Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas U-turn

I feel guilty about not writing in the last couple of weeks. I could say that I've been busy (which is true) but I'm always busy. Truth is, I've had a couple of things on my mind.

Firstly, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about Christmas. It's the most stressful time for me in my personal life. Despite my best efforts to remain grounded, I worry about money and giving gifts.

As a little girl, there was always a lot of build up to the holidays. I remember my mom giving me a Sears catalogue to circle things I wanted. I'm sure I wrote a letter or two to Santa. There were Christmas records that we would play and I would belt out "I'm Getting Nothing for Christmas". As I got older, I would sit and rock while listening to "Carol of the Bells" and "Oh Holy Night". Mom would make her dynamite chocolate bon-bons and pecan sandies. She hung these beautiful felt stockings that she made for each of us. They had little faces and hair that looked like me and my brother and sisters. There was also the token advent calendar that we would use each year to countdown to Christmas.

But like most kids, I was focused on receiving gifts. Even at our elementary school, I remember they hosted a fundraiser in December where you went to purchase gifts for your family, as opposed to making something.

My favorite teacher, Ms. Como, led my first ever "Secret Santa" gift exchange. I remember how different it seemed for our class to be seated in a circle instead of behind desks.  The gift could be something from home that you simply didn't want or need, so long as someone else might enjoy it. That seemed like a novel idea.

Other than a beaded candy cane I made in Girl Scouts one year, I don't remember a tradition of making gifts and giving to others.

My mother was always stressed about money and giving gifts. GULP. Now I'm her.

So I had a great ladies night for my dear friend's birthday and she and her sisters got to talking about Christmas. I listened as they shared their family traditions of making gifts for each other. Each child only asked for one gift - not because they were told to - but because it was tough for them to think of anything they want.

This is another reason why television watching can be harmful: commercials. The children mentioned above rarely watch television so they aren't bombarded with things they should want. They aren't immersed in the gimme pop culture that we live in.

Dually noted.

Another dear friend of mine shared with me that she decided she would only give her children four gifts each year. Being a fervent Catholic, she decided that if her Savior only received three gifts, then that is good enough for her children, plus one special gift from her and her husband.

I ask myself: why am I compelled to make a huge list of things I want to buy for my son? The result can only be that he will learn to expect a pile of presents each year and I will continue to stress about it. Of course we feel happy to receive something special, but that is diminished when expectations are sky high. It only leads to disappointment and a skewed outlook of what makes a person happy. My goal is to help him understand that real, lasting happiness doesn't come from things. How's he going to understand that if his happy Christmas is based on us buying him things?

That's why I've decided to make something of a U-turn, a righting of the ship, if you will. Our focus must be on giving. He's two, so he limited in his understanding of making gifts for others, but there's no better time to start a tradition than now. When he looks back on his holiday memories, I want him to remember that he helped make the cookies for the trash collectors, postal carrier, doctor office, and teachers. He will have a hand in making special ornaments or picture frames or whatever it might be for his loved ones, even as a tot. And I want him to feel that fantastic, unquenchable happiness that comes from giving something special to show gratitude for people that make our lives better.

I know this seems like a no-brainer - I'm always making gifts for others anyhow, so why would this modest gift approach be such a departure? But it truly will be difficult for me not to go crazy and buy him every cute wooden toy I see. I think this is my (mom's) urge to make my child happy with stuff.

I'm going to keep re-reading this post if I have to in order to stay the course. We'll see how it goes...

All I need is my family, mom.


  1. I think you are WONDERFUL!! That is so far-sighted and aware of you. It took me a lot longer to realise what was happening when I indulged myself in the urge to buy my son everything that opens and shuts. Well done, you.

  2. I applaud you already know my Thing 2 doesn't understand the whole "Santa or list" thing so we don't have to worry about that "YET" and when we went through some life changing events about 3 years ago, we refected on the same things with my Thing 1 and we try to adopt a family during Thanksgiving and Christmas to GIVE instead of receive. My daughter gets 2 bigger gifts (but not overly crazy) and she doesn't ask for the crazy stuff most kids do..she's still excited getting pajamas and music and a date with mom to go have hot chocolate :):) More families need to take the indulgence out of the holidays and go back to the basics...we have more fun having a gingerbread house party or "trying" to bake (you know I can scrap but I can't bake)....just breathe and let it fall in place..3 gifts is a good number and if family wants to supplement-perfect!

  3. Great post. I look forward to the day, Chris and I have kiddos and I can look to your post for guidance and support. When reading this, two things came to mind. 1.) I heard this interesting thing on NPR about ads on TV and how they can work there way into adults' minds, so of course children too. While listening, I thought of my friend's children who ask for Tyson CKN nuggets by name despite never buying it... Hm. TV. 2.) A friend posted on facebook about a family who donated to various things as a way to do their advent count down. How lovely. I also want my future children to be thankful and gracious, especially at Christmas. Can't wait to hear how your family incorporates giving into your holiday.

  4. We've gone completely overboard with Christmas. I didn't even realize it until the other day, our 2 year old is getting way too much. I just gradually buy things on clearance as the year goes by, and before I know it, it is way too much for one little boy.

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Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!
Our little guy at 15 months, February 2011.