This past Sunday at church, our pastor mentioned how hard it can be for us to pause, especially at this time of year. The day after Thanksgiving, we are throwing our Christmas decorations up, stringing lights across the front porch, driving to get a Christmas tree, and always there are the Black Friday sales, which now last at least a week! (I just learned that in addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there is now Travel Tuesday. I wonder what Wednesday will be named next year?) We have difficulty slowing down enough to appreciate the holiday that has just passed us by. After all, there’s another one to get ready for, with all of the frantic activity that surrounds it.
Of course, the underlying reason for all of this ceaseless motion in December is the commercialization of what used to be a fairly simple holiday. Christmas, as pretty much everyone over the age of 3 knows, is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. Its name comes from the “Mass of Christ,” referring to the special mass held at many churches. Christmas was traditionally centered around Christ, and not inherently about giving or receiving material things. It involved gathering with family and friends, sharing a meal, attending a church service, and getting a much-needed day off of work. Gift-giving at Christmas has been part of the tradition for hundreds of years, however, with the gifts that we give and receive symbolizing the ultimate gift that God gave to us in His Son, and also hearkening back to the gifts given to baby Jesus by the wise men. But for those of us who live in an affluent culture, gifts can easily get out of control at Christmas, leading to stress for both our minds and checkbooks. It is estimated that many American children receive up to 20 gifts at Christmas. That’s a lot of stuff!
So I am suggesting that we place more meaning on the true reason for celebrating Christmas, and less on the presents. This isn’t a new or original idea, of course. But what may be a new idea is that of backing away – at least a bit – from the frenzied Christmas shopping to pause and reflect. To think about what we want our children to learn and remember at this season, to consider the year that is almost gone, to enjoy the crisp weather, to connect with our families. Following are a few ideas to get you started. Please feel free to add your own in the comments!
- Give to an organization – or better yet, volunteer your time – that directly helps those in need. For example, we love to pack shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child every year. Going shopping for someone that you don’t even know, for things that your child could easily have instead, is a great opportunity to share with your child the link between loving others and helping to care for them, and to help them learn to experience the joy of giving simple things that will truly delight a child who is less fortunate than they are.
- Take time to rest. Stop and read a book, sit by the fire, enjoy hot cocoa with your family, call a friend whom you haven’t spoken to in a while. Do something that is a special experience rather than focusing on a special thing. If you need to clear your schedule out or say no to one (or a few) Christmas parties to create the space that you need to pause, I would suggest doing so. Your body, mind, and those you love will thank you for it!
- Consider setting a limit on the number of gifts that each person receives. I would propose a 3 gift limit, and/or a dollar amount not to exceed. Among my brothers and sisters-in-law, the adults do not exchange any gifts, and the children each receive a small (under $10) present from their aunts and uncles. This has brought so much more joy to our gatherings, being able to look forward to the holiday without having to stress over what to buy everyone!
- Take a Christmas trip as a family instead of giving your children presents. My family did just that the Christmas that I was 12 years old. We went on our first-ever ski trip to Colorado. None of the five of us had ever skied, and the entire experience – the laughter, altitude sickness, sibling rivalry and fun, excitement of being in that much snow for the first time, and wonder at exploring all of the newness together – are memories that have stayed with me much more solidly than 99% of the material gifts I’ve received at Christmas. I am so thankful that my parents thought to do that for us, because time together is something you can never get back.