Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me?
Why can’t I hear music play?
*Lyrics by Faith Hill
Gone are the enchanting days of anticipating Christmas for weeks at a time. “How many more days until Christmas, Mommy?” my five-year old eagerly inquires. I remember that same magic and mystery like it was yesterday. What happened? Somewhere between vacuuming up pine needles and braving the lines of materialism, I’ve lost my Christmas spirit. Anxiety, judgment, and tension have replaced my joy and cheer as I begin planning for everyone’s favorite holiday.
After another exhausting December day, I sink into my pillow, fretfully making a new list of everything that needs to be done in another eight hours. I can feel the icy cold fingers of commercialism and greed slowing choking out the visions of sugar plums and silent nights of years gone by.
I love Christmas. I love to watch my little ones as they encounter each new experience with such awe and wonder. I want them to marvel at the amazing Christmas Story. But sometimes I feel like I am forcing traditions upon my family to ensure they have that wonderful memory. When in reality, all my kids want is more of ME. This realization has caused me to think long and hard about how we spend our Christmas season.
I love to bake. I tend to go a little crazy at Christmas and end up giving plates and trays of cookies to everyone I know. One year, I had so many cookies – over 1,800 to be exact – I gave a plate to the bank teller just to see her smile. Of course, there were probably dozens of cookies and sweets piled high in the break room, and she was really just cursing me under her breath envisioning the inevitable gym membership she would be purchasing come January.
My baking has taken over some of my Christmas season. And not in a good way. Trying to complete so many tasks has taken my attention away from my little ones. As they tug at my legs wanting to play a game or watch a Christmas movie, I grimace and grump because I have “just one more thing to do.” Pretty soon it’s bedtime, there have been no games, and I’m exhausted. I’ve accomplished much, but it means little.
I have made a decision. I am done trying to complete an unrealistic Christmas list of “to-do’s.” I will no longer be baking Christmas cookies for the entire Quad Cities and sending Christmas cards to people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. I’m tired of trying to keep up a jolly façade just for the sake of being like everyone else. Instead, I will be using that time to teach my kids the true Reason we celebrate Christmas. Their sensitive little hearts don’t need more stuff. They need to be molded toward the valuable message of giving to others. Because we received the One True Gift.
This Christmas, my husband and I are taking a fresh perspective on the entire Christmas season. One that gives us freedom. We are minimizing gifts, activities, and money spent. Everything (yes, even cookies!). We no longer want to buy a gift card for someone because we don’t know what to get them, only to have them give us the same gift card in return. It is insincere, meaningless, and silly to say the least.
Instead of buying gifts for everyone in our family, we are using some of that money to start a new tradition: GIVING TO OTHERS. This phrase can become so cliché in our world of non-profits, 5K’s, and annual charitable tax write-offs. However, instead of writing a check, we want to be doers. Giving to others doesn’t have to involve money. It can be giving your time, your words, your love – just more of YOU. Making an impact in the life of a family is so much more rewarding than baking hundreds of cookies for no real reason at all. In addition to helping a specific family, we’ve created a list of 24 activities to celebrate the season of Advent with our children. Although there is nothing life shattering incorporated among this list, it involves our participation. And most importantly, the value of selflessness demonstrated within our home.
Hopefully this will become an annual tradition; one that our kids love and eagerly await in anticipation. Maybe next year we will take it to another level. But right now, we are content to teach, to listen, and to learn together. Yes, I will be baking some. And, yes, this will take time out of our day. But we will be doing it together with a significant purpose at heart. And we might even have some time to watch a Christmas movie in front of the fire, eggnog in hand.
The list below is what works for our family based on our calendar, personal goals, and monetary contribution. Each item was typed onto a master document, cut into individual slips of paper, rolled up, and placed in our empty advent calendar. Each morning my daughter unrolls the “scroll” and reads what we will be doing that day. The activities have been pre-planned based on timing, my husband’s days off, and other activities we are involved in. There are 24 days beginning December 1st through Christmas Eve.
I know all of you have your own Christmas traditions. I am not diminishing the importance of those at all. Baking cookies can be a great tradition, among others. The key is balancing our traditions with a genuine Christmas spirit in the hope that our to-do’s don’t monopolize our entire season. What works for us may not work for every family. For more tradition ideas that won’t run you ragged, read Sara’s great post here.
I hope you will create your own list of ways you can commit to doing something for someone else – as a family. It doesn’t have to be done at Christmas time. Every day can be a day to give of yourself, your time, your talents, and your resources. As our kids grow, this list will grow as well. And as they get older, my time may become more flexible. But for now, taking a break from the Christmas to-do’s to be with those who matter most is my greatest aspiration.
What can you do this year to take the focus off the harried craziness of the season and the obsession with getting? What will you do to give to others?
December 1: Write a letter to a friend or family member that is sick or in need of encouragement.
December 2: Donate a coat to Burke Cleaners to support the local Quad City coat drive (donations can be made throughout the year – new or gently worn coats, snow pants, hats, scarves, mittens – Burke Cleaners cleans the coats and delivers them to a distribution center located at the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency in Bettendorf)
December 3: Make a card for your teacher and tell her what you like best about being in her class.
December 4: Call a relative or grandparent just to say “I love you”
December 5: Purchase a toy and drop it off at the Toys for Tots toy drive at KWQC.
December 6: Go to Wal-Mart and purchase a $5 gift card. Give the gift card to a child in the store who is behaving and is not buying something else.
December 7: Package a shoebox to send to a child in another country through Samaritan’s Purse (Operation Christmas Child). National collection week is in November, but you can send completed boxes year round to their national headquarters.
December 8: Make Christmas cards for great-grandparents.
December 9: Make baby blankets for a family in need or to donate to a Crisis Pregnancy Center.
December 10: Pay for the meal of the person behind you in the drive through.
December 11: Do a Random Act of Kindness for a stranger.
December 12: Decorate a tree in a neighbor’s yard with popcorn, ornaments, and candy canes.
December 13: Leave a treat in the mailbox for the mail delivery person.
December 14: Make cookies to share with your cousins.
December 15: Write a note to your brother/sister and tell them what you love the most about them.
December 16: Deliver treats to the fire station and tell them thank you for everything they do to keep us safe.
December 17: Make a bird feeder to hang outside to help the birds during the cold winter days.
December 18: Do a Random Act of Kindness for a stranger.
December 19: Deliver treats to a nursing home.
December 20: Take some food to a homeless shelter. Take some Milk Bones (or other supplies) to an animal shelter.
December 21: Go to Target. Give a Starbucks gift card to the “tiredest” mom in the store.
December 22: Take some cookies to the neighbors.
December 23: Tell Daddy what you love the most about him and give him a big hug.
December 24: Deliver treats to someone who has to work on Christmas Eve (ex: police station, hospital, grocery store).