Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus.
What about gifts?
Aaron and I have been on a journey with this for so long and I still think we're trying to find out way. Just in the past month we've changed our mind a hundred times on what gifts will look like this year in our house.
We started with committing to buy gifts from people that make a difference. No Target, Wal-Mart or Best Buy. Instead we would buy candles that would make a difference in this world. We would buy baby blankets that would help a family bring home their daughter from Ethiopia. We would buy jewelry and tee shirts that would help out kids at our favorite Rescue Center in Haiti. Instead of a random Barnes n Noble table top book we would buy this one that helps out missionaries in Haiti. I would love to give everyone a pair of these shoes that when you buy a pair donates another pair to someone in need. We would buy these cool shirts for kids that for every shirt sold feeds an orphan for a month. We would support one of our favorite organizations, Compassion International, and buy all of our family members these shirts. We would buy our sporty friends these water bottles to take on trips to Haiti with them!
We had great intentions. All of our gifts would be cool and make a difference. You can't beat that can you?! I loved the idea. I wrote down all of our family members and planned out what we would buy them. It was perfect
Then we watched this video over at the Advent Conspiracy site: (I know I've posted this video before, but it surely can't hurt to watch it twice! I know I have this year.)
We watched that video and thought even though all of those gifts are good and do benefit someone we don't need to spend our money on that. There are people all over the world with lack of clean water. Just clean water.
We thought …. what if we bought ZERO gifts. Yes you read that right …. ZERO! If we did that we could take all the money we would have spent and send it to help someone that needs basic life giving supplies such as clean water and rice and beans. Wow! We were pumped. We decided we would do that. Not one gift under the tree.
Aaron and I were fine with that. We've never exchanged Christmas gifts since we got married. Maybe it started out as lack of money, but now we just don't see the need.
So we got the courage up to tell my family about this. We were going to tell them the plan and we'd all be on board. We had it all going on.
We sat them down and told them OUR plan. We told them they had to participate or else. We didn't use those words, but for some reason that's how I feel it came out. Not how we wanted it to to sound, but never-the-less we had figured it all out and we were going to share our plan with our family.
They weren't exactly excited. They were kinda shocked. I mean can you blame them. We sit down and tell them to do no gifts for everyone and we are all putting our money together and sending it to a certain place that we had already predetermined.
How rude of us! We didn't ask anyones opinions. We told everyone what was going on. We determined where the money would go. We thought we had it all going on.
So, a week later Aaron and start to realize that we were kinda not thinking straight about it. We were requiring this of people that didn't have to do whatever we told them to do! It's like we had great intentions, but were missing the heart behind the matter. You can't tell someone what to do about gifts. It's something they have to figure out on their own. We were thinking we could tell everyone what to do and that didn't work out too well. We called my family and apologized for telling everyone what to do and throwing our ideas and morals on them. They were sweet and accepted and no one hates us! We are all on our journey!
Now onto the kids. I don't want my kids to think Christmas is all about gifts. That is my biggest fear. I want them to know why we celebrate Christmas. That without Jesus' miraculous birth our life would not be the same. God was gracious to send us his son on earth to give us an example of how to life and to make a way for us to have restoration with God. What a great thing to celebrate.
We've been talking with them about this. Here was my tactic. Not sure if it was good or bad, but hey it's what I did. I laid out these cards of kids that we have from Compassion. All these kids live in poverty and are in need of basic things like food, water, medical needs and schooling. I asked Cayden if he would like to not get any gifts and help out these kids.
Well he's four … of course he said, no he would like a gift! I talked more about these kids and we read the information on the back of each one together. He asked a million questions about each one. He couldn't understand why one little boy didn't have any shoes on in his picture. He was wanting to help them. I saw it in his eyes. He was genuinely concerned about these kids. He looked at me and with the sweetest voice said “can't we do both”. In that moment I thought. Well, can't we do both?
How do we do both?
I don't want to deprive my kids of gifts. But I don't want them to think that Christmas is about gifts.
I want them to desire to help others, but I can't make them feel that.
I want them to choose others over themselves, but you can't force that on a child.
I don't want our kids to grow up resenting us because when they were four and three we didn't get them at least one stinking present for Christmas.
You see my dilemma. I desperately want to spend less on Christmas. I desperately want to teach my kids about helping others and not seeing Christmas as a time to get lots of gifts. I desperately want to be different than the world in this. We don't want to be consumerist in our lifestyle and I don't think we are, but how do I find balance.
