Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why We're Not Giving Gifts This Christmas

Bah hum bug, right? Nah.  Let me explain.  We're not giving our kids Christmas presents this year because...

...we've done the whole MASSIVE Magic-Santa-twinkling-lights-gifts-overflowing-bells-and-whistles Christmases before and, frankly, Goose didn't care.  Besides that, I found them to be stressful and distracting from the whole point of the holiday: celebrating the birth of our Savior.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Jesus has always been a part of my childhood and adult Christmas celebrations.  We always, always, ALWAYS attend the Christmas Eve service before racing home to open presents and eat too many cookies around the Christmas tree.  That tradition has been unbroken for over 30 years.  And there is plenty about our family's Christmas tradition that I really love. 

There isn't enough money in the world to replace the wonderful time spent with family around the tree.  My favorite memories of my grandparents are around these beautiful holiday events.  My grandma (who passed away several years ago) had a way of making Christmas truly magical for us kids with silly holiday games and letting us help her with the endless cookie baking.

And the decorations.  Oh, the decorations!  My family KILLS IT in the decorating department.  My aunt, who traditionally hosted our family Christmases, has an entire attic filled with Christmas decorations so that when fully appointed, her house is washed in holiday cheer.  Truly stunning - like living inside Macy's. 

But through the years, with the addition of new grandchildren, our family Christmas tradition reached new levels of excess, hitting a fever pitch Christmas 2012.  Presents weren't just "under" the tree, they were down the hall and around the corner.  And, as per family tradition, when it came time to open the presents, after we had all returned home from Christmas Eve service, our family sat down around the tree and my sister tossed presents out to everyone as quickly as she could read the tags.  

When it was all over, I sat back to assess the rubble piles of paper and ribbons.  And as usual, a sinking feeling hit the pit of my stomach like something was missing - like I didn't get ENOUGH - which makes me feel like a complete jerk.  How is it possible that after unwrapping a wagon full of stuff, I could feel like something was missing?  It's taken me 32 years, but I've figured it out.

Christmas presents are like junk food.  When you are conditioned to a steady diet of them, it takes more and more and more each year to not just satisfy, but to excite.  And just like junk food, filled with processed sugars and saturated fats, they hit the system hard at first, giving a quick, fun adrenalin rush, but then drop out quickly leaving you with a yucky void in your stomach.  So, in reality, there is never really enough to totally hit the spot.   

It's time for a juice cleanse, so to speak.  We're going to take this holiday to cleanse ourselves of the craving for excessive Christmas gifts by not buying any, and by finding new ways to center our holiday tradition on Jesus.

While our girls are young, we can skip the presents this year without protest. My husband and I can also take this year to figure out how we want to shape our new family's tradition so that our girls can have a healthy, fun celebration of Christmas throughout the rest of their childhoods, keeping the focus on Jesus.

As a parent, I have already discovered real concerns over how Christmas gift-giving affects the relationship children have with Santa, their parents, and the gifts themselves - how/why they receive them, and how much is enough - and I want to avoid these pitfalls with our own girls.

As much fun as Santa is (I actually think he's a fun guy and love watching movies about him), I have issues with Santa as the gift-giver at Christmas.  For starters, it gives him the credit for a gift the parents actually thoughtfully bought (usually the best gift under the tree), and it gets into that whole "he's watching you to see if you are good or bad."  CREEPY... While I'm not going to deny my girls the fun of watching Tim Allen movies, he's just not going to be vising our house.    

Now, as for how gift-giving affects how our girls view us as their parents: I don't want my girls to build an association between our love for them and plastic toys. There isn't a physical gift big enough to express my love for my girls.  They know I love them like crazy because I tell them and kiss them a million times a day.  We don't buy toys for our girls because they represent our love for them, per se, we buy them because they want or need them at the time. And our girls are not for want.

If they need something, we get it for them right away.  We don't want to wait four months to get it for them just so that they "have something to unwrap under the tree."  That's dumb.  We also don't want to buy them stuff they don't need just to fill the void under the tree.  We'd like to think our purchases are thoughtful. 

Another concern I have is turning presents into pawns in a power-play with the children, "if you don't do X, you aren't going to get that Z for Christmas, like you wanted."  What the heck?  Because the truth is, if your child asks for a specific item for Christmas and you are using it as leverage to get chores done in November, it's a darn good bet you are going to give the gift no matter what.  So it's really not cool to threaten with it if you aren't going to follow through.
So what are we going to do this year instead of open presents?

We're going to decorate our little tree and build a nativity set.  We're going to attend our Christmas Eve church service, but instead of racing through it to get home to the presents, we're going to enjoy the pace of the service.

We're going to get our fill of holiday decorations and twinkling lights by driving past other peoples' houses.  We're going to Skype with our family members on the East Coast, make and eat a few cookies, watch a Tim Allen movie, read Luke 2 and talk about Jesus' birth, then go to sleep in our red and green jammies.

And when we wake up on Christmas morning, we have a really special experience planned for the girls that should make a lasting memory. It's a secret so I won't give details, but it involves real snow and gingerbread houses.

Will this be a perfect Christmas? Who knows, but we're going to give it a try to find out.  That's the fun of starting new family traditions.

What are your favorite holiday traditions? What parts would you change?


  1. I love this post! Since I was pregnant with my son, I've struggled with deciding what our family traditions will be regarding Christmas. I don't like the whole "lie to your kids and tell them there's a Santa" thing. I don't like how Christmas is so saturated with material things. He is 3 now and I continue to struggle with how we'll celebrate Christmas. While there shouldn't be this much angst about what should be a happy time of year, it is hard because of family, friends, and even strangers. The little bit of television he watches right now is full of the usual American Christmas traditions. My friends and family gasp at the mention of me not incorporating Santa. And strangers (at the grocery store, library, church, etc) keep asking what he "wants for Christmas" and if he's "sat on Santa's lap yet." So, how do/will you handle the scrutiny and questions?

    1. Thank you! How to act around Christmas is such a silly yet critically defining issue to pin down in a household with young kids. I feel that deciding how to approach Christmas defines how you handle all other holidays as a Christian parent. I'm not a Santa HATER, per se, I just don't want him to take center stage. I also don't want the act of asking for gifts to take center stage. I want the celebration of Jesus's birth - HIS BIRTHDAY - to be the focus. We saw Santa this week at my husband's office party. The girls sat on his lap and got their pictures taken. Before they sat down, I told Santa up front that we were here JUST for the picture and not to discuss presents. He understood and kept convo with Goose about what was on her shirt, etc. It was perfect. If Santa understands where we're coming from, I think everyone else can jump on board also. :)

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