Keeping the Holidays Simple and Meaningful

Just like many years before this, December 1st has arrived and I am in disbelief that another year has nearly come and gone.  We’ve already had our first snow, so the holiday spirit arrived early and we’ve been enjoying lots of hot cocoa while Christmas carols play in the background.

I am always so excited for the Christmas holiday season.  For me, each November brings memories of laughing family members, delicious foods made from scratch by the hands of my grandmothers, mother, and aunts. Playing cards with 3 generations after the Thanksgiving meal. Hanging ornaments on the tree and retelling all the stories surrounding each one.  Watching Christmas specials on TV.  Making Christmas cookies with my mom and carefully packaging them to deliver to neighbors and friends.  Candlelit church services and driving around to see all the homes sparkling with lights.

ornament

Now that I have my own little family, making memories like these is very important to me.  I want my children to have holiday memories filled with family, friends, laughter, and experiences.  Not gifts.  Now, I enjoy getting a gift just as much as anyone else.  But gifts have become the focus of a season meant for reflection and thanksgiving.  And you’ll notice something missing from the list of my memories above.  I have almost no recollection of the gifts I received as a child.  There are a few special Christmas gifts I remember, like Rudolph aka “Rudy” the red-nosed tabby cat I received for Christmas when I was 5.  But for the most part, the gifts are not in my memories.  Because gifts were never the focus of the holiday for my family growing up, and they aren’t for my family now that I’m grown.  With the holiday season now upon us, I thought I would share some ways we are trying to keep the real meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas alive in our family.

Keep the focus on thanks…

For the Thanksgiving holiday, we have started a few family traditions to keep our focus on being thankful for all we have.  We ask the kids to name one thing they are thankful for each night before their prayers.  I can tell when they are really tired, because the answer is always “our house” or “Mom and Dad”.  These are great things to be thankful for.  But occasionally they really blow me away with their answers like when one child said they were thankful they knew how to read or thankful we gave them a brother.  This simple and quick routine keeps our minds on giving thanks for what we have, not coveting what we don’t.

Keeping with that theme, we don’t shop on Black Friday or Thanksgiving.  I know the argument can be made that you can save lots of money on gifts you will give to those you love.  But it just doesn’t sit well with me that we have made a holiday celebrating consumerism exactly one day after we are supposed to be thankful for all we have.  I don’t agree with retailers being open on Thanksgiving or the wee hours of Friday, so I choose not to buy things during that time.  Yesterday, I asked the cashier at Target if she had to work Friday. Her response, “Yes and Thursday night”.  Her tone was not happy when saying this. We talked about how it took time away from enjoying a day with her family and she wished stores weren’t open Thursday.  No great deal is worth this in my opinion.  And for those who are wondering, we don’t shop online those days either.  It’s really not that hard to take a 2 day hiatus from buying things.  It also keeps our lives simpler.  I recycle the Black Friday flyers before they even come in the house and delete the emails without reading them.  Same goes for the toy catalogs. It’s a time saver I am happy to have.

And giving…

Our biggest holiday challenges revolve around gift giving and receiving. We are trying to find ways to limit the gifts coming in and to make wise decisions about the gifts we give.  There is a lot of money spent in the last two months of the year.  It’s heartbreaking to read of the credit card debt people go into over the holidays.  All for gifts that will likely be forgotten by this time next year.   My husband and I forgo getting each other gifts most years and have a special date instead.  We encourage relatives to donate to our children’s college fund or help pay for an experience like a zoo trip, museum outing, baseball game, etc. in lieu of another toy. We do realize gift giving can bring great joy, but it must be kept in check. Because we don’t want to be completely hard-line about no toys, we ask grandparents to limit gifts to a “want, a need, and a read”.  Three gifts because that is the number Jesus received from the wise men.  Our children have been more than happy with the few gifts they receive.  We also put more emphasis on fun family activities during the holidays like baking, visiting family, driving to see light displays in our jammies with hot cocoa filled Thermos, and remembering where we got each ornament on our tree (we buy an ornament on each vacation).

In years past, we’ve rung the bell for Salvation Army.  It was freezing, but we had fun singing carols to passers by while our children learned an important lesson about serving others.

To encourage a spirit of giving in our children, we make homemade gifts like ornaments, cookies, etc. for friends and family. This year we are excited to make some gifts using essential oils to pamper the special people in our lives.  We try to limit gifts for family members to something they actually need and is useful.

One of my favorite traditions is choosing a gift for Jesus.  A wise older mom from my church shared this idea with my MOPS group a few years ago and it quickly became a treasured tradition in our house.  In years past, we have chosen to give clean water in His name through Compassion International.  It’s so much fun to give the kids the Compassion Catalog and let them choose their gift to Jesus.

This year, we decided to take the giving a step further by sending a Christmas email instead of cards.  I generally spend between $50 and $100 on Christmas cards and postage each year.  While I love sending and receiving cards, the reality is they will end up in a recycling bin in a few weeks.  It’s like throwing money away.  So we are sending an email with pictures and a year in review letter and using the money we would have spent on cards to buy a small brood of hens for a family in need. The gift of livestock not only provides food, but a source of income which can make a world of difference to an impoverished family.

Remembering the Reason…

All our efforts to promote thanks and giving during the holidays point back to one thing : Jesus.   We have chosen to make a Jesse Tree this year to help us celebrate Advent by retelling the story of Jesus’ lineage and keeping us focused on Christ. By keeping our eyes on Him, it’s much easier not to get wrapped up in the consumerist chaos of the Christmas season. He is our reason to be thankful and our inspiration to give generously to those who need it most.  He challenges the very idea of what a gift looks like: the world expecting a King receives a baby born in hay. The best gifts live in our hearts and minds, not on our shelves.

I’d love to hear how you are keeping your holidays simple and focused this year.  May your Christmas by Merry and Bright!

-L

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