I want nothing for Christmas. Honestly I hope that no one in my extended family gets me a gift. I need nothing. We are probably not getting gifts for extended family and donating that money elsewhere. Does that make us scrooge?
I just want balance. I want to give money away at Christmas and allow my kids the joy of opening up a few gifts on Christmas morning. I want balance. I want kids that don't desire stuff. I want kids that want to give away more than they want.
How do you find balance on this issue? Anyone out there do NO gifts?
Also check this article out.
I’m not yet married and don’t have kids of my own, so I don’t have too much experience with this topic. I do think about it a lot though. My fiance and I have never gotten gifts for each other at Christmas, but instead we give that money away. Like I said, we don’t have children so we haven’t gone too in depth with what Christmas will look like several years from now.
I have met several families that have found their balance though. They focus on Christ, but their children still get gifts. For example, one family has 3 kids and they give 3 gifts to each child. The gifts aren’t extravagant, but they are still gifts. Then as a family they buy and choose gifts for a less fortunate family. Last year their little girl asked for a Newton’s pendulum! I think it says a lot about the way they present the meaning of Christmas if their little girl thinks a Newton’s pendulum is an awesome gift!
Hey thanks for this.
Since my kids are not yet home I don’t have experience with this but this is our “plan”.
First, Christmas is about gifts. The birth of the baby Savior was a gift to each of us. It was the gift of redemption. Without a Savior, without His birth, without His life, without His atonement, without that gift, where we would any of us be?
I think you can find balance. We plan on giving our children 3 gifts each-symbolic of the three gifts from the Wise Men. You, as the parent determine how extravagent or expensive the gift is or isn’t. (As a child I usually received a new outfit and a baby doll every Christmas-that was it and I never felt deprived.)
Also, like the above commenter said you can choose a family gift that benefits another person/family/organization. Clean water is an excellent one. Some of the fun might be choosing a different cause every year and sharing with your children why you choose this particular need.
Another fun idea is to put your gifts under the tree (like everyone does) but in front of the gifts put a child friendly nativity to keep the focus on the birth of the Savior.
Hope that helps! Those are just suggestions from someone who doesn’t have kids home yet so I could be totally wrong. : )
we do 1 gift…..i really think if you can work this out now while your children are young so much the better…..my 11 year old went from having toys’r’us under the tree….to 1 gift……but he understands why……my 3 year old will never know the difference…….balance is hard…but i have learned that being a scrooge is just as bad……with extended family i have long let go of them giving us nothing and i am just appreciating their thoughts…..as you said you can’t change anyone else…..find the beauty in celebrating christ’s birth……and rejoice
We are sticking to our want, need and surprise again this year. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think this was making an impact until I asked Parker what he wanted for his need…he said he needed underwear. I had suggested a bicycle (he has completely outgrown his)…so I am thinking, HE GETS IT! They aren’t picking extravagant things, or rather, they might pick extravagant but then they are able to find less extravagant ideas as well…they are in the world, sadly enough…so they are exposed to consumerism. No matter how much we hate it…it is such a hard lesson and I believe it gets harder the older they get. I welcome any more ideas you guys have for all of this…and I completely appreciate the telling of the parents…I have a habit of doing just that, it’s my way…i’ve got it figured out…why don’t you? Without even any intention of being hateful or mean or ugly…or so I am thinking when I sound self-righteous…I am working on it…
We love you guys and admire the way you are parenting your children…all 4 of them…
This is something I have been thinking and thinking about lately… I still have not come to a conclusion. I don’t have kids, so that makes my situation a little less complicated than yours. My boyfriend and I have a rule that the presents we get each other have to somehow help make a difference to someone living in poverty (like the ideas you listed in the post). I am trying to do this for all of my gifts, but it is hard. Some people on my list just don’t care about that kind of stuff. I am honestly not yet sure what to do!
