Merry Christmas! We are visiting my family in snowy Canada, although it is not as snowy or as cold as I expected. Considering that we dragged an extra suitcase here to accommodate snow suits and related paraphernalia, we better get at least one snow storm.
The Christmas season at my parents' house is full of chocolate, gingerbread, and never-ending desserts. Long nights invite pajama days and blankets by the fire. It's Christmas movies, puzzles, and walks in the darkness gazing at lights. It's at least one person becoming ill, children complaining they are cold, and me booting them out the door anyway. Builds character.
Christmas also means gifts, and a lot of them. Being the only grandchildren has it's benefits, after all. December 25th is a veritable paradise for my kids, leading to their logical conclusion that my mom is Santa Claus. Jon's trick of leaving footprints by the fireplace this year may have muddied that impression, though. Her feet are not that big.
Anyway, it's the annual mountain of gifts that has me writing today. I used to worry that all these presents would undermine our parental attempts to communicate why we have Christmas at all. How could my kids possibly understand and appreciate the gift of our Lord while unwrapping the immediate gift of a doll singing “Let it Go” or a Hexbug that makes mommy shudder a little? But I had an epiphany sometime in the last few years: the number and style of gifts is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if the kids get two gifts or twenty, if they cost $1 or $100, they aren't going to remember any of it. And I don't say this as an argument for not having gifts at all, but rather as a statement freeing me from worry. And maybe, perhaps, you too.
This epiphany came as I thought back to my own Christmases past. I don't remember much about what I received. (Although for some reason I kept a meticulous log and/or pictures of the gifts. This was either a lame attempt at journaling or early preparation for Alzheimer's. I was kind of a strange kid.) But what I do remember is the incredible special-ness of the season. I remember each tradition and the care with which we approached the day. It still isn't Christmas if I don't hear my Dad reading from the book of Matthew, or if we don't sing hymns at the Christmas Eve service. I remember the years we awoke at 4 a.m so we could spend the morning with my dad before his 12 hour shift. I remember wearing pajamas and eating chocolates all day. I remember the excitement of being with family, and the leftover turkey sandwiches. Oh, those turkey sandwiches. To this day I exclusively eat leftover turkey sandwiches for at least three days post-Christmas. It's kind of my thing. And I remember my dad thanking our Lord for his grace in providing us with this opportunity to care for each other.
To be fair, one Christmas does stand out for the presents. It was the year my brother received both Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain, and we still talk about it. We don't reminisce about the castles themselves, of course (although they were pretty awesome), but rather about the joy of seeing a little guy shocked out of his mind.
My point is, if you are a parent – as I was - who is worried that too much plastic crap at the holidays will detract from the deeper meaning, please don't. If you are even thinking about these things, chances are you already have many other non-tangibles to offer your children this holidays season. And once you have that, no amount of gifts will detract from what Christmas is, and why it is special. I'll go out on a limb and say that what might negatively influence your kids is any stress and significance that you yourself have placed on those tokens. Kids have a way of sensing what we feel is important. And if we as parents choose to spend our own time looking towards the true light, our kids will find their gaze turned there as well. Just as the Grinch could not steal Christmas, neither can a few extra boxes under the Christmas tree.