Christmas: Getting Stuff for Someone Else’s Birthday

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?

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4 responses to “Christmas: Getting Stuff for Someone Else’s Birthday

  1. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?”

    I think it’s okay to be parents who give good gifts for good reasons. We’ve been given everything we need and more through the abundant gifts of God in Christ, why not model that? (I’m not advocating for consumerism. Just saying that gift-giving gets a bum deal at Christmas these days!!)

    Check out this: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2011/12/when-christmas-gets-radical-whose-birthday-is-it-really/

  2. The first thing my friend’s kids do on Christmas morning is get up and run to the nativity to see Jesus. They’ve been waiting a month for him to show up in the cradle and then he’s finally there. Then I think they do gifts or something, but I’m not sure.

  3. We like the VeggieTales song that says “I can love because God loved me, I can give because He gave..” We point out that Christmas is about giving, and we give not because it makes us happy, but because God gave to us. It’s not even about telling someone in particular we love them, it’s simply treating others as God would. He gives gifts so why shouldn’t we? This can mean a present, but also our time, food, etc. We gave food to a girl who literally had a small box of food supposed to last for a month, and gave some gas money so they wouldn’t have to worry about her husband not being able to make it into work. With one son and another surprise on the way, we met a real need by giving, and then some. We filled shoeboxes for OCC, and we give to the Salvation Army. We gave a server a really nice tip and gave some $25 gift cards to people in the aisle with diapers. Our kids see this, and we discuss it. Teaching that it’s about giving doesn’t make them not want gifts, but it’s what led our son to spend over an hour trying to find the perfect gift for his sister, and it led her to saying, “Andrew would love Legos. I really need to get him Legos because he would love them.” They know what they want, but they’re still spending time focusing on giving to others with the other in mind. Andrew even mentioned wanting to start a charity to give to those who are in need and tell them God loves them. Pretty proud of my 6 yr old!

  4. Well, I was dubbed with many names because of what I didn’t teach my children or because of certain customs we didn’t participate in. Not any of my children ever sat on Santa’s lap, nor believed this strange man was responsible for leaving them all of these surprises under the Christmas tree, nor did they ever supply me with an expectant list of gifts. I struggled with many of the same issues and I believe it is very important to teach the TRUTH. From just “babes”, they knew the source of these gifts. I would elaborate, though some may think too dramatic, the scenario involving the purchase. Ex. Aunt _____ purchased a gift for you! I know she works very hard and she took her money and bought something just for you. Imagine, she seen this _______ and thought of you. We know she didn’t have to, but she wanted you to have it. How very unselfish she is……..
    It is a matter of teaching them to be generous, to think of others, gratefulness, the excitement and blessing of FAMILY. Involve them in the joy of giving to others. Start your very own family traditions to look forward too. Christmas will be to our children what we as parents teach them it is!

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