I like this post!!! Think you might have had one similar to this last year, too!! As parent’s it is always an interesting challenge this time of year!!! One thing I try to keep in the back of my mind and central in my heart:) is the fact that we just keep enlightening our children and families and friends. You are doing that. You presented this opportunity to your extended family….it takes time and awareness. You are also sharing this with your children. Your Sons are growing in their love and understanding of the world through you!! You are doing a great job:)
When we adopted our three youngest daughters, all born in China, the orphan just weighed and continues to weigh on my heart. I am thankful to God for our families journey, thankful He has shown me a glimmer of what He sees always….just a glimmer. BUT…in knowing about the orphan, I was overwhelmed where to even begin to step out and help. Here is what someone shared with me, just begin by sharing what you know, make people aware….that has touched me so deeply. My passion, my family’s passion is now orphans and orphan care world-wide, BUT….not everyone even knows about the orphan. Many people do NOT even know that China is still a communist country:( SO…..begin by making people aware!!! I believe you are doing that within your family and community.
Praying for your children…..all four of them!!! 🙂
I don’t think any of my family read your blog, so I can talk about it on here!
I am making homemade salsa for all adults this year (in the past I’ve done hot chocolate mix, bread, etc.). I’ve been saving glass jars for the last several months from the recycling. I’ll make up some cute little label – ya’ know, incorporating our family name or something – I’m sure it will be cheesy. I am actually planning to load them up in a cooler to carry for family at Christmas. We’ll make some for the sweet people who do so much extra at our church, etc. I really love to give a little something, but make it truly a gift – by spending some extra time making something. I love to think about the people who are receiving it as I’m putting it all together.
I am making dolls for my niece and nephew on my husband’s side (http://missgioia.com/Rag_Doll.pdf). My brothers and I don’t do gifts at all for each other or our children. That’s just how it has always played out for us when we were all really poor, and we’ve just kept it that way. Every once in awhile someone might make an ornament for each family or something. My mom buys all the grandkids stuff at garage sales, so it’s all recycled. I love that.
We give our kids a budget for just a gift or two, and then I make them some things, as well. I have gone to the second hand store to find small sized scrubs, suits, fancy dresses, etc., for playing dress up. I have printed out pictures of friends and family on card stock to make our own personalized “memory” game. The girls love sewing by hand and crocheting, so I ask around at church for people to give us their scraps. The boys love to build, so scrap wood, pocket knives, screws, brackets, etc., are so fun for them. I go dumpster diving or garage sale-ing for things like that.
A few years back we asked our husband’s side of the family to at least consider just drawing names for a gift exchange. It was not a popular idea. So, we also learned that we just need to do things how WE feel we should do things, for our home and our family. It was that same year at Christmas I was already contemplating buying a Compassion goat in honor of everyone the following year (because the gift exchange idea had just been shot down) … when I overhead a family member talking about how a grandparent bought them “a share of COW … what kind of gift is THAT?” I realized that we will give privately, to help others, and give a small, thoughtful, homemade gift to the people we love want to bless with a little something.
You can change the world, but you can’t make other people want to join you. 🙂
Like Lila, we give our children 3 gifts, to symbolize the 3 gifts that were given to baby Jesus. They do receive a (1) gift from each set of grandparents. My mother’s gift is always $10, and the kids really enjoy going to the store and choosing their own gift.
In addition, they choose a sibling’s name (we have 6) from a hat and buy a gift for that sibling. They can spend no more than $5 for the gift, and they are expected to do extra chores to earn the money to buy the gift. They all do this, even our 4 and 5 year old.
We usually do one gift under the tree. Nothing big at all. Most of what I get is not even brand new. We make sure that the kids know the true meaning of Christmas and that presents are not what its about hence the reason they get one. We also then do one night at a hotel as a family where we just spend time with eachother. We also this year are sending things through Gospel for Asia. The kids are purchasing chickens, rabbits, bibles, gospel tracks, VBS packets, a drum and a tambourine.
I strongly believe in the balance issue. This year we’ve toned our giving back to none for my spouse and I and one gift for each child- from us. I also take my kids to a dollar store and let them pick out something they want to get their brothers, and we talk about what they may like, and I hope this is teaching them to think about what others may want or need, instead of just what they want.
I also believe that gifts are a relevant and meaningful part of the Christmas tradition. They give us an opportunity to express love and appreciation to our friends and family for way they give our lives richness and meaning. Gift giving doesn’t have to be expensive, extravagant, or wasteful to be meaningful.
