What's Christmas all about? As Christians, it's about Christ, or at least it's supposed to be. That's not to say there aren't a lot of fun traditions that can help us celebrate the season that are not rooted in Christianity, but we can be sure that the way we do them honors and celebrates the birth of Jesus. I look forward to finding fun and creative traditions to start with the kids as well as enjoying the ones my husband and I have enjoyed since growing up. There are lots of great ideas out there about traditions and celebrating Christmas without so much commercialism. That's great. I feel like I can handle that. I started last year with a fabulous advent calendar with daily activities, and I look forward to doing even more this year.
My problem lies completely within the realm of gifts. Giving, receiving, asking, donating, whatever it is, gifts are my problem. As a family we are concentrating on living simpler, with less stuff. We are focusing on less toys, but more play. We are focusing on less food with better quality. We are spending less, saving more, and living better than when we were not so conscientious. While we have had to learn to do without as we are getting our money, debt, and financial planning under control, we have also learned that sometimes doing without isn't so bad. (Other times it just plain sucks, I'll be honest. But the planning, saving, and budgeting we are doing is going to make those times less and less because we will have the resources in the future to get the things we need and even what we want. And in the end, we find we are wanting less of some things so we are able to spend our resources on the things we do want.)
As we approach the Christmas season, you can hear all sorts of well-meaning comments from moms about how each year they go through their children's toys before Christmas and donate all the old ones to make room for new ones or how they are now rotating their children's toy selection so that they don't have so many out at once and can get some more variety throughout the year. I appreciate these sentiments, and they are both good ideas. But I am struck by the fact, that I don't want to go through my children's toys and give away bunches to make room for more. Of course, if they have outgrown something, it is time to pass it along to someone who can use it. But I don't want to be getting rid of tons of stuff (and that's the word I'm going to use to sound a little nicer when I admit in my head, that's not the word I'm saying) in order to make room for more stuff. I want less stuff.
I fully admit my children already have more toys than they could ever play with. I do plan to do a cleaning out soon, packing some in the basement to save for the future or another day and giving some away. But I want to become more aware of what comes into our house so that less has to come out of it when it comes time to clean. Many of the kids' toys I have carefully selected for their ability to last through the years and encourage creative play. Other of the toys, not so much. Some of those not-so-much toys have been purchased by kind and generous relatives, and some of them have been purchased by my husband or myself. But, we are making changes.
I see my children appreciate and enjoy their things when there are less of them. I see my children appreciate gifts, accepting them with love and graciousness, when there are less of them. There is simply no reason for more. But this brings us back to the problem, we are blessed by friends and family who want to give our children presents. We've tried to handle this in a couple of ways, and we have for the most part failed miserably. When asked what our children want, we've tried to be specific about their needs, suggesting things like gift certificates to activities (though that's another post that will be coming soon) instead of more stuff. We've tried being really specific about the stuff, because there are some neat things out there that would be great to add to the playroom, quality toys that encourage creative play that will last through many years as our kids are able to use them in different ways as they grow. We've created an online registry for when family asks what we want. Many family have graciously heard our requests, although I can't help but imagine that they thought we were a little tacky in making them. Other family and friends have understandably chosen to pick out a gift themselves, because isn't that the fun of gift giving? I'm sure we have offended some. We have certainly gathered more stuff than we ever wanted, and we have more toys that we said we'd never have than I'd like to count. And I am widely known as the big mean mama who won't let her kids have all the stuff in the world and any toy that takes more D cell batteries than I can supply.
So, what to do? There has to be a way to manage this attempt to be less materialistic, simplify our lives, and yet welcome the outpouring of love that is meant with this gifts. I know mamas who have given a list - no plastic, no batteries, no this or no that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Meanwhile, there's a flip side of things. The giving of gifts. We have a lot of family and friends that give gifts, and likewise, that we would like to give gifts, too. Of course, all of our family and friends don't have the same level of income or expenses, and yet there often feels an expectation that we will give a comparable gift to what we've been given. We simply cannot afford to do that considering the sheer amount of gifts that we receive. We've encouraged family to keep gifts small, or set a limit of say $25, and we've been ignored. They ignore us out of love. They want to give. But we can't give that way and we don't want to receive that way. I just don't know what to do!
How did gift giving and receiving become so difficult? Of course, I want my children to enjoy giving and receiving gifts. I want to enjoy giving and receiving gifts. But, I feel trapped in this desire for less of everything with a focus on quality, and the pressure to give it all and receive it all! And I'm tired of being big bad mama that won't let my children have all the fun stuff when that's just not it. This is for their good, their health, and their happiness. It's to increase the entire family's quality of life, because stuff isn't what it's all about, and it certainly isn't what Christmas is all about.
Do you deal with any of this? How do you go about it?