We’re entering a new stage of life with our kids. The twins are starting to leave some of their “little kid” ideas and ways of playing behind. They can handle responsibility and participate in our adult world more and more. Never was this more evident to me than the day we set up our Christmas tree. They oohed and aahed over the beauty of the lights. They looked at each ornament before hanging them on the tree and commented on why they loved it. They set up their kid nativity with great care.
As I sit here this morning, watching two of my three girls sit by the tree and set up their little nativity again, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. This time of year is so special and I desperately want my children to understand why, so we’re trying something new with them. I purchased a simple white stocking and hung it on my mantle. This stocking is not for any of us but for Jesus and we stuff it with notes that say all the things we’re thankful for. The idea is that it helps us focus on our blessings and the most wonderful gift of Jesus instead of all the things we want to receive. My hope is that this helps our family to not get lost in the chaos and extreme consumerism that tends to capture the world this time of year.
I view Christmas quite differently as an adult than I did as a child. What child doesn’t love opening oodles of presents? After celebrating with my immediate family and both sets of grandparents on Christmas day, I would look at my cardboard box filled with stuff just for me and feel quite rich. All this stuff, just for me!
Over time, I cared less about having a lot of stuff and more about having stuff that I really liked. Now, I don’t care about the stuff much at all and I don’t like getting random things just to try to find a place for it in my already full house. Throwing kids into the mix really helped me to see life differently. We don’t need any more untouched toys sitting on our shelves. While I do enjoy watching their excitement as they open gifts, it saddens me to see how quickly that excitement fades and the gifts lay forgotten.
Before our kids were ever born, Mark and I decided not to swap gifts at Christmas, birthdays,Valentines Day, or on our anniversary. We didn’t like the pressure to buy something just because our culture has become so commercialized and we preferred to do something nice together. As rather frugal budgeters, there are certain things we rarely indulge in – like dinner out, going to a movie, coffee on the go, or purchasing tickets to an event. These types of experiences soon became the way we celebrated together. No packaging required.
A few years ago, it became a delight to roll this idea out to our nieces. For every birthday and Christmas, we take Cassie’s daughters, Bella and Abbi, out for a date. We’ve gone to trampoline parks, movies, ice skating, and hiking. And always dinner, where they can pick whatever they want to eat – even if it’s overpriced macaroni and cheese – followed by dessert. I absolutely love these times with them and as they get older it’s a lot of fun to experience things with them in new ways.
This year, we are starting this with our own children. Though we have bought them each four gifts – something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read – we are making our primary gift an experience. For one whole day, we will be solely focused on having fun and making memories with our daughters. Nothing else is on the agenda. Just fun.
Experiences have become my favorite gift to give. It keeps my focus on loving the people in my life and reminds me that time together is highly valued. In this time together, it is easy to build in conversations about Jesus and talk about what the first Christmas was like. We can remind our kids that God loves us so much that He gave us the best gift of all – salvation. And we can train them to think of this time of year as an opportunity to show people that kind of love.
How do you handle the gift of time?