When I was a young newlywed, I got really excited for Christmas. The lights, music, decorations, anticipation . . . it was wonderful. And then we had children. Which, of course, meant that we had no money. At first, with just one or two kids, it wasn't such a big deal. But by number four I was just that much more aware of how hard it was to provide meaningful gifts for everyone.
Suddenly, Christmas became a very stressful time of year. I'd sit at the sewing machine for the whole month of December and agonize over the mixed emotions I was experiencing. This was supposed to be a season of merry and bright and O come let us adore Him, not "How on earth are we going to do this?"
Come Christmas day, of course, the merry faces and sweet spirits made it all worthwhile, but I couldn't escape that feeling of dread. (And I certainly didn't want to sew one more doll dress or pair of pajamas. Ever.)
Christmas just wasn't supposed to feel like that.
As the years evolved, I started to pinpoint a few problem areas. There were priorities to shift, gifts to cut back on and extended family members to coordinate with. With changes here and there, we gradually grew to a place of blessed peace and renewed enthusiasm. Christmas was once again a season of joy.
Perhaps you find yourself in a similar situation. May I share a few discoveries that we've made along the way? Hopefully some of them will ease any stress you may have during the Christmas season.
1. Gifts of Three. As I mentioned in a previous post, we've chosen to give our children three gifts each. They usually receive "something to play with, something you need, and something special for you to read." This keeps us focused and intentional.
2. Plan ahead. I keep a notebook throughout the year where I jot down gift ideas. I have the "three gifts" idea in mind and it helps me stay on track.
3. Plan ahead on the stockings, too. It's easy to go overboard on stockings. Especially when they're not planned ahead of time and there's that panicky feeling of needing to stuff them now. I have four shoe boxes under my bed. (Don't tell the kids!) One box for each of their stockings. I've chosen a pre-determined number of simple items for their stockings, and as I find or make things throughout the month, I toss them into the box. (Visit this post over at Passionate Homemaking for inexpensive stocking stuffer ideas.)
4. Consider buying gifts that go with a set. One of the stressful elements of gift buying and receiving is the thought of, "Where are we going to keep that?" As much as possible, we find gifts that can be added to a collection that our kids already have. For example, when Aidan was in his Thomas the Tank Engine phase, he received new engines or track pieces. (This info was passed onto grandparents as well in order to minimize the amount of stuff that accumulated.)
5. Special stockings for Mom and Dad. There have been especially lean years where Jamie and I have decided not to purchase gifts for each other (or where we simply chose to buy one thing that was especially needed). Instead, we focused on meaningful stocking gifts for each other and took joy in giving the "tree gifts" to our children. Funny, but those years stand out as rather hallowed in my memory.
6. Coordinate with extended family. As the family grows, so does the gift list. There have been years where we've drawn names and done group gifts. For several years, my sister and sister-in-law and I agreed to purchase one gift (such as a puzzle or game) for our nieces and nephews instead of individual gifts for every single child. Now that they're a bit older, we pair the kids off. For example, Bethie exchanges gifts with her cousins Alainna (on my side of the family) and Olivia (on Jamie's side). We set a price limit, and the kids absolutely love buying for each other.
7. Consider revising adult gift giving. We used to exchange gifts with our own siblings (by drawing names or pairing off), but in the past few years we've revised this as well. We realized that we'd much rather spend time together than money, especially with my brother and sister-in-law living overseas. So when we do get together, we plan a special dinner date. It's become a yearly tradition that we really look forward to.
8. Go through the closets. Start putting together a few boxes of items to donate before Christmas. Adding new toys or clothes to your home can be messy and overwhelming.
9. Give gifts that siblings will enjoy. One of my favorite things is seeing my children play together. There are a number of toys and games that are interactive and promote this kind of play. When possible, we focus on gifts that will keep our kids playing together.
10. Embrace tradition. As I look back on past years and hear the kids talk of their fond memories, I realize that it's not the gifts that matter. (Cliche, yes. Also true.) They are mostly excited about family and traditions.
If you don't have many traditions, why not start a few this year? Throw your kids in the van, turn on the Christmas music, pass out the candy canes and drive around looking at Christmas lights. Or snuggle up on the couch with popcorn and White Christmas. Visit a retirement home and share music and homemade ornaments. Light the candles and read A Christmas Carol or invite your children to act out the nativity. The possibilities are endless. And these are the things your kids will remember.
I glance at the calendar and see that it's already December 6th. There's still quite a bit to do, but I don't feel anxious or stressed or worried. I feel excited and eager and hopeful. Just like a kid.