If you're anything like me, you’re hustling around like a crazy person this season, trying to get a million things done and make it to every event. For me, I curb my stress by eating everything in sight, which makes me so sluggish that I finally crumble into a sad ball of shame on December 24th when I give up on shopping and just buy a bunch of gift cards for all of my extended family. The latter causes my wife to lament that we’re only one step away from putting out no effort at all and simply creating a system where we negotiate a family dollar amount and just go buy stuff for ourselves in the name of our favorite relatives. I try and tell myself that it’s the thought that counts, but when I look at the Nativity on our mantle and see the little Baby Jesus in his uncomfortable, sneeze-inducing manger bed gazing back at me, his eyes seem to be saying, “You should have thought a little harder.”
While there are genuine moments of peace and beauty this time of year, we inevitably end up feeling harried and stressed, vowing that we're going to do it differently next year. Two years ago, our family realized that we were on the great American Hamster Wheel to Nowhere, piling up stuff in the name of progress. So, we challenged ourselves to a Year Without A Purchase beginning on January 1st. It was a radical attempt to disconnect from our consumer side and try to reconnect with what’s important.
We learned a lot about ourselves during the year, and Christmas in particular gave us ample opportunity to try some new things to see if we could put more meaning back into the season. Below is a list of some of the traditions we started that year that help us keep the focus on Christ during the Christmas season.
By the way, it’s not our desire to add a pant-load of new tasks to your Holiday to-do list to add more stress. Instead, we hope this will be a conversation starter where others can share their own meaningful traditions, so we can all find something that fits perfectly for our own families.
Five Ways to Dump the Christmas Distractions
1. Give Experience Gifts: All the happiness research shows that experiences bring more joy than things, as thy create memories that will last forever. These gifts can be as simple as baking cookies together or attending a sporting event, to bigger experiences like going on a family ropes course or taking a road trip together.
2. Wise Men Gifts: We wondered, “If three gifts were good enough for the Savior of the World, it should be sufficient for our little snot factories, right?” My wife’s sister Amy turned us on to this tradition of limiting the number of gifts for the kids. It delivers a double-whammy of benefit in that it cuts down on Santa’s greenhouse gas emissions (lighter loads means less fuel) and allows us to tie in the story of the Wise Men to Santa’s gift giving (Note: necessities like toothbrushes and underwear in the stocking did not count toward the three gift limit in our house)
3. Wrap a “Jesus Gift”: We make a list of charitable donations, service projects, and things we did to help others throughout the year. Then, we type them all up on slips of paper and place them in a gift box under the tree. On Christmas morning, we unwrap the “Jesus Gift” and the kids each read the items aloud. It provides a flood of good cheer for everyone and reminds us of why we do all of those things. Pro Tip: Keep the box in a visible spot all year t remind yourself to do stuff for others, and when you do, create the slip of paper right then and there.
4. Give Charitable Gifts: Let’s be honest, most of us can hardly remember the gifts we’ve received from Christmases past. So, rather than shopping around and trying to find that perfect thing, use that time to go online and make a donation in someone else’s name to a charity you think they would support. Then, print the receipt and write a nice note telling the person what positive qualities they possess that led you to choose that specific cause for them.
5. Serve Others On Christmas Day: Once the presents are unwrapped, it’s time to get out of the house. Advance planning helps if you want to serve with an organization (singing carols at a long term care facility or VA hospital, or serving meals for the homeless, for example), but some things can be more spontaneous, like randomly handing our cookies or snacks for people in hospital waiting rooms, or saving some of your charitable giving for random acts of kindness, like distributing secret envelopes of cash to those who have to work on Christmas day (airport cleaning crew, gas station attendants, Waffle House servers, etc.)
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, so please let us know what your family does to bring meaning and focus to the Christmas season. And, the simpler, the better! Because, during this time of year or any other, I believe best gift we can give ourselves is to let go of perfection. Deep down, no one truly cares if the dinner plates all match, or if the bow stays on the gift, or if a strand of lights is burned out. Life happens. And it’s what we do with life’s happenings that make them extraordinary. The spirit we bring to our everyday breath.
And this time of year, more than any other, we should take comfort in the fact that the Bethlehem innkeeper’s stable was not decorated by Restoration Hardware. Nope. It was an imperfect, chaotic, smelly mess. But here we are. Still telling the story 2,000 years later.
Joy-filled and grateful.
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