Thursday, December 18, 2008

Random thoughts on Christmas and giving and such

In between Christmas shopping (almost done!) and caring for a new rash of stomach virus victims (including, oddly, our dog Cowboy! ACK!), I've been thinking about the funky mom's comment the other day about gifts and giving and how to keep Christmas simple.
I am a mess at Christmas and usually spend way too much on just plain junk. Any suggestions on how to scale back....what has been your guideline over the years? and Santa? how do you handle that? I love hearing your ideas. My four are 10, 6, 3, and 20 mths. It's the most difficult time of the year. I always make really bad decisions that we pay for in the spring months. I also am afraid of what I'm teaching my kids with all this stuff.
I'm sure there are books out there written on this subject, so here are just some random things that help me. What are some other things you do to rein it all in at Christmas?

Do an Advent calendar or wreath with your children. We don’t do the teeny little gifts (can't you just see me trying to stay ahead of that one? NOT) – we just fight over light the candles and read the daily verse. Or every other day. Or whatever. You know us. It's never perfect. Yes, your big kids may roll their eyes. Press on. Just do SOMETHING that is heartfelt, not religious, so that your kids know that “in our home, Christmas is about Jesus.”

Have your kids learn the old Christmas carols, or better yet, sing in a Christmas cantata. Most of those hymns tell the whole story of the Gospel. Even if they sing Oh Wayne in a Manger now, some day they will “get it.”

Do a your own version of a Progam.

Keep up with family traditions or start your own. Baking together (especially if it's for someone else), decorating, caroling, picking out a Christmas tree, helping in a soup kitchen - traditions help define "Christmas" in the mind of a child. They help kids begin to think "outwardly," rather than focusing on "what am I getting?"

Aim for "Big(ger) Birthday, Small(er) Christmas." This helps spread the “gifts” budget throughout the year, and helps you set your kids up for realistic expectations of Christmas morning.

Have lots of kids, start a new business, or have one spouse be a student. At one time or another, each one of these has put external limits on what we can do moneywise or timewise. Every year we do the best we can with what we have, and our kids are no worse for the wear.

If the above is not feasible, buy gifts anonymously for another family, buy gifts for an Angel Tree child, sponsor a child through World Vision, buy a goat for an African family, or sponsor a well for a town. As much as your kids can be involved, let them be. They CAN understand that with food and shelter they truly are fortunate.

Set a budget and stick to it. I have found that it's easier to stick to a budget when we actually have the money. Yep, I mean save ahead of time. We save through our bank’s Keep the Change program throughout the year. It goes into a savings account that I can’t access with my debit card, so it stays OUT OF REACH. This beats some of our years, in which we saved pocket change, or worse, when we've squeezed what we could out of January's February's December’s budget. At Christmastime, we pay with CASH, which keeps us honest.

Have a plan for giving. Use the “gift triad” or Ginger at From the Cocoon’s Four Gift Rule:

Something you want
Something you need
Something to play with
Something to read

A little structure helps me keep from going overboard on toys or clothes, helps me remember to give some gifts with meaning, and helps kids understand that Santa's Dumptruck is not going to back up to our chimney every year.

Make a list. I hate shopping and am easily overwhelmed with too many choices, so I make a detailed list for shopping before I go, including the color and a plan for where I’m going to buy it (if I can’t buy it online).

Write down what you gave each year (mine is in my “notes” section in Outlook and on my phone). It helps jog the memory and gives ideas for what younger siblings might enjoy when they are that age.

Remember it and say Thank You. Our kids get a new, fancy journal every year in their stocking, and last year, in a moment of inspiration, they also got a box of Thank You notes. I think that's one tradition we'll continue.

Spread the love. Don’t wait until Christmas to purchase every single thing you want to buy for your family. Make a special evening out of buying a new game, basketball hoop, or even clothing for your kids, even if it's in the middle of the year.

Set limits on extended family and friend giving. Back when there were only a few cousins, everyone gave everyone (and everyone else’s kids) Christmas gifts. Now that there are 13 cousins, we all agreed that it’s just a bit on the ridiculous side. Draw names, do a Chinese gift exchange, a white elephant exchange, or an ornament exchange. Or (what we've done the last few years as the "generations" are changing): skip gifts altogether and let the joy of being together with extended family suffice.

I'm sure you all have lots more ideas on how to help keep Christmas in perspective. We all want our kids to become gracious receivers of gifts, and eventually, to realize the joy of giving. Just like anything we are doing, teaching our kids the finer points of selflessness is an ongoing, lifelong process.

Time is on our side, though. So if this year, they appear to be self-absorbed, gift-grubbing little brats, hang in there. God is generous. He is self-sacrificial. He loves giving good gifts. We didn't get that for a long time, either. But He keeps coming back, gently, with the truth. Day after day, year after year. We can do the same for our children, too.

What are your thoughts on all this?


E. Tyler Rowan said...

I really empathise with funky mom's situation! We've had many years that got way out of hand. Partly due to us, but also because so many gifts come in from the grandparents and aunties and uncles.

I have come to a place in my life where I am okay with being the "practical one." The kids get things from us that they need (pjs, socks, undies, new hair accessories, craft supplies) or that we KNOW they will all use and enjoy (music, books, games). And because we know - that no matter how many times we tell them not to - our family is still going to go crazy, we just don't.

I also give a detailed list to all the family, so that the toys that are "must haves" (like Hanna Montana anything) are received. (I figure if I'm going to be all practical and "un-fun" I can at least make sure everyone gets something they really want from somewhere else.

Like Katherine said, though, the KEY to it all is to plan ahead, make a list, and stick to both the list and the budget. (Last year, we got our kids a hamster with all the accessories and a guitar for FREE from freecycle.)

Christy. said...

Here is my take on it all..
We buy one present for each of the kids. It is something that we know they will love and play with all the time. We don't set a dollar amount, one year it may be $30 and one year it might be $100, just depends on what they are in to. Those presents are from Mommy and Daddy.
We don't make a big deal about Santa. We put four little gifts in their stocking, I don't usually spend more than $30 on their stockings.
On Christmas Eve day we make cupcakes, decorate them and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. It starts the next few days of chaos with a focus on Christ's Birth.
I am done with my shopping and wrapping by December 1 to be an example to my kids that it is not about the shopping chaos. Also, when doing shopping early it leaves money in December for all the extra groceries we buy to bake and host family and friends.
I LOVE Christmas and what we celebrate because I am not stressed out financially or with my time.
It works for me.... :0)

Jill said...

I LOVE the idea of thank you notes in the stocking. What a wonderful reminder to have on hand!