Christmas is rapidly approaching, and with it can come a sense of panic, a need to rush into town, push through the crowd towards near empty shelves, and snag those last few items on your Christmas shopping list. Standing in long lines, being told “Happy Holidays” by the greeter as you leave, rushing around to prepare for office parties & family get-togethers, addressing Christmas cards, wrapping gifts, and on the busy-ness goes……
Somewhere along the way, the peaceful, quiet days of Christmas past were lost. Somewhere along the way, Jolly Ol’ St Nick, stole the limelight from baby Jesus, and the madness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, replaced the leisurely gift shopping of days gone by. Instead, it seems, we celebrate materialism, indulgence and the idea that we need more, more, more.
As a kid growing up, I recall knowing who Santa was, I think he even signed a couple of our packages under the tree a time or two, but I can’t EVER recall a time, that I didn’t know it was really my parents.
I have great memories of Christmas growing up, but you’d be surprised at the ones that stand out most. I remember the year dad went back to college, and we couldn’t afford a Christmas tree, so we decorated our artificial fica tree instead. Tiny red apples, red velvet bows and empty mini raisin boxes hung from its branches, and to my little girl eyes, it was beautiful!!!!! There were very few presents under the tree that year, but I don’t remember thinking much of it. Mom kept us busy with special baking and craft projects, and dad kept us in hysterics on Christmas morning, sticking his new electic drill up his nose, stating it could also double as a nose hair trimmer.
As we got older and became teenagers, our finances changed, and my parents got more and more creative in their gift giving…..
One year we went on a family vacation to the Bahamas instead of getting gifts. Another time, Hawaii. One year, we got cash to spend after Christmas at the big sales, teaching us the value of the dollar, and that it could be stretched much further, by waiting for a sale day to shop. Another year, after my dad sold his trucking business, and things were incredibly tight, we did intangible gifts. We wrote letters of appreciation to each member of the family, and that Christmas morning was not spent under a pile of wrapping paper and boxes, but quietly seated around the fireplace, reading those letters of love & affirmation to each other.
But, the Christmas that stands out the most in my mind, was not the tropical vacations, not the new boombox or new car…No, it was the year we adopted a family in need, through a local church. We were given an address to deliver our goodies to them, in person.
We all loaded up, driving further and further into the oldest part of town, until we arrived in front of a very humble home. Arms loaded with boxes of goodies, we walked to the front door. Once we were done with our “good deed” for the day, we could go back home and have our own Christmas.
We knocked on the door, and were welcomed in broken English. Stepping inside, the first thing I noticed was the home was sparse in furniture. Mattresses serving as beds lay on the floor, and open cupboard doors revealed they were indeed, bare. My heart softened. My “good deed” for the day, suddenly turned into so much more.
Oh, the joy on their faces as we unloaded box after box of groceries, clothing, toys and necessities. I recall tears streaming down the mothers face, as she thanked us over and over in broken English. The father reached out his work weary hands, silently grasping ours, tears in his eyes telling us how humbled and thankful he was for this, though no words were spoken. Their children ran circles around the old sofa, the language barrier not stopping our interpretation of their squeals of excitement and joy!
Tears filled my eyes, as I looked at the space around me….thinking of the home full of stuff we had left just 10 minutes ago, the gifts waiting under the tree, the food filling 2 fridges. This families Christmas blessing, was my every day life……
I didn’t know a day without food. I didn’t go to school without a coat ,because we didn’t have the money for one. I never walked to a cupboard to find it bare. We had so much, and they had so little. Why did I even need the few gifts waiting for me, under the tree at home?
It was then I knew what God was showing me…….THIS is what Christmas is about. Giving to others in need, showing them the love of Christ, not receiving! Why, when I had such an abundance, did I need anything? I became more convinced than ever that Christmas was going to be forever different at our house!
Fast forward 15 years, I now have 4 little ones of my own, and the huge responsibility of establishing my families traditions….
From the very beginning Christmas morning has been Jesus’ birthday, nothing else. We feel Santa “waters down” what we are trying to do with Christmas. Our goal is to keep it about Christ, and His birth, and in striving towards this goal, of keeping Christ in Christmas, we chose to exclude Santa from any of our celebrations.
Don’t get me wrong, the kids know who Santa is, and that he is part of the general season of year. In fact, the older two, were playing reindeer and Santa the other night!
That doesn’t bother me a bit.
Neither does letting them watch the evening Christmas specials on tv, about Rudolph or Frosty. What a special treat! But there is one rule and requirement of evening TV watching……Commercials MUST be muted. I can’t stand how they try to grab my kids attention and stir up the “greedy gimmies” with the ads for the “coolest toy ever“!
But, when it actually comes to Christmas day, does Santa have a part?
Nope, not around here. We want Christmas Day to be sacred. It’s special. It’s a quiet, calm. A peaceful celebration of the birth of Jesus. It’s not wrapping paper piled knee-high on the floor. It’s not toy fire engine sirens, crying baby dolls and whirring helicopters, drowning out all other sounds of worship of our Lord and King…..the whole reason we celebrate in the first place.
On Christmas morning, you won’t hear shouts of “Santa came!” Instead, shouts of, “It’s Jesus birthday!” are heard. Followed by arguments about who gets to blow out Jesus’ birthday candle after we sing Happy Birthday to Him.
After reading the Christmas story, we give each child 3 gifts, representing the 3 gifts given to baby Jesus by the wise men. Buying only 3 gifts for each child, keeps Dale and I in check, as we are doing our Christmas shopping, and allows the focus to remain on Christ, not the need for more, more, more.
Later, as our children get older, we will deepen the significance of these gifts, by assigning a meaning to each one:
Frankincense: A gift for spiritual growth. (A new devotion book, Bible or Christian CD.)
Myrrh: A practical gift. (A new pair of jeans, a coat, a laptop for school, a car emergency kit.)
Gold: A gift that fulfills a want. (An ipod, shopping certificate, jewelry, bike, MP3 player etc.)
We celebrate Christmas based on God GIVING us His one and only son, who later GIVES His life as a living sacrifice for us! We want giving and not receiving to be the focus of Christmas. This is why we choose to adopt a family in need, or participate in filling individual boxes, when our church adopts a local school.
What fun it is to stroll through the store, with each of my children clutching a paper in their sticky little hands, with a name…….a name of a special boy or girl, about their age, who we can be a blessing to. I love to see their faces as they figure out that no, these new toys aren’t for them to keep, they have enough toys at home. These gifts are for a little boy or girl, who might otherwise have nothing new at Christmas!
Granted, sometimes its hard to pack that giant bouncy ball, or sparkly nail polish in the box, for the other child! But, it doesn’t take long for them to grasp, at their level of understanding, the kindness and love they are showing to another child. To understand that Christmas is about giving to others, not asking, begging and pleading for the latest and greatest new toys.
It is my hearts desire for our Christmases to be SO focused on Jesus Christ, from my children’s first memory of Christmas on, that they don’t know it ANY other way!
Keeping Christ in Christmas goes much farther than a “Merry Christmas” greeting to a cashier, only allowed to say “Happy Holidays”. No, it comes from you momma, as you set the tone of your home for each and every holiday tradition to come……
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Romans 12:2 (NLT)