We all love gifts. We love to give them and receive them. The challenge for us, as a big family, is keeping the gift giving under control during the holidays. We try so hard – SO HARD – to allow our children to experience the joy of receiving gifts while tempering that outpouring of love with humility.
We live in abundance while others do without.
I don’t think one has to be part of a big family to appreciate the purposeful nature of gift giving. Think back to your most favorite gift. I’m betting it was one that felt like it was hand-picked just for you. The gift giver put some thought into it and you felt loved and appreciated. Each year, we struggle with the “just right” balance of gifts that come into our home. Below are a few things we do in our home to balance the joy with frugality.
1. We take the time to really think, pray and reflect on what our children most desire as a gift. It’s true, we don’t have any needs but we have an abundance of wants. Throughout the year, I make notes on things the kids enjoy, items I know they would love or activities that bring them happiness. I do my best to keep that list on my phone or on a piece of paper tucked away in a safe spot. A few Christmas’ ago, we found ourselves scrambling at the last minute for one of our children. I chalk it up to one of my worst present buying experiences ever. There was little thought that went into that purchase and I felt like I bought it because we “had” to not because it was what that child wanted. Never again. I’ve found when you’re purposeful, there is less waste and more joy.
2. We encourage family members and Godparents to purchase a single gift for our children. If you do the quick math, we have 5 children x 2 Godparents x 2 aunts/uncles x 2 sets of grandparents = 35 new gifts in our home every Christmas. Translation? A lot. We realize that it’s extremely difficult to follow such a desire, but we try.
3. Long ago, we adopted a rule of a good family friend: for every one toy that comes in, two must go out. I don’t know about your house, but at ours, toys mate and multiply like rabbits. During the Christmas break, we do a HUGE purge of toys that are broken (trash), gently used (donate) or practically new (recycle). As Scott and I say, we are equal opportunity giver-awayers. No item is sacred. Our children’s gifts and interests change and there’s no reason a toy should sit on our shelf and collect dust when another child would enjoy it.
4. During our early years as parents, we bought a lot of Christmas presents for our kids. It was slightly embarrassing. Then we stopped because it just became so ridiculous. My sister-in-law said something a few years ago that has stuck with me. She said, “An abundance of gifts makes me feel sick, like I’ve gorged on too many presents.” Indeed. We’ve gotten sucked into this mentality that in order to show someone they’re loved we MUST buy them things. And, at Christmas, unless your credit card is nearly worn out, you just haven’t done your part. I say, stop the madness.
5. In year’s past, we bought our children one gift and then Santa brought the gift they most desired. This year, we’re doing something different. We’ve decided to adopt the “three gifts” perspective of gift giving. Our children will each receive three gifts from us, symbolizing the three gifts the wise men brought Jesus. Gold is the gift they most desire. Frankincense is a religious gift, for the spirit, if you will, and, myrrh is a gift for the body. Santa still plays a role in our home, but a much smaller one.
6. We don’t buy into the “every child has to be equal” rule. Let’s face it, the older you get the more expensive the gift in many cases. It’s unrealistic to spend the same amount on our three-year-old than our 11-year-old. Quite honestly, there have been many Christmases when the baby of the family got a toy we already owned, just wrapped for Christmas Day and I’m not ashamed to admit that.
7. For as long as I can remember, we’ve adopted a family or person during the holidays as part of our St. Vincent de Paul Giving Tree at church. This year, we’ve decided to take it a step further and serve the homeless during the Christmas season through Mobile Loaves and Fishes. I must say, I’m really looking forward to that.
8. We also pray over our gifts before we open them. A few years ago, we were inspired to pray for the hands that made the gifts, the hands that gave the gifts and the hands that open the gifts. It is one of my most favorite family traditions at Christmas.
9. Many folks have asked us if we set a budget; the honest answer is no. We buy gifts, within reason, and we talk about what we’d like to purchase for each child and family member. Some years, the “perfect” gift didn’t cost us any money and other years it took a few months of saving. We keep our expectations within reason and the credit card is always paid off come the end of the year.
10. We learned long ago to reject the idea that a gift we give could ever be underwhelming. When you give a gift from your heart, the price tag makes no difference. At least it never has in our eyes.
Last week at the school Mass, Father asked the children if they were excited about Christmas. Oh, you should’ve heard the low murmur of “YES!” in the school gym. When he asked why, they replied with the obvious, “Presents!” Then he asked them whose birthday it was. Ah, there’s the clincher. If it’s Jesus’ birthday, then why do we get all the gifts? What gift are we giving God? Fr. Le-Minh gave us some great words to ponder. “I believe the one gift God wants from us this Christmas season is TRUST.”
We should trust in Him to celebrate the Christmas season with joy.
We should trust Him when the world seems difficult to understand.
We should trust Him when the cross we carry seems unbearably heavy.
Trust. For me, that’s an easier gift to give in times of joy and jubilation. Perhaps, as we celebrate Gaudette Sunday this week, we should trust God with all our fears, our concerns and our sadness. A baby is about to be born. A new life to love. That newness should remind us of so many things, but namely that the gifts we give should be a reflection of God’s work in our own lives, rather than our own selfishness.