Saturday, December 1, 2007

Christmas Presents

Santa's coming! We're all making our lists and checking them twice. Who to give to? What to give? Where to shop? When to make it? How much money???

With fourteen kids (including in-laws) and eighteen grandkids, this Mrs. Claus had to cut out some extraneous chores and costs. The fun, but time-consuming neighbor gifts were getting out of hand. Christmas cards sent to folks from decades ago had grown to a burdensome number. Extended family gift-giving had to give way to the growing immediate family. I decided to make some changes when I saw Scrooge reflected in my mirror.

There's a time and a season for everything, but trying to cram all the traditions of our 38 years into one Christmas season was dimming the spirit for me. My spending limit for each person was getting lower, costs were getting higher, and trying to find a gift that would be individual and appreciated, plus affordable, was becoming impossible. I'm a shopper extraordinaire, but it had all become an overwhelming chore.

Years ago we began selective Christmas planning. The Sunday after Thanksgiving we had a Family Home Evening where we all made suggestions of our favorite traditions. Then we chose the ones we'd incorporate that year, and designated who would be in charge. Sometimes we did a Sub-for-Santa for a family in need, other times we'd do a 12-Days-of-Christmas for elderly neighbors. We always included a service project for someone outside the family, and Secret Santa kindnesses for each other.

If we went Caroling last year, we might make Gingerbread houses this year, and remember the taffy pull next year. We experienced a lot of traditions over time, just not all the same exhausting week. We still plan Christmas the same way, even without kids. If I'm not in a cookie decorating mood, that activity is saved for Valentine's. If trifle sounds tempting for dessert I make it, but maybe not with a full turkey dinner on Christmas Eve. Dee might light candles all over the house every night this year, and another year make a daily simmering pot of mulled cider his Christmas specialty. I try to send birthday cards, or even Thanksgiving cards, to special people I want to keep in touch with from "way back." I often send Christmas cards if I have time and enthusiasm for it. I've eliminated anything motivated by guilt.

We entertain a couple of times, and we go to some parties, but we don't try to attend every holiday event happening all over town. That would be like eating everything on the menu, and I've learned that's not the way to enjoy myself. Relaxing my own expectations has been the biggest challenge.

A letter from Cindi in Seattle asked:

Dear M+M,
What are some Christmas shopping ideas when you have a lot of people to give to and not very much money?

I shot this question over to mwrites for some creative suggestions.

m(arta) writes:
Hmmm...this is a toughie; a question that is most likely on so many minds this season. Here are some ideas:
  1. I think a hand written heartfelt card is always perfect.
  2. Small ornaments attached to a touching Christmas story.
  3. A box of cereal is unique, cheap and fun!
  4. Rolls of Christmas wrap and tags to help them get started.
  5. Pillsbury cinnamon roll dough that comes in the tube.
  6. Anything in the dollar aisle at Target.
  7. A favorite family recipe printed out and framed.
Anything can be a sweet gift, if you put some thought into it. Presentation is always key! Best of luck. Wrap those little trinkets with care and they will be a fine treasure to open!

M(arty) replies:
A small bag of oranges, or a jar of jam can become a traditional gift. My good friend solves the problem in a delicious way. In August, when her peaches are ripe, she spends a whole day making fresh peach and whipped cream desserts. She delivers them all over the neighborhood in disposable aluminum pans, and signs the card "Merry Christmas." Everyone is delighted, and during the crazy Christmas season she is able to relax (from that duty at least,) knowing her friends know of her best wishes already.

Our kids' families each contribute a scrapbook page to the other families, recalling the past year in photos and captions. The original is kept by the creator, and copies are put in protective sleeves and distributed to the rest of us, so we all have yearly up-dates in our own binders. We do this instead of drawing names, or purchasing gifts for each person. We all love sharing the memories, and this year two granddaughters are working together on their family's page. Won't it be fun to have newer generations include their talents?

Because I love to shop for books, I have made a book my traditional gift. I research authors and illustrators, find titles with the kids names by searching on the internet, ask what each person is interested in, and spend hours in a variety of bookstores. I have stickers to put on each book so the recipient will remember who it came from.

I've loved getting acquainted with specific hobbies by looking for a special book. Chase, 8, wants a book about the insides of frogs. I looked at several and found the perfect one! Now I have something new to discuss with him. Lucy wants a book about a girl with curly hair. I got it, too. I hope we send a message: there are books that make reading fun for everyone.

Christmas shopping has become one of the great joys of my season. Each book is personal but everyone still gets the same thing. And we don't get a credit card bill that takes all year to pay off.

I've sometimes wished I could give extravagant gifts like season ski passes, or necessary gifts like new winter coats for everyone. I'll have to leave those for Santa Claus. I've discovered, however, that the elves on my Christmas list recognize the love wrapped up in each package and give all that love right back to us. That meets my present goal for true Christmas giving.


allison said...

you are such an inspiration marty. christmas time should be about joy, not stress. way to encourage new, fun traditions!

gab said...

great post! i have only great memories...

Kenny, Linsey and Caleb said...

This is by far one of the most inspiring, practical, helpful, and lovely blog posts I have ever read.

A couple of years ago my Mom asked us to stop giving her Christmas presents and start doing service for someone else as her gift instead. This request has changed our entire family's outlook on Christmas - making it less commercial and more Christ centered. I suspect many of your traditions and "rejected" traditions have achieved precisely the same result.

kenju said...

What Allison said! I thought we were having a rough time of it with 5 kids (inc. spouses) and 9 grandkids. Our traditions are changing, but I like your idea to select some for each year.