Friday, December 17, 2010

Three Gifts

I think it's probably clear from my last post that my family is Christian.  To be more specific, we are United Methodists and tend to be more progressive in our beliefs.  I say this not as a persuasive  argument but more of a disclaimer regarding my beliefs about the Christmas holiday.

Before I had children, Christmas was a great, self-indulgent holiday.  I really didn't see it that way at the time, but indeed, that's what I practiced.  I did the things that made me feel good--Christmas activities and festivities that made me happy.  Every once in awhile I'd throw something in for the poor and the needy, but that was because it made ME feel good.  It wasn't until I received my own Christmas baby that I began to understand Christmas in an entirely new way.

She arrived on Christmas Eve.  A tousled mess, she had been awarded to us by the court two months prior but had been living with a relative until we had enough space to provide her with a good home.  I remember looking at her sleeping face that first Christmas and being overwhelmed with love and good fortune.  This little child was ours to care for and to raise, at least for now.  Then the fear struck.  This little child was ours to care for and to raise, at least for now.

Perhaps because of our children's precarious situation, they have always been treated to a ridiculous overabundance of Christmas gifts by relatives.  Our children truly want for nothing during the holidays.  There has always been an element of this that has bothered me, but I was unsure of what to do about it.  I wanted my children to feel loved and to have the connections between their biological family.  I understood the need relatives felt to shower them with gifts.  But as a parent, there were many times that I felt like shouting, "Please!  Put an end to this madness!"

As I've grown as a mother, and become more aware of my own values of faith, I have often been reminded of the gifts for the Christ child.  Three rich gifts from the Wise Men--gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Three gifts that represented all the child was and would be.  But what of the gifts of others?  The worship, the song, the glory?  The blessedness of His birth? And as I watched my children rip open papers and discard gifts nearly as quickly, I realized we have lost our purpose here.

I can't regulate the gifts that are given by others, nor do I feel that is my role, other than to exercise reasonable safety and developmental limits.  But I certainly can regulate the gifts from myself and my husband.  And after watching my preschoolers inundated with hundreds of dollars of stuff, I realized that the most valuable things they could receive from me would never come in a box.

And thus I hit upon our trifecta. My children needed the following three things from me every Christmas:  they needed my time; they needed my spiritual guiadance, and they needed a tangible gift that represented the spirit of the season.  Thus my guide to gift giving each season was born.

Gift number one involves time together.  This is both during the season and ongoing throughout the year.  We do things as simple as watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas" to going to see Christmas Lights.  This year, due in part to a fantastic pay-as-you-go plan, my kids will be receiving season passes to a local theme park.  More family time for us and as they grow older, that's incredibly valuable to me.  But there have been plenty of years that our family time has consisted of lying in the grass watching the stars, driving down to the lake to see the sunset, or taking the dog for a walk.

Gift number two:  spiritual guidance.  Why do we celebrate Christmas?  What was the purpose of Jesus? Why do we believe in God?  The questions have gotten harder as the children have gotten older, and have recently included giving one child the freedom to declare himself atheist (even though he goes to church).  But more than just spiritual guidance, this gift includes day to day discussions in morality and ethics and the challenges of life.  Christmas offers a wonderful time to talk about Christ's entering the world as a person, but it also offers the opportunity to talk about how Christmas spirit can last the whole year round.

And finally, gift number three:  materialistic presents.  Yes, we give gifts.  Our budget, like many, is tight this year.  But we will choose one reasonably priced gift for each child as well as some smaller priced items.  We will share lists with grandparents and loved ones, and our children will have more than they need.  And they will be thrilled on Christmas day.

One of the things I learned a few years ago, using this approach, was that my children were very satisfied with fewer gifts, knowing that they were going to be spending more "fun time" with the adults in their lives.  I came to understand that if I was attuned to what was important to them, then fewer gifts were quite often more than enough.

Christmas is an opportunity to remind us of our love and gratitude, and to share those qualities with the people in our lives.  It's also an opportunity to teach our children that love and gratitude and the spirit of giving can last throughout the year.

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