Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Advent is upon us. It seemed to sneak up on me this year. Since Christmas falls on a Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent was as far from Christmas as it can be. The time of preparation lasts longer than usual this year. And that can only be a good thing!  

I’ve been searching for ideas on keeping our Christmas Season simple and meaningful. It’s something we work on (and struggle with) every December. We want to make Christmas in our house focus on what it’s really about. I’ll steal a quote from Advent Conspiracy. “It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus.” Remembering His birth, life, and sacrifice is the purpose of our celebration. We want to spend less, give more, worship Him and of course, savor the moments with our loved ones.

There are a few ways we’ve tried to do this. Todd and I both have large families and a lot of nieces and nephews. Obviously, we buy them gifts. We “draw names” with my adult siblings so we each have a gift to open and we buy something small for Todd’s siblings. This all adds up, but we try to make it count by spending less on some of the gifts for adults and including with it a gift from the Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catalogue. This is a donation to the organization for something specific that gift recipient may find meaningful. A few years ago, a friend of mine shared some of the ways they try to give less-expensive, yet meaningful gifts. One example was giving her niece a weekend visit to their home, including a trip to the zoo (as members, they were allowed to bring guests). I think this is a great idea. Unfortunately, my nieces and nephews (aside from the local ones who come over all the time) are all so far away we’d have to fly them here, which would cost more than the gifts we buy them. So, that may not work for us, but perhaps I can come up with more creative gifts in the future. (I'm taking suggestions.)

We also have just a few choice gifts for each person under the tree on Christmas morning. I recently started following Live Renewed and read the recommendation to give three gifts representing the gifts of the magi. Gold is something the recipient really wants. Frankincense is something to encourage spiritual growth. Myrrh represents something for the body. I’m using that idea this year, but as Todd and I discussed this, we really don’t give our kids an enormous number of gifts on Christmas morning. Keeping it to three will be easy for us, but I like the three gifts of the magi idea because it connects it to the true meaning of Christmas in a more tangible way. Rather than giving our kids too many gifts on Christmas moring, we struggle more with trying to shelter them from the consumerism in our culture--especially when they go from one relative to the next collecting gifts, sometimes for several days at Christmastime! That’s where the Shoebox packing helps direct our attention to others, at least for Camilla. Don’t worry, I’m not a total Scrooge! I realize that a huge part of the wonder of Christmas for children lies in the gifts. I don’t preach at Camilla whenever she says she wants something or wonders what she’s getting for Christmas! I enjoy choosing things I know the kids will be excited to receive. We just try to bring it all back to Jesus as the reason we're celebrating.
The most important way we do that at Christmastime is through the Advent Wreath. Growing up, my family of origin always had an Advent Wreath and it’s my favorite Christmas tradition. I felt like our own family needed a bit of a revival in this area, so I found a new devotional this year. It’s a bit more liturgical than the one we’ve used in the past and I’m really enjoying it so far. We’ve added music at the beginning of our time of focus because I find it’s a good way to bring us together and the kids love it. Who am I kidding? Christmas music (Christian and secular) has to be my other favorite Christmas tradition.

So it’s a slow process. I’m not sure how successfully we combat the Holiday craziness, but we try. This is one of those areas I think will look different for each household, but I’m always open to ideas that I can incorporate into our celebration to make it meaningful without adding stress. After all, in addition to Christmas shopping this week, I am still potty training!

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