Our kids are at our mercy. All the time.
If we decide to make a career move that takes us to a new community, they move with us. Whether they want to or not. If we decide to change our eating habits in favor of a healthier life style, their days of fast food burgers and hot dogs are over. Whether they like it or not. And if we decide that we’re going to radically change the way we do Christmas as a family, their Christmas changes too. No matter how they feel about it.
Admittedly, this has been one source of consternation for Kory and me as we’ve discussed our desire for Christmas to be different.
How will it affect the kids?
What will they think?
Will they resent us for the changes we want to make?
A few months ago, though, I asked our two oldest children what they got for Christmas last year. Neither of them could remember a single item.
Not. One. Single. Item.
And you know what? I couldn’t remember what we gave them either. But to this day, our daughter still talks about the time when she was TWO YEARS OLD, and she and I watched fireworks on the hood of my car while Kory was out of town on a mission trip. And our oldest son regularly references our annual State Fair Tradition of riding to the top of the Ferris Wheel, putting our hands in the huddle, and screaming at the top of our lungs:
“Best Family Ever!”
(No offense to the rest of you.)
Yes. We know deep down what they treasure from us most.
So with that in mind, and our goal to scale back on spending money on stuff, here’s how we’re gifting to our kids this Christmas.
1. Three Christmas Wishes
They’ll each get three very affordable gifts from their Christmas wish lists that fit within our budget. (We’re still fighting with Santa over who’ll get the credit for them!)
Why three gifts? We have no idea. We could tell you that it stems from something Biblical. Like the fact that there were three wise men who visited the Christ child, bearing three gifts. Or because we believe in the triune nature of God. But honestly, it doesn’t. We chose three gifts because that seems reasonable. Good things come in threes.
And we’ll only have to wrap 9 gifts. And we’ll get to wrap 9 gifts!
(A clue that we’re on the right track here? When our kids sat down to write their Christmas Wish Lists this evening, they had trouble coming up with more than three things they really want!)
2. Four Gifts To Commemorate Our Journey Through Advent Conspiracy
In addition to Three Christmas Wishes, we’re giving them a gift to commemorate each week of Advent Conspiracy. This is a tradition we’d like to carry into the coming years to recall the year we decided to do Christmas differently and to help us keep our focus going forward. (If you have ideas for gifts in keeping with this theme, please leave your brilliance in a comment to this post so we can steal them down the road!)
If you’re a regular reader of our blog, then you know we started a new prayer journey with our kids this summer. We selected special memory verses for each child (specific to their needs at the time), memorized the scripture with them, and prayed the scripture over them regularly for the last six months. We can’t begin to describe the transformation we’ve seen, particularly with our oldest son.
So to keep this going, we’re beginning a new tradition that embraces this new model for prayer. The kids are getting journals.
We’re inscribing the first memory verse we gave them on page one and adding a new memory verse for us to work on together in the New Year on page two. We’re hoping to “give” these journals to them every Christmas and to fill them with memory verses and specific prayers so that they will have beautiful keepsakes to remind them of their Christian heritage and the power of prayer in their lives. This gift will also encourage Kory and me to commit to give generously of our time to our kids in prayer each day.
Reading to our kids before bedtime is a fairly regular occurrence, even with our oldest. And we’re itching to introduce them to some of the classic chapter books. So we decided that each of us would give each of them a special book that we will read together.
To keep it really affordable and to hone in on the idea of buying used (something we’ve been doing a lot lately), I scrounged the antique mall for vintage books during a fall trip to Canton with my sister. I scored Little Women for our daughter (she did her spring book report on Louisa May Alcott, so this is a great selection for her) and Treasure Island and the first Hardy Boys book for our oldest son. This week at Half Price Books, I grabbed The Secret Garden to round out our daughter’s selections and a handful of simpler books for our three year old.
This gift cost me less than $8 per child, but it’s a gift that will give to them all year long.
As a family, we’re really good at spending time together at home. We have weekly family date nights, and family breakfasts and dinners occur regularly. But unless it’s a church event or an extracurricular activity our kids are involved in, we’re pretty lousy at getting out of the house to play together. In fact, when we were at Family Camp this summer, our host family encouraged us to write a Family Plan that identified daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals for ourselves individually, for us as a couple, and for our family. We included monthly family outings as something that needed work. Much to my chagrin, though, we’ve not yet implemented our strategy.
So to tackle this head-on, we’re giving monthly family outings to our kids for Christmas as an expression of our commitment to give more generously of our time. The outings are already planned. And they’re already on the calendar. And because we’re conspiring to spend less money overall, we’re cashing in gift cards we already have, using museum passes that would otherwise be going to waste, taking advantage of Groupon specials, using points, and looking for free things to do. For the big reveal, we’re hiding note cards around the house for each activity and sending the kids on a scavenger hunt on Christmas morning.
We’re ending our Christmas morning celebration spending some of the money we’ve saved as a result of cutting back on traditional gifts. But we won’t be spending the money on ourselves. Instead, we’re going to give each of our kids some cash, along with a Heifer International Christmas Gift Catalog so they can go shopping.
Heifer International is a wonderful organization that “empowers families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity,” not by giving them a handout, but by bringing sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. So our kids will be using some of the money we’ve saved to buy chickens, ducks, honeybees, and other animals to send to families in the developing world with the hope of giving them a brighter future. (We’re giving away the rest of the money we’ve saved as well, but I’ll write more about that in the coming days.)
These changes in how we will celebrate Christmas are not something we’re springing on the kids for the first time on Christmas morning. We’ve been laying the groundwork for several months now, and we’re really honing in on it now that Advent is upon is. So they won’t be surprised to receive less in the realm of traditional gifts. But that doesn’t answer the question:
How will they react on Christmas morning?
We have no idea. But we do know that kids are pretty malleable. They’re good at following our lead, especially when we lead well. So that’s what we’re trying to do. And we’ve also found that, very often, we make things out to be a much bigger deal than they do. Our anxiety over how things will affect them is almost always worse than reality.
So I suspect (and hope and pray) they’ll rise to the occasion. That they’ll embrace how we’re conspiring to do Christmas differently. That they’ll celebrate the opportunity to bless others with the money we’ve saved. And that they’ll have gratitude for what they are given on Christmas morning.
And I think they will. Because our past experience shows that they usually do. And if they don’t? Well. This is the beginning of a journey just like any other. We’ll stumble and fall. And then we’ll get up and try again.
Are you doing anything creative to change the way you gift-give with your children this Christmas? If so, would you please share your ideas?