In November, I posted about our plans to dramatically change our gift giving this Christmas. I thought I would report back on our experience and answer Sarah's great questions from the comments of that post as well.
In November we decided as a family to greatly curtail our gift giving and instead give money to Charity: Water. We also asked our extended family who usually gave us gifts to give us less, and if they were interested, to give what they would have spent to this organization. We also invited anyone who was interested to join us. Between our contributions and the contributions from our family, we have provided funding to bring clean water to 41 people. 41 people! Isn't that wonderful?
We did give some little gifts to the kids (a small lego set each for the older boys, a few nice markers for Emma, a Glory Story CD each for the older kids, warm socks for all, chocolate for the older kids, and some Gerber baby treats for the toddler) and Matt and I gave some consumable gifts to each other. We also bought a new game for the family, Catan Junior. The Glory Stories and the warm socks I would have bought anyway for the kids, and I vacillated about putting these in their stockings. Without those items, we would have spent a third less on gifts, although the money would have been spent anyway - just from a different budget category. Next year I might not include that sort of thing in the stockings and just give chocolate and a small fun thing. I am thinking it would be better to give things that are truly nice little extras as gifts, but I wasn't sure how it would feel to have so comparatively little in our stockings. I think it would have gone unnoticed, but I'll have to keep thinking about it.
Our extended family giving has changed too, but not as much. We are fortunate that we live in a family without strong gift expectations (and wow, when I shared what we were doing with friends I heard some incredible stories. There are some adults out there who seem to think they require lots of presents, and if they don't get them they act in very un-adult-like ways . Thank you, family, for not being crazy!) Asking for less was a little challenging, as is any major change in family tradition, but with open communication I think it is all working out.
We had planned to spend most of Christmas Eve day getting ready for Christmas dinner, then having a leisurely dinner with the kids, playing a game afterwards, reading something about the Nativity, then putting the kids to bed. We managed to do all that, and it was a great day. On Christmas, we got up early, opened stockings, then went to the 8 am Mass. After we got home, put the egg sausage casserole in the oven, rolled out the beignet dough, and had brunch with Matt's parents around 10:30. We spent a couple of hours cleaning up and prepping for Christmas dinner while the kids played with Legos (and had a wonderful time together!), then gave the kids the new game. We immediately played it together, then we set the table for Christmas dinner and did all the last minute things that had to happen before our family came over a little before 5. We had a wonderful dinner with all our family in the area, visiting and playing with Legos. I successfully set my Christmas Pudding on fire and I think everyone had a good time.
The day didn't feel like it was missing anything. The kids were happy, we were happy, and it all went extremely well. Everyone was joyful and content. The kids remarked many times on how special and wonderful the day was, and that they were thankful for everything we did together. They didn't seem to feel anything was missing either. Matt and I remarked many times to each other that we were so glad we were celebrating Christmas this way - it felt so right and peaceful.
Sarah mentioned in her comment, "But at the same time, some of the little gifts we received from friends and family were so meaningful (a book given to Nell had me tearing up as I read it to her, for example), and I don't want to be closed off to blessing other people in a similar way if I could." I agree with her, I don't want to be closed off in this way either. What I plan to do is if I find something particularly meaningful or want to make something for someone, no matter when in the year it is, I will go ahead and do it and give it to them. Even if it is not (or is!) around a typical gift giving occasion like Christmas or a birthday. I find that I have good ideas for meaningful gifts for people throughout the year, but since it isn't near Christmas or a birthday, I'll shelve the idea and either forget about it, or run out of time because I'm trying to do a bunch of neat ideas all at the same time so I can give them all at once. If a gift is something that is freely given, because you like the person and want to share something special with them with no expectation of anything in return... why does it need to be only focused around birthdays and Christmas?
When I first encountered the idea to radically change our Christmas giving a little over a year ago, I felt a tight knot of panic in my stomach. How could I give up the pile of gifts under the tree? Would that make me a bad mom who didn't care about her kids? Would it mean I wasn't providing for them? The idea stuck with me and I continued to ponder and pray throughout the year. I knew there was something important here, something I had to face and understand. I gradually realized that I could help lead my children - and myself! - to Someone greater by changing our focus. My children had the opportunity to still have a joyful, beautiful Christmas but they also had their hearts opened a little more by being given the opportunity to give birthday presents to Jesus. Because after all, whose birthday is it, anyway?