Everyone always brings up the needs of others verses consumerism on Christmas. I would ask how much that really affects the needs of the world? If people buy a couple fewer presents at Christmas time, and talk to their kids about the needs of others at Christmas, really, most of the year is lost as an opportunity to give. I think living a life committed to helping others is a year-long commitment, often one that involves sacrifice. Not us asking our friends and family to sacrifice receiving a gift from us, but us sacrificing things in our own personal lives to make choices that help others. Living on less, giving more all year long. It doesn’t actually cost us much, personally, to decide not to give people gifts (except maybe the family havoc it can create!), but it does cost us to buy less clothes, less music, eat out less, whatever, in order to have more money to give.
Just my 2penny
wow i love all of your comments and yes i think i had this same discussion in my brain last year. it’s like i can’t get it down!!! one day we’ll have it all figured out … haha !
We too have struggled with this. My husband and I do not do gifts for each other. My parents buy us each one thing. My mother-in-law, however, insists on buying things so we can have “fun” opening gifts on Christmas morning. She asked us before Thanksgiving for ideas, and was upset when we said “nothing.” She finally compromised on just giving me the cash so I can send a child to school in Haiti instead, but is still visually upset by this. We don’t have children yet, but have decided there will be one “Santa” gift and just a few others from mom and dad. I can only imagine at this point how difficult it will be to convince my mother-in-law that she doesn’t need to go overboard on gifts for the kids… especially since ours will be the first grandbabies. We will just cross that bridge when we get there…. as for this year’s gifts… a child in Haiti gets to go to school, and we will probably donate some of our other “gifts” to local charities.
we are giving our kids no gifts. i know that people think that is terrible. but that is what we are doing. we will be going to the Miami Zoo together when we get to Florida for the wedding. That is our gift. Lame? I don’t care. not doing it this year. hated it too much last year.
Oh YES! We have definitely struggled with this in our family. . .not just the ideas of how to do balance but the presenting it to others and not doing it well! We are with you!! I struggle with the balance thing too about being so involved in Africa. . will my bio kids resent that? Will Davis resent that and feel like he’s constantly being reminded of his past? I guess the truth is. . our kids will have issues no matter what! That’s the deal living here in the sinful world. We’ll just listen to the Lord and follow His lead. . and confess when we screw it up!
PS Greg ( my hubby) leaves for Haiti on Wednesday! He’ll be there through Saturday!
I don’t know the answer, but it’s extremely encouraging to know that others are actively thinking about this and shaping their lives around something besides selfish consumerism. I think that no matter what your choice, it will be from an honest heart and your family and children will know this and see your example.
God bless on your trip this week!
I don’t have time to read through all of the comments- so sorry if this is a repeat… but Christmas *is* about gift giving…. God gave us the gift of his son… wise men traveled nearly two years to honor and give gifts to Jesus…. The idea that gets confused is the point behind the gift giving…. You are supposed to give a gift to show that you put extra thought and time into honoring THAT PERSON…that you know the things the person enjoys…. There is no need for extravagence. My kids get so stinking excited about something as simple as getting to pick ANYTHING they want out at the dollar store (of course you have to make sure you aren’t in a hurry so they can look around)….
This year Santa is bringing each child a gift that is between 10-15 dollars…. (yes we do Santa- my husband didn’t get to believe in Santa when he was little- but then his parents had a change of heart- so his younger siblings did… so he has a first hand perspective on the whole Santa thing and always regretted not being able to have that fun…. our oldest daughter already knows the truth about Santa- and when we broke the news, because she was getting suspicious- she never once doubted the existence of God/Jesus)
Anyway- that gift from Santa- and then also I am *making* each of my kids a gift that I think they will enjoy.
Coupon books for my four big kids (with coupons like- bike ride with dad- movie with mom- no chores for a day- trip to the library alone with mom, etc.)….. I am going to make a big fun checkerboard (or something like that) for Stevenson…. a hopscotch board for Eli… and for the two girls from Haiti I was going to sew them little purses.
I don’t know if you have ever read The Five Love Languages… but gift giving is also a love language…. (it is a pretty good book- and kind of sheds a little light on how different people expect different things)… so even though giving gifts might not seem like a big deal to you- it is to others.
So, yes, we are doing things for our kids for Christmas, and then as a family, we are doing things for others for Christmas.
In reaching out and trying to help others- we need to not forget to cherish and bring joy to the people who are presently in our lives as well. I struggle with this…. trying to do good deeds- and giving of myself emotionally, physically, mentally- to people who are not in my family- and then not having the energy, time, money, to do special things for the people IN my family.
