Hark, the Shopping Angel Sings?
It’s that time of year again, and if your stores are anything like mine here in Chicagoland, it’s been that time of year for quite a few weeks now. The season of twinkling lights, festive decor, merry spirits, and holiday Muzak, all signaling the whole point of this most wonderful time of the year…shopping, right?
I think it’s highly ironic that the weeks preceding Christmas are the most challenging of all to be a Christian, by which I mean being someone who lives differently from the rest of society, whose values clearly indicate a desire to refrain from the consumerism and materialism being celebrated everywhere we turn. And as a mother in particular, I confess it’s so hard for me to resist the call of the thousands of catalogs and sales flyers that are being stuffed into my mailbox and newspapers, telling me that my boys need this toy or that gadget in order to be perfectly content and if I’m a good parent, I will indulge them.
To combat the increasing feeling that we were getting sucked deeper into Christmas commercialism with each passing year, last year we began to intentionally set a different tone for our gift-giving as a family: fewer gifts; none that required guessing and possibly wasting money needlessly; and setting aside money to give to those who are more needy. In practical terms, my husband and I no longer spend time, energy, and money imagining what the other person might like and buying gifts that, while appreciated, often went unused. Instead, we evaluate together if there are things our family or one of us needs and decide whether this would be the right time to make that purchase.
For our kids, who are 8, 5, and 3, we’ve set the expectation that they will receive three gifts for Christmas: one from each set of grandparents (that my husband and I will help choose so that the grandparents pick something that the kids will actually use and enjoy), and one from us. Instead of trusting that I know what they might like and getting toys or gifts that they don’t ultimately want (this has happened many times before, sadly!), I’ll pick from a list of requests that they make. It’s not as surprising, but we distribute the gifts through an extended scavenger hunt that ends up being great fun for the kids and takes the focus off the gifts themselves. And we’ll pool together money with other relatives for the kids to use to give to others, using a resource such as the World Vision holiday catalog, where as little as $25 can buy a family in a developing nation livestock to help provide both a source of nutrition and income. For our family, these steps help to ensure that Christmas doesn’t turn into a shopping frenzy for anyone in our immediate or extended circle, and hopefully our kids understand that the opportunity to give to those less fortunate is more important than receiving gifts themselves.
What does your family do in order to combat the commercialism of Christmas? How do you find ways to encourage your children to embrace a more simple, less gift-laden holiday that instead seeks to give to others more than to receive? I welcome your comments and ideas!