When my boys were “littles” it seemed as if no matter what I did, the only thing they could think about around the holidays, were what presents they would receive on Christmas morning. It drove me crazy. I felt like I was raising materialistic greed mongers. (Yes, I am sure this is a bit of an exaggeration but that's the feels I got at the time.) Basically it became my mission to help them truly appreciate all the things that made the Christmas season special. Imagine if Will Ferrell in Elf and Mary Poppins had an illegitimate child with control issues... that was me. (And possibly still.) I created a month-long calendar that started on Dec. 1st and included something we could do each day that would help us celebrate what made Christmas special. An advent of sorts. I wanted to ingrain in them that the holiday was first and foremost about the birth of Christ. But I also wanted to remind them that it was about giving to others, loving your friends, volunteering, being with family, and sacrificing your time. The point was to appreciate EVERYTHING about the season and not just the gifts. And we had so much fun with it. Over the years the calendar transformed and took different shapes. One year it was a canvas banner with tiny pockets that held a note for each day explaining our activity. Another year it was 25 brown paper sacks hung by clothespins in our kitchen that contained activities or clues to the activities. Some things changed as the boys grew older but there were also some must have traditions. We would make gingerbread houses, go see the Nutcracker, make birdseed pinecone feeders for the winter birds, make gift baskets for single moms, etc. Some days we just read a holiday story or made Christmas tree pancakes. My hopes were to always direct them back to the actual reason we were celebrating. But if I can be perfectly honest with y'all it still did not have the desired effect of distracting them from all the present anticipation. Oh, we definitely had fun and grew together as a family, and I have no doubt they knew why we were celebrating, but at the end of the day, what they were getting Christmas morning still seemed a preoccupation. Until one day.... I was on a flight somewhere for work and I read an article in a Family Circle magazine about a mom who decided to only give her kids three gifts for Christmas. Because . . . that was how many Baby Jesus received. She gave them a gold, a frankincense, and a myrrh. The gold gift was something they really wanted. The frankincense was a communal gift; something they shared. And the myrrh gift was something practical that they needed. I immediately decided I was jumping on this train. Since it was already November, I decided we would start the following Christmas so as not to send their little bodies into shock. Later that week, I sat them down and let them know that this would be there last "Big" Christmas. And I explained why. When the middle one chimed in "that's not fair"... I asked him "Should you get more presents on His birthday than HE did"!? That shut his little punkin pie hole. Was my verbiage extreme? Absolutely. Can't help it. It's how i'm wired. Al most twenty years later they are now stronger (jaded) because of my no-nonsense approach. But seriously, that next year I gently reminded them that the upcoming Christmas would look different. They would get three presents and that was all. I guess a year of processing that info. was a good idea because the next holiday season was so crazy different. The Baby Jesus rule was a GAME CHANGER. Game. Changer. The thought that seemed to constantly nag our home about what would be under the tree Christmas morning was gone. If I can be ridiculously overdramatic for a moment, I would say that the dark cloud of toy joy no longer overshadowed our family celebrations... I had plucked Pikachu right out of the manger. And everything was different. They were more involved, they were more engaged, and everything we did had more meaning. Essentially, they were more present. Period. We were learning mindfulness before it was a thing. And even better, the gifts they did receive were a bigger deal to them. Even the one they had to share. Another unexpected bonus, the presents they received from family members seemed to mean more as well. They are all adults now. And they all still only get three gifts. (With the exception of their Santa stockings. Because we are big stocking people. And Santa is real.) But what's more, they are still into our Christmas traditions. And we have a lot of traditions. And I have no doubt that Christmas means so much more because we truly focus on faith, family, and friends. Side note: This may not be for every family. If you want to shower your family with gifts because that's how you show love, than you do you. And that's totally okay. Because Christmas looks different for every family. This is just what worked for us.
Ideas for building a Christmas Calendar.
Activities for littles: *Make reindeer food or snowman soup for friends at school. *Make surprise drop bags by filling simple brown paper sacks that the kids decorated with inexpensive holiday items and dropping them off at random homesof people you do not know. . *Sibling shopping night. I would take the boys somewhere like Target and they would each have to shop for their brothers (with a certain $ amount) and wrap the gifts themselves when we got home.
*Make salt dough or applesauce ornaments. *Make Christmas pancakes.
*Make a paper advent chain.
*Make pinecone bird feeders for the winter birds. (Super easy recipes online.) *String popcorn for their Christmas tree. *Read Christmas stories before bed. *Spend an evening making homemade gifts for our family. *Play Christmas hide and seek with stuffed Santa Bear. *Participate in a local Christmas fun run. *Make cards for the service men and women to drop off at a local agency who puts together baskets. *Organize Christmas activity baskets for single moms and their children. *Read Christmas devotionals. *Crack nuts for Christmas baking. I have boys so this was a fav. They loved hammers and nutcrackers.
*Sign up on a caroling team with a local non-profit.
Family traditions we still can't live without: *We have an elf on the shelf for adults. His name is Pepe. And he's really bad. *Christmas movie marathon. We buy a tin of popcorn (and no one eats the butter flavor) and cokes in the glass bottles, and we pick 3 or 4 Christmas movies and all lay around the living room vegging. * We go to a performance of the nutcracker. *We make gingerbread houses. (When the boys were little, I would confiscate all of their Halloween Candy and save it til Christmas. You can get so creative with all the different candies.) We use graham crackers and hot glue so we can go big. No one eats them anyway. *We go to Christmas at the Mansion at our local museum. *We have a cookie baking day. And I make three grown men wear children’s aprons. Hahaha. *We make hot chocolate and go looking at Christmas lights. *On Christmas eve they get a Christmas Eve survival kits that include, new pajamas, a new cocoa mug, beef jerky, candy bar, and a nutcracker. *Speaking of nut crackers... I make the fellas carry the nutcracker tubs out and line out their nut cracker's on the shelves. We have like 25 years worth. It's nutty. *They have to carry out their Christmas wreath for me to hang. At some point they all got tired of helping to decorate the tree. So I took all of the ornaments they each made and collected over the years and made them all a wreath. I am hoping when they get older they will treasure them.
Big Christmas Hugs