Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays. I like the lights all over peoples’ houses (I must say that I have seen more decorated houses/apts/row homes here in my neighborhood than anywhere else I have ever lived- it’s fantastic!!). I love gathering with extended family (boo- that’s not happening this year since we’re so far away). I LOVE Christmas music and ornaments and stockings and cookie exchanges.
But I also love presents. And this year, we won’t be opening presents on Christmas Day. Technically we didn’t open our gifts as a family on Christmas Day last year either, but we had family in town and we opened up gifts from them, so i guess it was still a pseudo-Christmas Day.
As I look forward to next Sunday, I’m not as excited as I normally am. The anticipation of three little ones opening their gifts and their eyes dancing with delight at the gifts I’ve carefully chosen is not there. Instead, we’re left with empty space to fill. How do we celebrate Christmas without a morning full of presents?
And really, my heart reaction has been an affirmation to me that this is the way we must go. I want Christmas to be a celebration of Jesus’ birth. While I suppose some can maintain this true worship through the giving and receiving of gifts, I don’t think I can. To think of Christmas without the tradition of gift-giving surrounding it leaves me feeling bored.
As we’ve been observing the season of Advent this year, I’ve been trying to focus on what Mary must have felt when she was round with child in her last month of pregnancy. Having been pregnant for so much of the last 4-5 years, I can vividly remember the thoughts and feelings that have gone along with month number 9. I’ve also trying to think through the meaning of Jesus coming as a baby- through a woman. What an honor that must have been for Mary. And for all women really. Finally, I’ve been longing for the Lord’s return, which is something I don’t naturally desire. I love life as I know it, and I love living here on earth. But, to remember that this is not my home, helps me to feel a bit more like a foreigner to this land, which is healthy for my soul.
So when I think about the consumerism and materialism that is emphasized during this season, I realize something has got to give in our traditions if I’m going to be able to take my eyes off of things or people, and onto Jesus, my Savior. I don’t want my kids to be excited to open gifts on Christmas Day. I don’t want them to go to sleep, wondering what they’ll get in the morning. I want them to be excited about Jesus’ birth. I want to create some family traditions to fill the day that are deeply meaningful and are as exciting as opening gifts. I want my kids to look forward to this feast day, without them feeling like they are missing out on something “cooler”.
This holiday season will not be without gifts, however. We’ve decided to open some gifts on New Years Day instead. My reasoning is that it helps the kids to be able to relate with their friends in participating in this cultural event, BUT, it helps separate (hopefully!), in their minds, Christmas and presents. I don’t think our solution is perfect (perhaps it still participates in the consumerism of the season?), but it’s a step in the right direction for us. [I’m not against giving gifts- one of our family’s values in generosity, and we love to be generous with our time, money (the little we have right now as students, haha), and our love. Gifts can communicate deep love to people. But in my mind, there’s a difference between giving a gift and materialism (I digress, that’s another post in itself)]. How hard is it to engage in culture, but at the same time, not get wrapped up in the distorted aspects of it?
So, this is our messy struggle towards re-creating this holiday to be one of rich worship for our family. Often we find ourselves feeling “weird” and “out of place” when we talk about these kind of things… it’s easy for others to judge our intentions and label us as kill-joys or uptight or Santa-haters. So, I’d love to hear if anyone else is thinking through this concept too!