It is that time of year again. Our thoughts shift ahead to the upcoming holidays. Time with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table and gathered together at Christmas. Lots of food and treats, both family favorites and traditions and new ones to try out this year. For many this becomes one of the busiest times of the year. There are still regular family special days like birthdays and anniversaries. Then there is the work Christmas party, the church play or cantata or maybe even the church Christmas party. There is the light show at the zoo and the neighborhood, that always goes all out with the decorations, that we love to drive through. There’s the shopping, wrapping and hiding of gifts. So many cookies to bake and decorate. There are the decorations that have to go up at home. When does your tree go up? Thanksgiving week? Before? Closer to Christmas Day?
For many this is a very hard time of year. Maybe it is their first holiday season without a loved one. Or maybe they lost a loved one around this time. Many are stressed out feeling overwhelmed by all they are supposed to accomplish with so little time or so little money. Some are still paying off last Christmas and here it is time to start again.
I think it is time for each of us to stop and examine our lives and activities and see what can be let go of, changed or what needs to be kept. I want to say here that we are not saying what we do is “the right way”!! We know that we each have to find what is best for our family. So, please don’t think I am judging you or saying you have to do it like we do.
Many years ago we dropped out of all the gift exchanges around us, even extended family ones. Gifts and gift buying can be a big part of the stress of the season. The time and effort to find something they will like or need, plus all the money that has to be spent to get them. I know people all over the spectrum with gift giving. I know people who don’t do any gifts and all the ones in between. Many times the gifts are also what makes our focus about this season all wrong. Why do children really get excited at Christmas? Do you think it is because we celebrate the birth of Christ? Tell them they aren’t getting any presents because it is not their birthday that is being celebrated and you might find out different. I saw something on the Skit Guys. It was a video about how one of the guys wanted to change the focus of his family during this season. He shares what he did in this video. His idea works for his family. I know a family that the children get some needed items like underwear and socks, and maybe 2 toys or items they want. Then they do a larger family gift like a trip to a local fun place or a day of snow boarding. They have 10 children and this works for them. One family limits their children’s gifts by a dollar amount they will spend on each child. The last I heard it was $100. Some families have no control and it looks like they bought out the department store. We are at a different place than many families, in that we have no children at home and we do not have grandchildren yet. We do either one gift each for our son and his wife, or one big home type item. I also pick them out an ornament each year and they each get a Pez. I always got my son a Pez when he lived at home, so I have continued it with his wife.
We began to look around one year and realize that not only did we not know what to buy for others (family and friends), but that most of them did not NEED anything. I would still like to go one Thanksgiving or one Christmas and serve at a soup kitchen. I would like to buy food for a family that is struggling and do it in the name of someone who does not have a need. I am not sure how that would be taken though. I want people to know that I love them and care about them not because I can buy lots of gifts and stuff, but because they see it in the way I interact with them, or how I help them, or in little unexpected blessings I can give. We live in a society of overindulgence. I want to step out of that part of giving. I don’t want someone giving me something just because they felt they had to. I don’t NEED anything. I am blessed on so many levels. This topic always reminds me of a story I heard a long time ago. A mother and her 6 children went to the mall. While they were there, she bought them each a small vanilla ice cream cone. They were thrilled and it was obvious they were enjoying them. A man came over to the mother and asked her what her secret was. He said his children would not be satisfied with a small vanilla cone anymore. They had to have sundaes or banana splits. I loved her answer. She told him that when her children were not longer happy with a small vanilla ice cream cone, they would get fewer small vanilla ice cream cones. Are we caught on the cycle of doing more and doing bigger?
We have lost the wonderful art of gratitude as a society. There are still some who practice it, but it is becoming more rare. I heard something on the radio about developing gratitude in our children, but it is really good for all of us. Gratitude is a choice. We can complain and whine or we can give thanks. The speaker said that being thankful is a matter of the will, it is a matter of obedience. It is a muscle that needs to be exercised in our hearts.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Here are some ideas on helping cut down on stress, spending and to make it more meaningful. Make your gifts. I started talking earlier this year about doing just that and I fell down on the job. You can check out this post for lots of ideas.
I like to give gifts that people will use and I especially love gifts that are consumable. My Dad and his wife and my in-laws do not need anything. We like to give them food gifts like homemade bread, farm fresh eggs, meat from our freezer, home canned jams and anything else we have. I also make them each a gift that they both LOVE. I make them a calendar that has family pictures on each page. You can use Snapfish or Shutterfly or my favorite is Picaboo. Sometimes each page has one big picture, but more often it is full of family photos from through out the year. I make sure I have at least one of everyone. I get our siblings to send us pictures or I snag them off of Facebook. I also put all the birthdays and anniversaries on it. I know my Mother-in-law keeps them all as a sort of family history. Do you knit or crochet? You can make dishcloths, scarves, hats & mittens. What about coupons? Our Wonderful Neighbors used to give us each a gift of a book of coupons. Each coupon would be for something like garden help, stacking wood, an hour of housecleaning, kisses and hugs from the youngest. Sometimes they bought a gift card for coffee and that was attached to a page. It was very creative and I think those are my favorite gifts I ever got from them. Is there a young mother in your family? Offer to do laundry so many times, or to watch the children so she can grocery shop alone. Stop and think of each person on your list and think what would most help them out or what is most near and dear to them. Start making a list.
Find a way to serve as a family. Pick out a needy family and let the children earn money to buy things for those children and to come up with food items that will help. Serve in a food kitchen as a family. Go visit in the nursing home. Maybe you could take some small treat or homemade item. They are so grateful that you came to visit and even the tiniest gift is so appreciated.
Try setting a limit that is smaller than in the past, on what you will buy your children. Get them involved in ways you can cut back or reach out to others. They need to be part of the process.
What do you do to overcome the stress and the over indulgence in this season? Please share it in the comments below so we can all glean from each other. Like I said in the post about the Amish, bloggers love comments. It lets us know that we are reaching people and we want to learn from you as well.