Let’s Talk About Christmas Presence


A chestnut full of great ideas to rekindle the true spirit of Christmas

When I was a kid, it seemed like everybody had this unspoken agreement that Thanksgiving was the big celebration of thankfulness to mark the official beginning of the Christmas Season. It was a wonderful and delicious and clear indicator that it was time to move into the right-hand lane and take the exit toward Christmastown.

It may have had something to do with growing up and becoming a consumer, but it seems to me that Thanksgiving eventually got muscled out by Black Friday, which, if holidays had opposites, these two would have to be. Black Friday makes so much money that it’s birthed Cyber Monday, and this year, Halloween was barely over before we started hearing Christmas music in department stores. Is it me, or does the Christmas spirit seem to be a little bleaker, whereas the Christmas-spending season seem to come a little earlier every year?

Angry Black Friday Shopper

A Christmas Beating

Instead of spending time with family, sharing a meal together, and being generally thankful, Black Friday told people to grab their pumpkin pie on the way out the door to stand in line all night for some obscenely discounted deal. Call me old-fashioned, but given the choice of saving a couple hundred bucks on a new tv or spending some quality time with my Oma, the choice is clear. They print new money every year, but when it comes to time, you only get what you get; I’m going to make the smart business decision.

Sadly, people have come to associate the spirit of Christmas with overwhelming stress and consuming, whatever the cost. Do whatever it takes to find the best deal, and do what you have to do to get it before its gone. If it means waking up at 2am to brave the cold next to hundreds of other hyper-volatile, sleep-deprived coffee-zombies, so be it. If it means engaging in gladiatorial combat with the guy ahead of you that grabbed that last heated toilet seat door-buster, remember to S.I.N.G. -hit him in the Solarplexis, Instep, Nose, and Groin.

Remember the REAL spirit of Christmas?

We’ve probably all told our kids that it is better to give than to receive. Christmas is supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus as a gift to humanity. If “God so loved the world that he GAVE his only son,” it stands to reason that if you love, then you give, and if you give, you give relationship, right?

Somehow, even that simple lesson has morphed into inviting kids to indulge their selfishness by writing a list of stuff that they want for themselves.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to indulge the little ones a bit, because if we love, we are to give, but I think we should make sure that at least some of the focus of the gift is on the relationship rather than anything we could buy online and have delivered to our door. I’m also not saying that it will be easy, or that my kids are 100% “there” themselves, but there is a way to slay that dragon and start the new year in gratitude, closer than ever. Cultivating closeness is all about creating reasons to be together; this is how traditions are born.

How to FREE the Christmas tree

Before we were married, my lovely wife and her boys had this great tradition: instead of cutting, buying, or unboxing a tree, they set to the task of designing and constructing a Christmas tree-inspired work of genius on which they could hang lights and ornaments. This year, it’s an assortment of wreaths that were donated to us (free!).

Each year has been different, and some designs have been more successful than others, but the point was never about the finished product anyway; it’s about the family project. What was once born of necessity in a very poor season of life became a tradition that her kids looked forward to it every year, and now mine do too.

In addition to designing and building a tree, consider creating other decorations to Christmas-up the house, or better yet, make clever, relationship-oriented gifts for the people on your list. If it’s really the thought that counts, consider that ROI; a hand-made gift is the perfect balance of cheap and priceless.

Swap presents for presence

Last Christmas, we asked the kids if they could remember any of the gifts they’d gotten the year before. Not a one of them could remember a thing. Having illustrated this, the kids were primed to try something new.

We gave our kids 3 options and put it to a blind vote:

  1. Spend the Christmas budget like always and buy each kid their own present.
  2. Spend that money doing something expensive and/or extravagant like a mid-winter family trip.
  3. Donate that money to a good cause and bask in “the feels.” This one lost; what can I say?

Without the pressure of knowing how the others were voting, it was unanimous that our 4 kids (ranging 7-13) wanted to go big and take a trip together. We thought this was a pretty good idea at the time, but it turned out even better than anticipated.

We planned the trip over the course of a few weeks, talking through ideas over dinner and doing the research together in the evenings. This ended up being fun for the whole family, and it served to build anticipation and bring everyone together even better than we’d hoped. I think the planning was almost as fun as the trip itself; it was a huge success!

We drove the 300+ miles from St Louis to Chicago, stayed in a nice hotel, took a novel February swim, had some deep-dish pizza, saw the giant chrome bean at Millennium Park, and spent an entire day at the Field Museum. A year later, the kids still talk about the trip, and my wife and I still high-five each other for a solid parenting win.

I’ve known too many people (and been one myself) that overspend on gifts that will be forgotten by February. Often, kids will have just as much fun with the box anyway, so save your money, get a refrigerator box, and let them go to town with some markers! Giving relationally will always mean more to both the giver and the receiver, and if they really love you back, they’ll be happy you’re not broke. Merry Christmas, all!

One thought on “Let’s Talk About Christmas Presence

  • December 17, 2018 at 12:41 pm
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    I couldn’t agree more. The irony of it all is that I feel like it can start with my generation. I’ve tried to tell my kids that I have what I want/need (and if I don’t, I probably would just get it myself (which may be a condemnation of myself), I’d much rather them just schedule a regular game night or cup of coffee/glass of beer to catch up on “life”. But they insisted on getting me “something”. I agree whole heartedly that we need to change but struggling with how… (Love the blog btw)

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