And all the while, there are families all over the world just trying to figure out how to put a loaf of bread on the table.
I don’t want to raise consumers. I want to raise children with hearts full of perspective and appreciation. I want them to be able to – at a young age – start determining wants vs needs. I want them to think first about what someone else doesn’t have before they think of what they’d like to have. I want them to realize that to do something for someone else doesn’t require buying something from the store. I want them to become resourceful individuals that rely on their creativity to brighten someone’s day instead of relying on a purchase from the store that won’t stand the test of time. Cause let’s face it; things aren’t built to last anymore. One of my children has a hoard of broken Transformers in the trashcan to prove just that.
I have felt very convicted about this matter for some time now. I have spent months praying about it, discussing it, weighing the pros and cons, and battling internally over this decision.
It’s not for everyone. And I’m cool with that. I don’t begrudge my parents or think they did anything wrong with how they went about the gifting portion of Christmas when I was growing up. I don’t think any other parents that do the same are doing anything wrong. Whether you’re giving none, one, or fifty gifts to each kid, I look at it this way: to each his own.
But for me, it’s something that has weighed heavily on my heart. It’s nothing against my children. It’s not a punishment. It’s simply something I believe God has charged our family to do, and so we are doing it.
I put off the “we aren’t doing the traditional Christmas” talk for a few weeks longer than planned because I was so afraid of the reaction I would receive. Even when we feel God has given us a task, it can still take some “prove it, God” moments to know what we’re doing is right. So, I hesitated. And you know what? When we finally had the talk with the kids last week over dinner, God gave me my “prove it” moment.
We explained to the kids that things would be different this year for Christmas. There would be no traditional toys from the store. There would be no store purchases at all. We explained that it wasn’t a punishment, that they had done nothing wrong. We simply feel that this is the direction God is wanting us to go in and so we are following. We told them that we want them to be able to use their creativity to give to others and to learn that not everything has to come from a store. We explained that they could come up with ideas of things they wanted to make for each other as gifts and that Brandon and I would help see those gifts to completion.
We also told them that they would spend the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas in service for others. We want them to be able to focus on what they can do for others instead of what others can do for them. So, we explained that they would be tasked with various work-related items to do for others, whether it be raking someone’s yard, helping to clean a house, delivering cookies to the neighbors, etc. And that they must do it without accepting any form of payment. (I even had to threaten the grandparents about sneaking them payment. I stressed the importance of them learning to serve others without receiving.)
Not a single tear was to be had. Not a pouty face. Not a disappointed “but why?!”. None of the reactions that I had expected and dreaded and procrastinated the talk because of happened. Not a one. Instead, there were faces of excitement and immediate brainstorming and “When can we set up a private time to discuss gift ideas?!” and “Can I go ask the neighbors right now what I can help them do?”. Thank you, God. Thank you for your “prove it” moment. Had I received any other response, I would still be questioning if I was doing the right thing. But He knew that. And He knew what I needed to hear to be shown that we are following the path He’s chosen for us.
So, this year, we’re cancelling Christmas – in the traditional, consumerist approach. And instead, we’re focusing on creating perspective and hearts of giving. And honestly, I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds! I think it will be heart-changing for us all, and I look forward to it!