Now that my kids are older and we talk a lot about why things were the way they were when they were younger, it got me thinking back to how we did Christmas that just got baked into “how we do things”…. and I thought I’d share two of my favorite things that I love about the family we raised.
So, I’ll say this one is for the new parents out there, trying to figure out how to spare their kids (and their wallets) from the budget-busting Christmas holiday spending. It’s also for those of you trying to, as a family, decide how to keep some significance in Christmas Eve or Day, beyond the Advent calendar (which we actually never did).
When our kids were little, their dad and I didn’t make much. I managed the budget, and we scrimped and saved all year so that we could buy the kids and our gifts (if possible) in cash. Some years it worked, some years it didn’t. He and I wanted to preserve in our kids the wonder and excitement of the holiday, but also help temper it with gratefulness and not be pressured to just buy a ton of presents. We also wanted to instill in them when they were little that from a faith perspective, it’s a time when we remember that the God of all creation took on flesh and gave us himself as a gift – which, when kids are little, and siblings are born, it’s easy to talk about Jesus as a baby and have them wrap their heads around at least this aspect.
These desires as parents led us to set two guiding principles as they grew up:
1. We played the Santa “game” with them, but were clear that Santa was just that – a game. He wasn’t a real person, but it was really important not to tell anyone this so that they didn’t ruin the game for other kids. (yes, we were THOSE parents). Our reasoning? If we were going to talk to them about a God who they couldn’t see, but loved them and was real – what would they think when they found out Santa wasn’t real and he was visible on every street corner and in movies??? To be fair, we took the same approach with the Easter Bunny.. so at least we were consistent. They did pretty good at keeping the secret too
2. We made the decision that since in the story in the Bible, Jesus only got 3 gifts, this is how many they would get from mom and dad! (plus a stocking). Now, of course its possible Jesus got more, and I know those gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh didn’t really arrive at his birth… but hang with me here. Our kids were 1 and 3 at the time. Simple story folks. It made sense to them.
Just like other parents, we certainly hoped our kids loved whatever we got them. Limiting ourselves to three presents ensured we put some deep thought into what they really would enjoy – so it was a good practice for us too, and kept us from buying everything we saw that was “cool” that they might like.
Granted, when kids are 1 and 3 they are definitely entertained by much more affordable gifts than when they are 11 and 13… or 21 and 23…..so as they got older, they maybe got 2 bigger gifts instead of 3…. but it never changed the thought and intentionality we put into deciding what to get them.
One year, I will never forget. It was the year of “Lila the Unicorn” – a plush light purple stuffed unicorn that both of them desperately wanted. I have no idea what else we got for them that year (I’d have to check the scrapbooks) – but the KEY gift was this blessed unicorn. Jon and I could hardly wait to see them Christmas morning. At the time, we lived in a house where the bedrooms were upstairs and there was a landing after the first 4 steps. Our lab loved to hang out there because she could watch everything upstairs and downstairs from the same spot in the landing corner. It was also the official “waiting spot” every Christmas morning. NO going beyond that until 7am. The kids could sit there and look at the tree, and guess what was under there, but they were not allowed to go open anything until we were up (and cameras were ready, of course). Not that they listened to us – I’m pretty sure they snuck down to look at stuff anyway, but we’d leave their stockings outside their door so they could go through them while they were waiting.
That morning, they were a bundle of energy waiting on that landing because they could see, by the twinkling lights on the tree… a glimmer of something shiny. We laughed as they ran downstairs practically screaming they were so excited that they got LILA UNICORN!!!!
As they got older, we taught them that our lives should always be lived thinking how we can serve others. We also wanted to try and build a bigger understanding that our entire life is like a gift back to God, so we need to think about how we live. Every Christmas Eve, we would all take time to think of what gift we would offer in the next year (whether personal growth or act of service), as a “gift” to Jesus, in response to his love for us. Everyone had their own special decorated box that they would put their notes in, and we’d set them under the tree. It was always neat the following year to open the boxes and read things from previous years seeing how we had all grown and changed as a result of those offerings!
Yes, as the kids got older they rolled their eyes and it was harder to get them to participate, but they did. Every year they loved looking at those boxes and re-reading the things they had put down the years prior. The older they got, the more they laughed and smiled at some of their childhood gifts. Now that they are on their own, I’ve given them their boxes… and I doubt they use them any more, but still it remains a pretty special memory for me.
I know that every family probably has their “special” thing they do. What’s yours?