Friday, December 17, 2010

Traditions that Matter

Wow, there are a lot of really fun traditions you can do at Christmas!  But, wow, they can really take over your life and sometimes the very things that were planned to bring more joy to the season can become joy-suckers. 

I'm grateful to have a pretty good excuse to keep Christmas simple this year.  We just moved in.  We don't know a lot of neighbors and friends here who might hope for or deliver Christmas goodies.  I haven't had time to shop for anything other than shelving and hardware and curtains and now that the kids are out of school, I don't think there will be much shopping going on. 

In general, we're blessed with pretty easy Christmas lists anyway.  Both of our families draw names so Jared and I need to get one present for someone on each side of our families plus our parents - that's always the hardest - and the kids each buy for one cousin plus saving up for dollar-store gifts for each other.  Santa brings one gift plus stocking stuffers.  The kids get a gift from each grandparent plus a cousin.  I used to get them a few gifts each but then they get too much and can't even seem to enjoy that much at once.  So now Jared and I just give them some clothes that they need and they still get 4 toys (one from Santa, 2 from grandparents, 1 from a cousin). 

Most of the people we love won't get presents from us this Chirstmas - or probably any Christmas.  I hope they'll still love us and I hope the heartfelt emails we'll send off will help them know of our love for them plus we'll give gifts and do acts of service for those we love throughout the year - does it really have to be at Christmas?  I have friends who really love doing Christmas gifts for friends at Christmas, who have a real knack for coming up with perfect gifts, who are talented with crafting lovely things, who find joy in preparing and giving wonderful gifts.  But that's not me.  I'm a terrible gift giver.  I analyze and worry nonstop about each gift and all my misery and the time-pressure involved doesn't seem to result in gifts that really matter much to anyone most of the time. 

As I've thought about what to find time for this Christmas and what to set aside, I've realized that there are a lot of Christmas traditions that have snuck in on us over the years that don't really matter and ought to be crossed off my list quite permanently.
  • Taking our kids to Christmas performances (other than the ones their in) is best limited to maybe one really special thing for only the kids who would really enjoy it.  I tried taking the boys to the Nutcracker last year - good experience for them, not one that needs to be repeated anytime soon (they must have whispered to me 20x, "when will this be over?")  Liza and I are going with my parents this year and the boys will be just fine hanging out with Jared.  A ballet every few years should do it for them.  
  • Making a gingerbread house from scratch is a big fat pain (I thought it would be so cool but it actually turned out to be way too much work and a big fight over all the decorative elements).  The kids are way excited to make and decorate their own little houses out of graham crackers this coming week.
  • Taking treats to neighbors sort of happened as a guilt-respose to the treats being delivered to us.  It was fine when we just had a few neighbors we knew but it got out of control over the years.  We love getting treats but we limit our treat-giving quite a bit.  It was refreshing when we started our Children for Children concert tradition and invited all our neighbors and friends to come eat treats at our house and to give a donation to help orphans rather than giving us any treats or gifts.
Children for Children Concert
Speaking of Children for Children, last year was the BEST (read about the prep and causes we supported here and the results here if you want) but I thought that perhaps it might not happen this year.  Even though it's one of our most meaningful Christmas traditions, it's also one of our most complicated and stressful and time-consuming traditions.  But when the kids asked about when we were going to do it and insisted that we do SOMETHING for the orphans this year, I had to agree.  So we're having the 3 families that we've met so far come over tonight to share favorite Christmas treats and watch a video about needy children in Bulgaria (check out the video here if you want - I'm actually in it from when I went to help in the orphanages when I was pregnant with the twins - One Heart Bulgaria was started by my mission companions and donations go directly to really meeting these sweet kids' needs).  All the kids will pitch in whatever money they'd like to donate to help these kids.  And while we won't raise nearly as much money as we have with our big concerts in the past, we'll be caring and sharing and keeping this important part of Christmas alive.

Christmas Stories
Another tradition that we're protecting is reading Christmas stories by the Christmas tree each evening.  And this year, with few parties and committments, we've been able to do it much better than in the past.  There is nothing like cuddling with my sweet children with the Christmas tree lights aglow and reading beautifully written and illustrated books that celebrate both the true meaning of Christmas and the magical fun of Santa.  Each year, I've sought out the best Chrstmas books to add to our collection (and sometimes I've totally scored at after-Christmas 1/2 price sales).  Here are our current favorites (people have asked in the past and I'm finally getting around to this - so this list is my little Christmas gift to you - if you want it!).
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (a short chapter book I LOVE - great for ages 5 and up)
  • Santa Claus by Rod Green (so magical - it shares all Santa's secrets in a beautiful book)
  • A Shepherd's Gift by Mary Calhoun
  • The Christmas Rose by William H. Hooks (this one and the one above are about children who visited the Christ child and they're great for helping kids really get into the story of the first Christmas)
  • The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Julie Lane (a chapter book that shares a beautiful story about how Santa became Santa - not in print anymore but you can find it used)
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (simplified versions for younger kids, great chapter read-aloud for big kids)
  • Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo (one of my very favorites by one of my favorite children's authors - teaches empathy and caring, has really lovely illustrations)
So anyway, to sum up my ramblings, I'm realizing that if the fun and meaningful quotient of a tradition is lower than the stress, guilt and time quotient of a tradition, that tradition needs to be re-examined, pared down and perhaps eliminated.

So there are my thoughts for the day!


brittanimae said...

I LOVE the one present thing. That's sort of what we've done toy-wise, but then I've felt a need to supplement it with a bunch of books and art supplies and games, and I actually hate doing it. This year has been harder because of our move, and I feel like your post gave me permission to simplify. Thank you!!!

Tena said...

Since you don't have so many neighbors to attend your concert this year, maybe you will consider posting a video of the kids' concert. I bet your blog readers would love the chance to send donations.

Patty Ann said...

We started a family gift last year. We bought one gift for the entire family to share. We enjoyed being together the entire Christmas break. I like the idea of only one present. sometimes we can get so overwhelmed with everything that we can't even appreciate what we do have.

wilkinson_fam said...

LOVED reading your thoughts. They were beautiful. Really.

One thing our family has done is that every year, part of our gift to our children is having an evening of Christmas Celebration. Every year we do something different but each year it's fantastic! Sometimes it's going to a play (Annie, A Chritmas Carol), sometimes a performance/concert (Nutcracker, Rockettes) and sometimes it's a fun activity (a carriage ride 'round temple square with a thermos of hot cocoa). And it ALWAYS includes a yummy dinner at a restaurant we've been wanting to try. We have found that spending the entire evening together, taking in the season and all its wonder, makes us focus on what's MOST important . . . the People vs. the Things of Christmas. It's what our children anticipate most. And - in this crazy, materialistic world - I love that.

Eyrealm said...

One book that we've added to our "must read every Christmas list" is "Christmas Day in the Morning" by Pearl Buck. It is wonderful I'll bring it to read on Christmas Eve Eve!

Stephanie said...

I love the First Christmas out-of-print book you can find on Amazon. It's incredibly heartwarming.

Loved your notes on the holidays...I feel the same way, especially this year!



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