A painful irony that my wife and I have become aware of is saying that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus but then making Christmas day all about our kids. This is even more ironic for people who insist on proclaiming that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” but then proceed to celebrate it in the same way as everyone else. Is there any noticeable difference between a Christian Christmas morning and an atheist Christmas morning? If God’s lucky, it includes a little shout out to Him before we fill our hearts with the joy of stuff that we aren’t going to like in 6 months.
So, then, if the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are filled with the same activities as everyone else, like rushing to stores to buy the things my kids think they need and will be disappointed or mad if they don’t get, rushing to the school plays, asking our family what they want us to buy them so they can turn around and buy us something of equivalent value, in what way is Jesus at the center of it all? Why do a growing number of people dread the holiday season? It seems like Christmas is simply becoming another thing that good Christians slap a layer of Jesus-talk on top of so that we can feel like we are being faithful without actually changing the rhythms and priorities of our life.
And what Sarah and I have realized is the worst part: we are teaching our kids to do the same. By saying that Christmas is about Jesus but by acting as though it is about them, we are teaching them that it’s okay to go about life as usual as long as we say that Jesus is at the center of it all. To be a bit overly dramatic, we are showing them that Christianity is about talking about Jesus and not about living out a life of Jesus. And if you only do one – choose the talking.
As far as parenting goes though, we find ourselves in a tough spot. How do we make Christmas meaningful in such a way that our kids won’t resent it when they get older because they aren’t getting all the stuff that their peers are? That is, to be honest, my greatest fear. Any thoughts would be helpful here, but here are a few of ours that we are going to implement in the coming years:
1. Cultivating a family environment of abundance rather than lack: We understand that in our culture getting new stuff makes you feel good about yourself and makes you feel “normal,” especially as a kid. And so we understand that to take that away without replacing it with other things has the potential to lead to resentment. So, we hope to spend our everyday lives throughout the year investing in relationships and people so that we can celebrate those people, conversations, and experiences during the holidays. We want our kids to value all those Christmas parties and dinners for the people who will be there and experiences and memories they create, not for the stuff they get from those people. But we know this is a yearlong, everyday process, not something you can just conjure up once a month without kids feeling cheated.
2. Using birthdays to celebrate them: Now, I know the early church thought celebrating birthdays was pagan and severely un-Christian, but I politely disagree. We want to make birthdays a big deal, showing each member of our family how much they mean to the whole. But even here, we don’t want to celebrate them by buying them a bunch of stuff. We want to create experiences that shape them and their memories, not provide them with stuff that they consume for a few weeks until something better comes along.
But this is a way of life for us. It seems silly to buy into the story that our value comes from what we buy 11 months out of the year and then try and turn that faucet off during the Christmas season. It seems that for us to value Christmas in a way that is more consistent with the Christian story, we have to live different lives from January through November as well.
3. Buying our kids gifts throughout the year: Rather than stock-piling gifts for one day a year, we want to surprise our kids with gifts throughout the year. We hope that it will foster a “give gifts to those you love simply because you love them” rather than “give gifts to people when you are obligated to” mentality.
What are other ways you have found that families can wean themselves off the Christmas kid-centric consumerism in such a way that kids don’t resent it?