It is a struggle for balance, but I believe that balance can be found. Friends of mine give their kids three gifts, for the three wise men, something to read, something to wear, and something to play with.
In our house- Santa is always very thoughtful ;0) and instead of bringing a bunch of junk for the stockings, he usually brings new socks, new toothbrushes, lotions, a candy bar (or some sweet), small books…. things that are new and special- but also that we would need to purchase sometime anyway. I like how that guy thinks!!
Good luck figuring it out! 🙂
I am so with you in this! I had a similar thing happen last year – I was so gung-ho about not doing gifts, etc. I knew that we would still do gifts for the kids in the family, but I suggested (on my DH’s side) that we forego adult gifts and do something for charity. It did NOT go over well! I was accused of trying to break family traditions, etc. It was a hard process, but through it I talked to all of our parents (both sides are divorced and 3 of our parents are remarried) and was able to really ask them what mattered to them for Christmas. I do think that Gifts are a love language as someone mentioned. It’s hard for me to understand, but some people really want a gift to open. We did give some people donations – so we found an ornament to represent that gift, so that they had something to open and a visual reminder of the donation. For my SIL and BIL we decided to give each other the gift of date-nights!
As far as the kids -I did a lot of thinking and praying about this last year and really felt compelled to change a few things. We had already been following the 3 gift rule, but I wanted to still try to shift the focus to giving somehow. One thing I read online that REALLY impacted me – as I was exploring the idea of gift-giving. The gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus were an act of WORSHIP. So who am I worshipping with my gifts?
Something we added last year and will continue to do is our “family gift to Jesus”. Although we give throughout the year, we will do an act of service as a family that requires both our time and resources. I made a small scrapbook and took pictures and wrote about what we did last year. So now on Christmas morning – we let the kids open their stockings – then we have a Birthday Party for Jesus – I told them we could have cupcakes for breakfast – but they decided on cinnamon rolls. We sang Happy Birthday to Jesus and then opened the photo album and talked about the gift we gave to Jesus and read the passage in Matthew 25 about what we do for the least of these we do for God.
I am also making an effort to buy responsibly – gifts that support charity, help with someone’s adoption, or are handmade by me or by someone else!
Sorry to be so long-winded – lots of thoughts on this one!
Wow…this is exaclty what we have been talking about! I think balance is the key. Some small gifts for Christmas are great and I would not worry about your kids…they will see how you live your life and they will grow up wanting to give…
We did the whole “don’t give us gifts and instead buy us something from the World Vision catalog” and “we’re gonna buy yall gifts from the catalog too” last year for Xmas with our families and it was a disaster. As much as it is Andy’s & my heart, it turned out being super awkward when it wasn’t anyone else’s and they tried to force it. And some family were actually annoyed and mad. Back-fire.
i don’t think it’s as much about how you spend the money but how you are reflecting the Father’s heart. i feel just as responsible for our World Vision child as syd and ben- they are all God’s children and to me that means they all get gifts from me as I represent the Father’s love. but as our boys have gotten older we have really tried to limit the gifts and make them really meaningful to them. if there is one toy they really want, that’s what they get. we have a lion and a lamb we put under our tree to keep our focus about Him instead of piles of presents.
thanks for sharing your heart and thoughts on this – one funny story – two years ago my mom gave all the grandkids gifts of giving to World Vision in their name…soccer balls, a kid goat…one grandchild got the gift of giving a prosthetic limb to a child and he was a little freaked out. he tried to act okay with it but in the end we learned like many others it’s hard to give gifts like that and expect others to care like we do!
We are struggling with this as well. It’s so hard to find the “balance”. It’s especially hard when our extended family is INSISTENT on giving gifts, regardless of our shared feelings!
Ryan is a little too young to really know what’s going on this time of year, but Reagan KNOWS! We have always tried to instill in her that Christmas in NOT about getting/giving gifts, but that it’s about celebrating the birth of our Saviour and helping others – her own words will say that as well, but then again she ASKS for everything for a Christmas gift. Santa Claus has been a big topic for her this year….we don’t openly talk about Santa in our house but I we haven’t “banned” it either. I guess she is hearing all about it from her friends at school! We are trying to figure out how to make this all work. We have done ZERO Christmas shopping because of how we feel about this..but do we get the girls a gift or two? Let me know when you get it figured out! 🙂