Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christmas. Simply.

Have you noticed it?

The evergreen garland appearing on public buildings as Halloween candy was still fresh in the trick-or-treat pails. The lights springing up on houses in your neighborhood. The endless refrain of Christmas carols playing in the malls, and even in the grocery stores.

It seems as though Christmas creeps in earlier and earlier each year, and becomes a game of one-up-man-ship by everyone trying to create a more grand extravaganza than the year before. Even "Black Friday", the un-official start to holiday shopping, is inching into Thanksgiving Day with many stores opening their doors next Thursday night for shoppers who cannot wait until 3:00am.

Before I go on, please understand that just because it doesn't work for me, does not mean that I am poo-poo-ing extravagant Christmas celebrations as a whole. They certainly can and do have their place, and I know that our perspective on Christmas is not a one-size-fits-all view either.

That being said, I'm already feeling Christmas burn-out, and Thanksgiving is still a week away. For most of our life together, Jason and I have valued living simply, but have focused in on this priority in a more intentional way over the course of the past year or so. We see so much excess around us and in our home that distracts and deflects from that which is most important and we are working to simplify our lives to be more in line with the vision of who we should be and what we believe that God has called us to do.

Christmas just amplifies this, in society and personally, and I have felt the pull early this year to plan ahead, in order to be mindful of what is important to us, and to set out our plans for Christmas ahead of the busy-ness that bombards us beginning November 25.

For us, experiences, people and keeping the coming of our Christ as the focus of Christmas are our of primary importance to us. We want to make sure that the way that we celebrate Christmas reflects that. Our kids will remember what we place value on through our choices and our actions, not what we talk about as being our values. What they see and experience will stick with them for a lifetime, long after they forget our words. We can tell them what our values are, but unless they see them lived out, they won't take them to heart.

Therefore, I have primarily been focusing on how to reflect on the birth of Jesus in meaningful ways with them, through activities, interactive stories and play surrounding the Christmas story. As our children grow, our activities and play are growing with them. We have several nativities for the kids to play with as they choose throughout December, as well as a Playmobile nativity that we add to each night in the days leading up to Christmas as we tell another small part of the Christmas story. Now, sometimes the angel sleeps in the stable (because they don't get the baby Jesus piece until Christmas morning), or the wise men exchange beards, but the kids get to interact with the story and it helps them to process the pieces and learn the history.

Christmas 2010-Caroline and Lydia play with a toy Nativity set

Christmas 2009-the nativity scene one evening. I think the wise men had a pretty wild party.
And someone dropped off a jack-hammer! 

Secondary, we want our kids to have rich experiences, and with that we make celebrating Advent--the time of waiting--a time of lots of fun experiences and activities as a family. Each day, beginning December 1, we open a door in our Advent calendar to find a Christmas activity for the day as we are waiting for Christmas. Some days are as simple as coloring a Christmas picture or building snowmen in the yard (if we have enough snow), to visiting a live Nativity or going to one of the local museums for their holiday exhibits. The kids talk year-round about our Advent activities and are anxiously awaiting December 1 when we open our first door.

Ian gets "Elfed" at The Indianapolis Children's Museum Jolly Days
Finally, people are exceptionally important in our lives, and we try to create space to spend time during the holiday season with people that we love. We visit with as much family as we are able and try to make those gatherings as relaxed and refreshing as they should be. We take 20 minutes or an entire evening to visit with our neighbors and reconnect with friends that we see less frequently when the weather draws us indoors and makes impromptu visits more of a challenge. We send cards and letters to family and friends who are dear to us, in an effort to stay connected though time and space separate us. We write hand-written notes of thanks to our children's teachers and those who are coming alongside us to raise our children up.

And because people are important, we choose to share our love and appreciation through gifts. A thoughtful and heartfelt gift is a way to express love or gratitude to others. Many gifts are homemade and prepared with love, with the recipient in mind throughout the process of creating the gift. Those that are not are gifts that the recipient has specifically expressed as something that would be useful or valued by them.

This includes gifting our children. We don't want them to adopt the perspective that "more is more". In striving for simplicity, going overboard at Christmas can seriously undermine this value in our home. We choose a few meaningful gifts that either we know to be useful to them or something that they have expressed interest in that we perceive to have long-term value to them. We select beautiful toys that we hope that they will play with for years to come, crafts and activities that will stimulate and engage them, perhaps igniting a passion, and books and magazines that they will read again and again. I also create at least one hand-made gift for each child to teach them that gifts do not always have to come from the mall.

When our budget is larger, these gifts can be pricier, and when our budget is tighter, these gifts are less-expensive, accordingly. But quality and thoughtfulness do not have to be expensive, and often can be found at a sensible price. I've seen (and purchased) some very expensive junk toys, and have seen (and purchased) some very inexpensive, superior-quality toys in my tenure as a parent. My challenge to parents, in particular, is not to get so caught up in "what a great deal XYZ toy is!" and overlook its value. Yes, it may be 1/2 off, but if it's just "more" and not meaningful, then it's still money better saved than spent.

While the world around me is all abuzz and in a frenzy over the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, choosing to celebrate simply has done my heart good. For me, it all comes back to one not-so-silent night, in a dirty, smelly barn when a baby boy was born to an unwed and nervous teenage mother. Keeping Christmas simple helps keep that in the forefront of my mind, where the pomp and circumstance does not.

Now, if you'll forgive me, I must get back to enjoying November while it's still here. There are leaves left to crunch, turkeys to roast and a host of gratitude to share before I hang the mistletoe and trim my tree.

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