I don’t really want to write this post. I don’t want to imagine how I will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. I don’t want to come across as a Scrooge or as sitting in judgment of the decisions others make. But if I’m telling the truth on this blog (and I am) about what our lives are like This Very Second so that one day our kids will know what our hearts were as we raised them, then I owe it to them to write this out.
Christmastime is something we’ve made up. It’s fun, it’s magical, it’s lights and sprinkles wrapped up with a shiny bow. There’s nothing wrong with Christmastime.
Yet Christmas? THE Christmas? It’s not about fun. It’s about our crushing need for redemption and the ridiculous notion that Hope arrived in a barn. It is joyful celebration of Jesus coming to save us.
Andrew and I often struggle to make that distinction, for ourselves and our kids. Over the past few years, we began to simplify Christmastime, just to drown out some noise. It started with the Naked Tree. We threw in a Jesse Tree devotion and December dinners by candlelight. (I wrote about those today over at Simple Homeschool if you want details.)
Since our season of life is pretty cluttered anyway, keeping our decorations simple has really lowered the stress-level in our house. We still have shiny ornaments, nutcrackers, and happy-making decor, but I try to control myself for the sake of everyone’s sanity.
A few years ago, we became more passionate about where our gift-giving money goes and we started a list of adoptive parents we could support when we made purchases. Hence, the birth of Home for Christmas.
In that spirit, last year, we made a oh-forgive-the-use-of-this-word Radical Decision. We decided that we would take the money we would normally spend on gifts for each other and the kids and we’d give it to a worthy cause. If Christmas is when we celebrate Jesus’s birthday, then we wanted Him to get the biggest gift.
We talked with the kids about it, we chose a place to give that the kids could understand and relate to, and we figured if it didn’t work out, we would try something different the next year.
The results of our experiment surprised us.
When we took the noise of gifts out of the equation, we simplified the tree, and we made our Jesse Tree and candles at dinner the priority, we actually saw Christmas as a family. Not “we experienced Christmastime,” no, we lived and breathed the Birthday of He Who Gave Us Life.
When I shortened my gift list, I began to actually enjoy the sense of expectation in the air again. Because the expectations weren’t about me or the gift ideas I came up with.
On Christmas Eve, when the world really does seem like it’s in hushed expectation, Andrew and I both felt that for the first time, our anticipation was on Christ. We were looking forward to that last Jesse Tree ornament, sneaking the baby Jesus in the nativity scene, the 25 candles lit on the table, and a big breakfast around those candles with our kids.
And the kids “got it.” They weren’t distracted. Jesus in a manger wasn’t an after-thought. They didn’t have to suffer through the reading of Luke 1 to “get to the good stuff.” Being together around that table, around the nativity scene that finally held Baby Jesus, that WAS the good stuff.
It was a risky experiment, I know. Definitely different. But, to my surprise, the children remembered last year and were not at all phased by repeating the same thing this year. We discussed it in depth and talked about how gifts aren’t a bad thing at all. Giving gifts at Christmas isn’t wrong. It’s just not what our family is doing this year.
To help them understand, Andrew and I couched it in terms of Birthdays. We’ve purposefully made birthdays a big deal in our house. On a birthday, we celebrate the Individual. We try hard to “blow it up big” either in terms of a big gift or in marked attention. In a house full of kids, birthdays are a really good way to make them each feel special.
But it also means the kids understand that when it is someone’s birthday, THE INDIVIDUAL gets the attention. And the gifts. Thus, when it is Jesus’s birthday – we celebrate Him. He gets the attention. He gets the gifts. And since He said, “What you did to the least of these you did to me…”* then when we give a gift to those in need, we are giving Him a gift.
And, oh, the family discussion about where we were sending our Jesus Gift this year… Well, some things are private, but it was beautiful, y’all. To see their little hearts moved with compassion, to see them want to pick every. single. charity we suggested. And then to watch them come to an agreement on a cause that was important to all of us…
Well, you know I cried.
Here’s the thing: Christmastime traditions – cookies, funny songs, spending time with family – those can all be done and done well.
But we don’t need those things to have Christmas. Jesus was born, He saved us, and we live solely to celebrate Him. Christmas has already come! And we don’t want to miss Him. We don’t want our kids to miss Him.
So we Simplify.
We set aside our preferences for Christmastime. And Christmas, in all His glory, finally becomes visible.