Last night the kids and I cozied up together on the couch to watch what is possibly one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time, the old cartoon version of Dr. Seuss’s iconic tale: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. (I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but it’s snowing, and my kids have been home sick all week- I think that makes it okay.) We sat close together, watching in delight as the Whos down in Whoville, the tall and the small, celebrated Christmas without any presents at all. I felt the familiar tug of my heart strings as the narrator recited my favorite part of the story:
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling. How could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
I remember my daughter’s first Christmas like it was yesterday. It was so fun to watch her wrestle with her presents, scratching at the wrapping paper with her chubby little uncoordinated fingers. She seemed to get more enjoyment out of the packaging than she did with whatever was inside. It wasn’t until her presents had all been opened, leaving her shipwrecked in a sea of wrapping paper, that we realized our mistake. We had been so excited to finally have a baby to enjoy Christmas with that we may have gotten a little carried away.
That got us thinking, what do we really want our children take away from the Holidays? Gifts? Toys? Santa? Christmas is so much more than that. It’s about spending time with the people we love. It’s about giving, not receiving.
No, Christmas certainly does not come from a store. But that’s not what the media would have you believe. So how can we protect our families from the enticing voices of commercialism that seem to be particularly loud this time of year?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I will tell you 2 things that have worked for us:
- First, we wanted our children to spend less time thinking about gifts and more time thinking about others, so we started doing The 12 Days of Service for people in our community. As the kids have gotten older this has become one of our favorite traditions. Watching our children learn to put the needs of others before their own has been an incredibly rewarding experience.
- Secondly, we came up with a plan to make it easier to resist buying unnecessary presents. When the wise men visited the Savior they brought him three gifts- Frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Frankincense was a useful herb with many medicinal purposes. Myrrh was popularly used as a perfume and burned as incense, for enjoyment. And gold was something valuable, something to be treasured.
(I know there is much more to these gifts than my simple explanation and a lot of symbolism behind each one. However this is how I chose to break it down because it’s clear and simple, and something my children could understand.)
We decided to implement the same philosophy in our family, so for Christmas our children get three things:
1. Something they need: A new coat, new socks, snow boots, etc…
2. Something they want: A toy from Santa
3. Something they will treasure: a homemade gift, or a family experience
And yes, you read that right: they get ONE toy. Before you feel bad for our kids, please understand, there is no shortage of toys at our house. In fact I am always shocked at the amount of gifts we accumulate during the Holidays. To my thoughtful friends and relatives who are so sweet to give my children gifts- I want you to know that we appreciate them. We honestly and truly do! So don’t feel bad when I say this- But what if, instead of giving our kids more stuff, we gave them what they really want? Us! They want our time, our attention, and our love, and it’s easier to give than you may think.
Which brings me to gift #3- Something they will treasure. This can mean so many things! Some years it’s a scrapbook documenting all the great memories we made over the past year. Sometimes it’s a coupon for a special date, where we can enjoy some much needed one-on-one time. Without fail, these are always our children’s favorite gifts. In fact, giving “treasured gifts” has been such a hit we recently carried the tradition over to birthdays as well. For example, my oldest girl is obsessed with princesses, and over the years she has collected more princess memorabilia than we know what to do with. So for her birthday, instead of getting her another toy, we took her to The Princess Festival with her sisters to enjoy an afternoon together as family. She still talks about it being the best birthday she’s ever had!
The reality is, years from now the majority of their toys will either be lost or broken, but the memories we create together will last forever. Our tradition of The Three Gifts of Christmas has blessed our family in many ways! We are more content to spend less. And we are able to fill our lives with relationships and experiences, instead of things. So as the infamous Black Friday approaches and the store ads start popping up in your email and your Facebook feed, luring us in with their steep discounts and “Gotta have it NOW!” philosophies… just turn off the computer and turn on The Grinch, and rejoice in the wise words of Dr. Seuss. After all, there is no way that Christmas could come from a store! Because Christmas, of course, means a whole lot more!