When our first child was a baby, 25 years ago, I had very specific ideas about Christmas that went along with my ideas about being a perfect mother.
From time to time when I was a child, my mother would suggest we should cut back on Christmas gift giving and concentrate instead on the true meaning of Christmas. At which point we kids would raise a chorus of protests. (Never happened, naturally.)
I thought to conquer materialism on the front end, by buying just a few well-chosen presents. And that first year, it worked. Between us and Santa, baby Emily received about $50 worth of well-chosen gifts. My memories of that Christmas are idyllic: Christmas dishes displayed in the china cabinet, Celtic Christmas music in the background, a baby in red velvet eating apple cinnamon bread, Midnight Mass, a day spent showing off Emily to adoring family members.
Of course it escalated from there. And I didn’t count on extended family who didn’t want to get with the program. Eventually several relatives who wanted the kids to get lots of presents but didn’t know what to buy them started sending me so much money I could hardly figure out how to spend it all, resulting in a veritable mountain of gifts under our tree each year.
That’s not to say that we ever left Christ out of Christmas. Presents were important, no doubt, but I don’t think our kids have ever forgotten the reason for the season.
The way we keep Advent has a lot to do with this, I think. Two weeks before Christmas, the only signs of the season apparent are our Advent wreath and a few other candles here and there. Our preparations build slowly–the other decorations will go up next weekend, probably, and the tree just a few days before Christmas. We hold off on hosting any sort of gatherings until just a few days before Christmas or ideally even afterwards, waiting to start celebrating until the Guest of honor has arrived!
Religious decorations are given pride of place in our home. Yes, we have Santas and trees, but my favorite Santa shows that he knows his proper place in the celebration.
Christmas really begins for us on Christmas Eve, when we attend Mass as a family. Not Midnight Mass, which doesn’t work for us at this point, but an evening Mass which we traditionally follow with a dinner out before coming home to one of my favorite Christmas rituals.
Every Christmas Eve, each child gets one present to open and it is always a Christmas book. So the last thing the kids do before going to bed to talk and dream of Santa and presents is listen to me reading them Christmas stories, both the new ones and old favorites, most of which relate to the true meaning of Christmas.
Christmas Day is all presents and dinner and family and more presents, but one way we avoid having it turn into a materialistic free-for-all is that in our family presents are opened one at a time, youngest to oldest, until everyone finishes. The kids are excited to see the happiness of the other members of the family upon opening gifts. We do this in the morning and then we do it all again after dinner with the extended family–almost twenty people taking turns. It takes HOURS. It teaches patience. And in the exchange of gifts and the love they represent we commemorate God’s gift of Christ to us, always recalling that God Himself is Love.
This post is part of the Siena Sisters’ CWBN Blog Hop. You can read other posts by clicking here.