toy catalogs crowd the mailbox. every commercial on tv is for the hottest, latest, must-have toy or gadget. there is a 75 minute wait to see Santa, and kids will wait in line that long just to give him their wishlist. parents desperately want a photo with their child on the big guy's lap, no matter what it takes. crying babies need naps and borderline-tantruming toddlers need lunch BUT WE WAITED ALL DAY TO SEE SANTA. we encourage wishlists and circles in catalogs. we buy our kids the hottest, latest, must-have thing because it's the hottest, latest, must-have thing.
it's a free-for-all. it's a breeding ground for a spirit of greed. comparison.
and then, on Facebook, on Twitter, at bible study, and over coffee we ask our fellow Mom-friends, how do i teach my kids to be thankful? we wonder silently why our kids act like spoiled brats. they just want, want, want. we want our kids to be more like hers, they always seem so content.
there's such contradiction this time of year.
i remember many many years ago my husband and i were getting together with an acquaintance the week after Christmas. we were looking forward to it and catching up, since it had been almost a year since we'd last seen him. after our hellos and how are yous and hugs, the conversation quickly took a turn for the worse. "check out this watch my wife got me for Christmas," he said, flashing his wrist our direction. "it cost $absurd, which is nothing compared to what i got her! what'd you guys get each other?" we were stunned. i think i got my husband a CD that year. and i don't mean a certificate of deposit. that's just how he is, he's always been like that, my husband told me later in defense of this guy. and i imagined him as a young boy the day after Christmas taunting his friends "look what i got! what did Santa bring YOU!?" i didn't even have children at the time but i determined in my heart to raise a child that wouldn't be that kid (or that adult).
when i was in college, i went to the family birthday party of the little girl i was babysitting at the time. she was turning 3. [three-year-olds are fun, am i right?] there was a tower of gifts on the table that stacked almost to the ceiling, all for her, all from her parents. i was so excited for her. when it came time for her to open the presents, my excitement turned to disappointment and sadness. she ripped into the gifts one after the other, not even pausing in between. she didn't mutter a thank you, she barely acknowledged each gift. hot pink wrapping paper was flying across the room. it was like she was tearing through the presents searching for something bigger, better, more. her parents just sat back and half-watched her, half picking up the discarded paper. after the last present was opened, the little girl grabbed a new stuffed animal and ran into the backyard to swing, abandoning all the shiny new playthings. it all happened in a matter of minutes, like a whirlwind. an ungrateful, self-centered, careless whirlwind.
it doesn't have to be like that. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT.
the contradiction is wanting to raise our children to be content and grateful, yet handing them a red Sharpie and the stack of catalogs. and it is rampant in this world. but it doesn't have to be like that. it is a choice, and whoever is running the show in your home has the power to make that choice: go the way of the world, or go against it. comparison is learned. contentment is learned. a Christmas without this contradiction is a Christmas without a hangover, without excess, without inundation, without defeat, without discontent.
listen, we aren't raising our children in a bubble, and we certainly aren't immune to this contradiction. but we are intentionally working to nurture a spirit of contentment in our children, especially this time of year.
we teach our children to always say thank you and always write thank-you notes. always. [side note: thank you isn't a "magic word." it's common good manners.]
we teach our children to graciously, humbly receive gifts, acknowledge them with gratitude, and let that gratitude sink deep into their heart. we teach our children to give. always give. outgrown some clothes and toys? give them away. extra cans in the pantry? give. someone's birthday? give. someone have a baby or is celebrating something? give. think of others first.
when they know what it feels like to put thought into a gift, to go to the effort to give, how good it feels to give, gratitude grows naturally.
a Christmas without contradictions occurs when we live a life without contradictions.
we focus on giving, especially this time of year. we recognize the contradiction and we don't want to be a part of it. we want a Christ-centered Christmas. so instead of giving my kids toystore catalogs, i give them catalogs from Samaritan's Purse and Gospel for Asia so they can choose gifts to give to people who really need. instead of making wishlists, my kids make give lists of gifts ideas for other people [Grandma, cousins, each other.]
my children learn the true meaning of Christmas all year as they learn about Jesus. every Sunday in church, in their devotionals at home, and in our prayer-time, in February, in June, in August, and all the way through December, my kids know Jesus is the reason for the season. not the gifts. not Santa. not the elf on the shelf. not the toys. Christmas is not their birthday. Christmas is not about getting. we let it be known: Christmas is not about them.
in our home, each child gets 4 gifts for Christmas. just four. 1-something they want, 2-something they need, 3-something to wear, and 4-something to read. they get a stocking with candy, small gifts, coupons, stickers, a new toothbrush. they know all the gifts are from Mom and Dad, and that Santa is a fictional character, a guy in a costume, just like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Cinderella. we started this when our kids were 1 and 4, and i wrote about it here. it is probably one of the best things we ever did to intentionally nurture contentment in our children. because all year long we teach Jesus and giving, the attitude of gratitude carries into Christmas, preventing any attitudes of greed or comparison or discontent. our kids are really, really thankful for each of their four gifts.
our Advent Angel is silly and fun like the elf on the shelf, but she helps instill biblical values and morals that we teach year-round. unlike the elf, who is focused on gifts, and naughty or nice behavior, the Advent Angel brings the story of Jesus' birth and teaches that God's love isn't something we can earn with our behavior, but something we get because of Jesus. i shared about Mary, our Advent Angel elf on the shelf alternative here.
living a grateful, content life, and giving and receiving gifts, was already beautifully modeled for us in the bible with Jesus' free gift of salvation and the unmerited grace of God.
for more encouragement for a Christmas without contradictions:
-Prepare for a Christ-centered Christmas
-The Heart of Holiday Traditions
-Advent Angel, our Elf on the Shelf alternative
-Four: Christmas Gifts
-Jesus is the Reason Printable Candy Cane Tags
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.