You know the creeping stress that starts the week of Thanksgiving? That "holy crap I have to buy 125 presents in the next month" feeling? The pressure to buy perfect gifts and say yes to every cookie party and gift exchange is so overwhelming. Our "more is more" culture has replaced the peace of advent with busy-ness and financial stress. While we run around like maniacs trying to do it all, there are so many who are lonely and in need of our love during this season. The last few years I've been looking for a better way. Like most things in life, I believe choosing simplicity is the answer. We're still in the growing pains stage, but we're trying to shift our focus to serve more and give less. Giving usually involves an object with very temporary significance. Serving is an act of love that holds it value forever.
Cutting back on Christmas giving hasn't been easy for this princess. I love, love, love gifts. I love giving them, I love receiving them, but mostly... I love shopping for them. *flips hair over shoulder a la Cher Horowitz* The last couple of years we did the 4 gift plan you probably saw floating around on Facebook. It went: something you want, something you need, something to do, something to read. (And one from Santa. We're not monsters.) It was a good transition from the Oprah-style extravaganza I had been doing, but couldn’t afford. But I was still finding that my kids had an excess of stuff they didn't need or want at the end of the day. We also come home from family gatherings with more presents than our grandparents ever received in a lifetime. If I'm being completely honest (I hope I don't offend anyone I love here), a lot of them are never played with and by March most of them end up in our donation basket. When the newness wears off, the things that they play with the most are stand-bys like Legos, dolls, wood blocks, cars, and arts and crafts supplies. (If you're looking for gift ideas I've made a list of some of our family's favorite toys and books that have stood the test of time. You can find them here. )
In the spirit of simplifying, this year we’re cutting it back even further to: 2 toys, a book and some wool socks. If I could go back to when they were babies, I would have started so much smaller. Now we're dealing with expectations made from years of experiencing over-the-top giving. I didn't want my kids to be disappointed Christmas morning, so I sat them down and explained how many toys get thrown out, how much goes in a landfill that will never go away and how our focus on what we get takes away from our ability to be thankful for the things that really matter. I was so proud of their response. They were 100% on board with scaling back (although they did double check that they still get some presents). Talking about living a more simple, intentional life throughout the year made it much easier for them to understand the transition. And let's be honest... 4 presents is still more than any kid needs.
Next I'd like to introduce some new traditions that re-direct the effort we've been putting into gifting to serving instead. Every year my kids sell their handmade Christmas ornaments to benefit Samaritan’s Purse which is my favorite Christmas tradition. They've been able to feed babies, help build wells and provide care to refugees and orphans. While that's wonderful, it all happens far away from what we experience. We also want to be the hands and feet of Jesus right here in our community during this advent season. We've been praying with them to be shown people that we can love on in the coming weeks. In the car yesterday my oldest came up with the idea to go visit at a nursing home. I'm excited to see what else they come up with.
Have you found good ways to shift your family's focus away from giving? If you have some meaningful Christmas traditions I'd love to hear about them in the comments.