As Thanksgiving approaches each year, I try to focus my family's attention on all the things we should be thankful for. I know it's important to be thankful all year long, not just around the holidays, but if I can get us all in the proper mindset (an attitude of gratitude) before we are bombarded by non-stop holiday advertising and the ensuing shopping chaos, then maybe I can head off a complete hedonistic melt-down by December 25th. Now don't get me wrong, I believe kids should receive gifts at Christmas and a certain amount of spoiling is down-right American, but I refuse to let it become solely about the presents. It's a lofty goal, I admit, but one I believe can be achieved. Let me share with you the story of one NW Momma, my friend Jill, who is succeeding in helping her family keep their focus on the real "reason for the season".
When her children were still quite young, Jill made a very wise decision. In agreement with her husband, Jill decided to limit the number of Christmas gift to three gifts per child. She is a Christian and each year on Christmas recounts to her children the story of the three wise men and the three gifts they gave to the new-born King, before each child receives their three gifts. This has been their family tradition for years and she told me it has been the best thing she and her husband have ever done as parents. As she shared her unique tradition with me, I have to be honest, I couldn't hide my shock! Our conversation went something like this:
Me (with a shocked look on my face):
"Only three gifts each? Isn't that a little harsh and..... amazingly...affordable?" I stammered.
Jill (looking calm):
"If three gifts were enough for JESUS, then three gifts are certainly enough for my kids too."
Me (with a disbelieving look still on my face):
"But, what about the whining?" I inquired, "What about the weeping and gnashing of teeth? Don't you fear a Christmas Day mutiny?"
Jill (Still calm):
"Nope. They don't whine. It's all they know. They only expect three gifts, so they're happy with three."
Me (looking like I just a light bulb moment, because I did):
I was stunned and impressed! I told you she was wise! Jill went on to explain that since she and her husband only buy three gifts for each child, they slow down, take their time and really think about what would make each child most happy. It was all about the quality, not the quantity. She also explained that with the money they saved by not overspending on gifts for the kids, they had enough in their budget for each child to purchase a gift for a needy child in their community. Each child chooses a tag off the Giving Tree at their church and then shops for the gift the needy child requests. The gift requests are often very basic items, such as pajamas and socks, which teaches her children that even some of the most basic things they take for granted are a gift to a child who has nothing. By incorporating their faith into the act of giving and receiving gifts, she has given her children maybe the best gift of all: meaning. Her children understand the true meaning of the season and the traditions that go along with it.
Now for some of us, (me included) it's probably too late to start this only-three-gifts practice, but it's never too late to teach our children the real meaning of the holidays. I'm thinking this year our family can save up to donate to a charity, volunteer together at a local food bank or buy a gift for a needy child. With so much to be thankful for, and with so many people in our own neighborhoods and around the world struggling, now is the perfect time to start a tradition of giving of our own and find some real meaning amid the chaos.