Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Christmas Morning Dilemma: Finding true joy at Christmas

Last night I wrote a different post about this same subject, and then slept on it before hitting publish. Jordan and I discussed. We discovered some things about our children and ourselves and Christmas morning.

When I was a little girl, I remember lying in bed on Christmas Eve unable to sleep, imagining Santa sneaking into my living room and leaving gifts for me. Would I get what I asked for? What surprises would be under the tree? In my stocking? And every Christmas morning I would drag my parents out of bed and run into the living room and I was always amazed at the treasures. I didn't always get what I asked for, but I was never disappointed. Never. I remember telling my mom as an adult how big and impressive Christmas had seemed each year, and she told me they actually didn't spend that much. Most popular Christmas toys only cost $10 or $15 back then. Now, though, toys are much more expensive, and it's the natural, beautiful, durable open-ended ones we want. Those cost even more.

Our three-year-old receives so many "just because" gifts all year round from grandparents and sometimes us that Christmas morning is not as exciting for her. We were disappointed last year when she was underwhelmed with her gifts on Christmas morning. Last night I sat and tried to figure out what we'd have to do to get that wowee, so excited you can't sleep, amazingly magical Christmas morning. Obviously the answer is to spend more and more money to top what Suzi is already accustomed to. We aren't willing or able to do that. It didn't take us long to realize that it would be wrong and probably harmful to do so. When I tried to type one last paragraph onto my post last night explaining why this tradition is important to me, I realized I couldn't justify what we were planning to do. It was very uncomfortable. I couldn't find one good reason for piling up a bunch of gifts in the most tantalizing way possible to impress my children at Christmas!

Not when there are children in this would who would never dream of coveting a frivolous toy for Christmas. Not when there are people without food or even clean drinking water. When I think about it, it's incredibly selfish of me to want some sort of "magical" Christmas even if the gifts are for my children and not me directly.

And it's not just selfish. It won't work, either. You cannot "make" anyone happy, especially not with things. True joy at Christmas is something children must find for themselves. I would even go so far as to say excessive gifts on Christmas morning are detrimental. I think that as gifts become a bigger and bigger part of Christmas, it becomes harder and harder to find true happiness in years when they are not plentiful.

Sometimes, even with loads of presents, I feel disconnected and sad around Christmastime. I asked Jordan if he had ever felt this way. I said, "I've thought I just needed to bake some Christmas cookies, or wrap some presents, or..." And he interjected, "direct a Christmas play?" Ha ha. Yes, Charles Schultz already figured this out. And Dr. Seuss. Loads of people. What can I say? I'm still happy I figured it out at 26 because there seem to be plenty of people who die of old age not truly understanding it. Jordan went on to tell me he feels uncomfortable unwrapping a huge stack of presents, because he doesn't "feel like he really deserves all that." Because, well, there are people who don't have anything. Two or three gifts would be better.

While Jordan and I don't have any desire to overspend our way to giddy children, we still want to do Santa for our kids. This year we are adopting something that's been suggested to me before: a three-gift policy based on the three kings' gifts to the baby Jesus. We are thinking of doing three gifts from Santa--perhaps counting the stocking as one--and then a gift from me and Jordan as well. I think this limit on quantity will encourage a focus on quality and meaning in the gifts that are given. I'm not going to worry about how bountiful the spread of gifts looks. There are only going to be a handful of them. Period. We will wrap them and the girls will open them. Hopefully they will love them. If not, there are more important things to think about on Christmas morning anyway.


Brad said...

Get the movie the Polar Express from NetFlix and have them watch it. It is pretty cool. I got Cortney the reindeer bell as a Christmas decoration. It worked well the first year, but the battery died and even when replaced it still didn't work. It was a great Christmas gift though. I think Suzi and Ivey will like the movie a lot. Also get the other Christmas movies out and make some Cinnamon Wassail and it will feel a lot more like Christmas than you will realize. I also like to string pop corn for the tree. It is great because you end up eating more popcorn than you string. Well those are few suggests. If think of anymore I'll let you know.

Anonymous said...

My daughter wasn't really excited by her first few Christmases, either. Last year, though, she was almost 5, and it was a BIG DEAL. We don't buy a lot of big gifts, but she was amazed and delighted, anyway.

I think that kids have to be a certain age to really 'get' the wonder of Christmas. Before then, they don't understand enough to anticipate it, or see the magic of the story. That's been my experience, anyway. And when I think back on the magical Christmases of my own childhood, I was like 6, not 3.

What I'm saying is that Suzi's underwhelm may have just been because she was too young. Not because she is actually coveting gifts in particular.

Megan said...

Sweet, sweet mama. I love reading your blog because I hear your thoughts more than when we just hang out. I totally agree.

We just got our Heifer International gift catalog and I am thinking about letting Aiden pick animals out to give in honor of our family. Then I saw on the news all the people in Haiti dying because they don't have clean water to drink. It's hard to decide (putting Christmas aside), when we have so little to work with, how our money will make the biggest impact.

Theresa said...

What a great idea! I'm going to send this to Katy and Jesse, too.

Anonymous said...

World vision has a larger catalog and "gifts" that stay in the US. you can get teh catalog at their web site.