The Best Kind of Christmas Giving
There have been years when, about three days before Christmas, the Mrs. Claus in me evaporated and the Mrs. Grinch appeared. It seems that, at Christmastime, Mother is expected to cheerily create magical memories and orchestrate the warmth of togetherness, provide food that taxes the health, temperament, and budget of the family, all while radiantly attending (and hosting) more public events than in the previous eleven months combined — and not miss a beat in all her usual responsibilities in the process! It should be no wonder that by the 22nd of December, Mother is tempted to don her Wicked Witch finery and report all children to the Child Catcher!
Having had plenty of frustrating holidays, I can report that our best Christmases have been the ones where indulgence was held at bay, when we have created opportunities to rejoice in Christ, and when we have allowed His love to be magnified in us through an outreach to others. This miracle happens when we have prepared for it. Preparation includes identifying and managing expectations — ours and others’ — and organizing things and people in a directed way. Such planning must be done early enough to make success probable.
I experienced the joy of a Christmas revelation when I learned that children really want predictability in their schedule, consistent traditions, relaxed and happy adults, and realistic parameters for their fantasies, including gifts. As an adult, I want this, too. As I focus my energies to achieve these goals, I can give better of myself. This kind of preparation also prepares my family to receive that elusive Christmas Magic that all of the decorating, socializing, and giving and receiving attempts to create.
Counsel together about Christmas fantasies and establish reasonable expectations. Ask each family member individually what their ideal Christmas looks and feels like. Write this down so each idea can be reviewed, discussed, and refined. Undefined expectations are nearly impossible to meet; they set us up for the chaos and disappointment of Fantasy run amok. Then discuss possibilities with your spouse far in advance and plan ways to meet individual and collective expectations for the Christmas season. With more adult-like children, the planning could be collaborative to include their talents, skills, and free time.
Calendar together. Even before Thanksgiving comes, compile all holiday commitments onto a common calendar, scheduling times to accomplish your own family’s traditions and accommodate the expectations of individual family members.
Define parameters for gifts that meet your values and budget. Talk frankly with your family and establish expectations for giving that will bring the joy and peace that lasts through the post-holiday bill cycle. If you invite him, Santa is your guest, not a free mail-order service with a fancy delivery system! Our family uses a formula for gift-giving that is not tied to finances and yet helps keep our Christmas budget (and the number of items under the tree) within reason:
Something to wear,
Something to read,
Something to play with, and
Something you need.
We are creative within these well-defined parameters, and can maintain our gift-giving traditions even in lean years. Additionally, using a gift-giving formula means the preparations are well-defined and we can know when they have been fully completed, so we all can relax and enjoy the season, confident that we are “Ready” for Christmas — without regard to the commercial hype around us.
Set appropriate limits on gifts to neighbors and extended family. Evaluate what you are trying to achieve in your giving, and assess whether your past efforts have accomplished your goals and appropriately utilized your family’s resources. There are literally hundreds of people I want to remember at Christmastime, so I have to use gift giving creatively to share our family and our love. We cannot afford to bake for everyone we love or buy them WOW with money; most people we know already have what they really want, and more stuff surfeits everyone. Instead, begin a tradition of something that you can give every year: something in harmony with your values, within the limits and parameters of your creativity and budget, and which shares your family with others. One family, for instance, gives a small bottle of dill pickles from their garden as their annual gift to neighbors and friends. They can this delicacy together each fall and it has become an anticipated tradition in the households of their closest associates. Another family donates their neighborhood gift budget to a charity, sending a loving note to their neighbors to express their gratitude for them and the reasons for their choice.
When you or your spouse serve in a leadership position in church or the community and you have a long list of people to remember, assess all of your resources to determine how and what to give. Depending on your situation, you might consider giving an inexpensive homemade CD or DVD of a family concert; a root beer recipe with extract; mini-loaves of homemade bread; a package of frozen cookie dough; a handmade story book; a fresh box of Christmas cards; or a favorite piece of music, played on their piano at their convenience. When there is little or no money, give time and service instead. Remember that there is nothing wrong with offering a handshake and a genuine, old-fashioned, “Merry Christmas!”
Involve family members in family giving. At our house, preparing Christmas cards together is an annual tradition. We design a handmade card which is also our gift to neighbors, and which usually includes a picture (a photo or a child’s hand-drawn family portrait) and a recipe card or some original sheet music. Some years we have each person personally sign each card; some years the cards have several elements and need assembly: the point is that it is a gift from us all and each person is a part of the giving. We also have traditions involving drawing names and giving gifts to one another within our family. On the first Monday of December, we divide into two carloads of eager shoppers. After a couple of hours, we meet up for a meal together. Our budget is modest: the fun is in the romance of the time spent together hunting for the “perfect thing” to please the loved one and enjoying this occasion each year, according to our greatly-anticipated tradition.
Streamline and have extras ready and on hand — in advance. Whether it’s an old friend who drops in from out of town or a child’s party, almost every year we can expect unexpected gift-giving needs. Assembling and wrapping White Elephants or other generic gifts to be conveniently accessed when required is more cost-effective and enjoyable if you do it in advance. Even children appreciate receiving their own personal dried corn bags, to be heated up in the microwave. Wrap up several packages of holiday hot-pads, candles, or cocoa and relax! This can be completed before the holiday season even begins to stress you.
Pray for a gift from God to help you do more with your resources. God can give you a new talent, if you need it and are willing to receive. He can help you see opportunities and know how to use them to bless your life and those of others around you. He can fill you with peace, even if things are not going according to your plans or seem out of control in other ways. He is the Author of the season, the best Giver of the very best gifts, and He is oh, so generous!
Look for opportunities to direct attention to Christ. Everything testifies of Him, and it is especially easy to find Him at Christmastime — if you’re looking and have an open heart. Your careful preparations and decisive focus will free you from the frantic so you can direct your attention — and your family’s — on the things that matter most.
What are the best gifts of Christmas? They are the ones we freely receive from the Spirit as we freely give to others, accommodate personal and traditional holiday needs, and reach out to our immediate family members and beyond. You will find satisfaction and be successful as your Christmas is memorable for what your family felt, rather than what they got. Organize yourself and make this the best Christmas yet.
©2010 Daunell Clarke/www.houseoforder.com
Photo from sxc.hu. Used with permission of kmg, bizior and luislucina.