December 3, 2007

Having my cake and eating it, too.

Kyle and I desperately want to raise Jack to be a person who understands that the stuff we accumulate in life isn't important. Not that things are bad, but just that they're not what life is about. I want to teach him that the important things in life are the things we do that will outlast us. I know he's too young this Christmas to really understand what's going on, but I feel like we need to start now . . . for our sake.

Almost two weeks ago at small group, we got off on a tangent talking about how to keep Christmas from becoming about the gifts. Gifts are a fun part of Christmas, but I don't want that to be the focal point of celebrating Christmas as a family. I thought about starting a "stockings only" tradition with Jack. That's what Kyle and I do for each other. Certainly, he'll have gifts to open from grandparents so he won't be missing out on that. But do you know what I keep thinking about? How bad I'll feel when Jack tells his friends about the stocking full of things he got and his friends tell him about the room full of presents that they opened.

There's a family from our church who decided they'd do three gifts a piece for their kids. When one of them began whining about it, their father said, "Are you better than baby Jesus? He only got three gifts, so that should be good enough for you." How can you argue with that? Too funny.

I asked my group (who all have children older than Jack) how they make Christmas fun without going overboard with gifts. I shared my worry that Jack would feel left out when he doesn't get as much as his friends do. They all had A LOT of great advice on the subject, but one of my favorite things that someone said was that as parents we need to make sure our kids already have a sense of "fullness" before Christmas even comes. That way, whatever gifts they get are just that . . . gifts. Not expectations.

I want Christmas to be a special time of year for Jack, just like it was for me growing up. I want him to be excited Christmas morning to see gifts under the tree and open them. I just don't know how to . . . well, I guess have my cake and eat it too.


Heather S. said...

I am right there with you! I have spent the last couple of Decembers spending alot of time with Norah talking about the real meaning of Christmas. I remember, when she was 1 1/2 we went to the mall just a few days before Christmas. As we were walking through Sears she started squealing with excitement. I look ahead and see a HUGE Santa but I could tell by the direction that she was pointing that she wasn't pointing at Santa. As we get closer, she says, "Look, Mommy, it's baby Jesus." Baby Jesus was about 2 inches big and was on the table next to the HUGE Santa.
Now that Norah is 3 1/2 things are different because the other children at school talk about Santa. Everyone we see - even at the Starbucks drive through - asks the girls what they want for Christmas. Wouldn't it be nice if someone asked them what they are doing to celebrate Jesus' birthday?
We do 3 presents - one from us, one from each other, and one from Santa, plus a stocking filled with things she needs (new toothbrush, socks, hair bows, etc). This year we are doing 1 activity every day from now until Christmas. I am relating everything we do to Jesus. Books like The Legend of the Candy Cane and The Legend of St. Nicholas help alot. I am also teaching her a new Bible verse each week related to some of the activities we are doing. Also, we adopted a family this Christmas. She has helped me pick out most of the presents and she know that we are giving these gifts to a family who doesn't have much money or a nice place to live. I hope this helps, but most of all I am just praying that we do/say the right things to teach her the importance of loving God and others - not things.
Sorry for the long comment!!

Anonymous said...

You know, while reading your post I couldn't help but think about celebrating Christmas with my family. We still exchange gifts as a family (with only two brothers-in-law and three grandkids, it's still feasible!) and it's a part of Christmas that I really enjoy. I'm glad we do gifts because, well, because it's just plain fun. The part that gets emphasized is the giving, and watching others open their gifts, and also the joy of receiving. One thing that helps to accomplish this is that we take turns opening gifts, and everyone watches while someone opens their gift. It's not a free-for-all. Instead we take time to enjoy seeing the person receive the gift, and that allows the person to express their thanks to the giver. I don't know if I'd want to have a Christmas without gifts, not because of what I wouldn't receive but because I wouldn't have the fun of giving. Oh, and I completely appreciate that my parents are in a place financially where they could be very lavish and overwhelming in their giving, but they choose not to. Instead, they spread out the giving throughout the year by taking us clothes shopping every once in a while or by unexpectedly blessing us at random moments with something we need.

Another family tradition is to read the Christmas story before we open gifts so we can take time to honor the true reason for Christmas. We also have a "cookie party" sometime around Christmas where we light candles, turn on Christmas music, bring out all of the cookies and goodies and use the nice plates, make some coffee/hot chocolate, and simply sit down to enjoy each other. I love it!

Looking back I realize that my parents didn't put a lot of specific emphasis on giving or not giving gifts, but we still got the message. Part of the reason why we got the message is because they instilled these lessons in us throughout the year. They weren't afraid to say no to us, or make us delay gratification for certain things, or make us do our fair share of chores. Funny how those things could make an impact on Christmas, but I know they made us appreciate our gifts and we understood that they were gifts - not items we were entitled to.

Wow this is a long response! But as another new mom who is concerned about establishing good Christmas habits, it is a good topic to think about. Thanks for giving me food for thought. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Sara. I'm looking at Christmas differently this year too, through the eyes of a 15 mo. old, who is observing EVERYTHING! I really appreciate the responses from Heather and Erin - great ideas! Thanks! I will use these! I read a support letter yesterday from Moody radio that said "what if you took all the money you would use on gifts and donated it to a charity or a needy family this year?" (as a side note, they suggested you send money to them too). I was shocked to find myself 1) love that idea and then quickly 2) feel sad about "giving up" the things I know I'm getting for Christmas. What a wake up call to my own selfishness!

I am really conflicted by my own happy memories filled with gifts and and also wanting to protect Alex from this kind of materialism! Its good to know I'm not alone in this conflict.

Kyle Luke said...

Yeah, I don't want to take away gift-giving because I like the idea of Jack learning how to give freely and receive graciously. I just want to make sure it doesn't become the reason we celebrate Christmas, you know? I'm glad you all have kids older than Jack so I can just learn from you guys. :)

Julianne said...

We do three gifts as well from Santa. It limits how much our kids can ask for. They are young and this is the only way they've known so they accept it w/o question.

I think that moderation is key when it comes to gift giving and focusing on the GIVING. It's a difficult thing to balance, especially given the pressures of the media and friends. Good luck and Godspeed!