I grew up celebrating Christmas much the same as everyone else does. Our family had it's little rituals and traditions just like everyone else does that were unique to us; buying a tree, mom sulking around angrily until dad got the lights untangled and put on, baking, homemade decorations, the tree almost falling down year after year, stockings and presents, etc. I can't remember a Christmas after 10 years old that I wasn't disappointed Christmas morning somehow. (Except for the year I got a mountain bike.) I was a little snippy, ungrateful and spoiled brat that I can remember. (I guess kids who grow up without a lot of money can be spoiled too.) Poor my parents putting up with me.
But I loved the part where we all got together with my whole extended family to sing Christmas carols and pig out on dessert. I loved the family dinner at my grandparent's house. I loved the story and the snow and the lights reflected off of the snow. I liked concerts and pageants, I like hot chocolate and skating parties, sitting in the firelight with the lights out looking at the tree.
Something was often missing on Christmas morning. I knew because I was often forlorn. (Though it could have just been too much sugar.) But then, huge chunks of happiness were missing from my childhood, thanks to the mess that my parent's marriage became, so how could I tell what was due to what?
Then I met the Genius Husband. His family didn't celebrate Christmas, or rather, they did it completely different from any one I had ever met. There was no tree, no gifts piled high, no stockings. They didn't run around like mad the weeks before Christmas trying to figure out how to buy every one presents with the little bit of money they had on hand.
Every year what they did was a little different, but it all had one theme. Christmas isn't about us, it's about Jesus, God made flesh, God so loved the world.
And so they threw a birthday party. Some years they would even cover the house with balloons and streamers. The most important part of their celebration was the decision of what gift to give to Jesus on His birthday. And yes, it was phrased that simplistically, so even the littlest kids would understand. [The grownups may have thought of it in theological terms like incarnation, and that it's the task of those who believe to continue to be the presence of God in the world as Christ was, but it's all the same thing.]
What would make Jesus happy? How do we show our love for Him? Well, Jesus loves the world, loves every person in it. Would it make Him happy when we love and take care of the world and the people He loves, especially when we notice and see the people that no one else notices and loves? How can we do that this year?
Some years it means going downtown Christmas morning and feeding dinner to a bunch of low income or homeless people, giving them sleeping bags and back packs. Sitting and talking with them and helping them to feel human and cared about just with the gift of time and attention on one of the loneliest days of the year for them. One year my friend, a hair stylist, gave free haircuts at the same time.
One year it meant helping a couple who were living in their car with a baby due any day to get enough money to stay in a motel for a few months after the baby was born, and the gift of diapers and clothes and other items they needed. My MIL went into the hospital with them when the mother was in labor and stayed with them and made sure they got the care they needed.
On years when we lived far away my MIL would send each of my kids a little bit of money, $10 or so, and tell them that it was their job to decide what to do with it to give Jesus a present and then write to her and tell her what they chose. She is keeping the letters for them to read when they are older, a history of giving.
This year, we are all going to an orphanage in Mexico for a few days, (if the Boy and Girl get their passports back in time) and we will wrap hundreds of presents and throw a big party with decorations and food etc. for all of those kids who have nothing and no one but the people who run the orphanage. We'll be there three days.
We still get all the great parts about Christmas. We get food, time together, fun, music, laughter, and joy.
Best of all is what we don't get. We don't start to feel greed or dissatisfaction, things that seem so hard to avoid this time of year. At least, they were for me. Just the act of thinking about what I want, rather than what I have is enough to create dissatisfaction. I can't tell you how obviously manipulative the commercial aspect of the season becomes when you've chosen to opt out of it.
December can be a peaceful month. The first time I didn't do Christmas the way I grew up doing it I remember feeling so relieved, so much peace. And I remember laughing at all of the television commercials portraying all of the stressed out shoppers and expensive solutions and realizing that it was all an artificial construct to make people spend money.
All is really just a preamble to explain why I like this video so much and wanted to share it with you.
I'm probably preaching to the choir here, because I know how generous you guys have shown yourselves to be in the past few months. And some of you have shared some incredibly fun sounding family traditions of giving and togetherness and serving the world around you during this season.
I was thinking it would be fun to share some of those ideas here.
If you have a family tradition of giving that you would like to share please do. I'm excited to hear about them.
Please leave a comment, or email me if it's long, or post about it on your own blog and tell me about it. Once a week until Christmas I'll devote a post to sharing your ideas and traditions here and links so we can all read about what other families are doing to serve their communities and love the world around them. I think we'll all be inspired. If it gets really huge, I'll use Mr. Linky and make it a carnival.
So go, tell me your favorite tradition of giving, and spread the word if you know another blogger that has something to share.
Non Commercial Christmas-A few more thoughts
Ideas for a Non-Commercial Christmas #2-What about the family?
Ideas for a Non Commercial Christmas
Why We Don't Do Conventional Christmas