For years, even before we moved to India, I would find myself in the middle of the holiday season surrounded by insanity and feeling like “ something is all wrong here”. If Christmas is all about Jesus then why would I find myself giving in to the pressure and stress of getting the best gifts for people? Why would this attitude and underlying value to be praised or thanked be underneath most of what I spent my time on and thought about? Searching for the perfect gift, fighting for the best price so I didn’t break the bank. Where was Jesus in my thoughts and reflections other than on the actual 25th when we read the Christmas story?
When J and I got married we started doing Advent, something his family did together. Each Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas they lit a new candle that symbolized Jesus, reciting a verse about Jesus being God (John 1:1), Jesus being human (John 1:14), Jesus is King (Matthew 2:2), Jesus is servant (Mark 10:45), and Christmas day the last candle was Jesus is without sin (Luke 1:35).
When we started having kids we saw how overwhelmed with presents they got and this teamed up with all the Santa propaganda they saw around town in America. Billboards, songs, radio, toy ads on TV, Santa movies etc., making all the presents on Christmas day the focus. We started asking family to limit the gifts, we stuck to just one from us. But we still saw a trend growing that the greatest thing to look forward to was after breakfast opening all our gifts. Not Jesus.
Last year as we were back in the US for the Holidays we saw this trend again. Even though we repeated over and over the real meaning of Christmas was Jesus, our values and time and money really reflected another. If we really wanted to succeed in this we might have to make a bigger sacrifice than would be comfortable.
Last year we talked about how in Mexico, where J grew up they celebrate Kings day. People dress up as the 3 kings and give gifts. There are many customs that have been added along the way. But Kings day is on the 12th day of Christmas, January 6. We toyed with idea of separating presents from Christmas. We still liked the idea that just like the Magi we give gifts to people to celebrate the GIFT that God gave us in Jesus.
We came across the Jesse tree last year also and really like the anticipation that is built as you read each story beginning with creation that points to the birth and gift of Jesus.
Isaiah 1:1-2 promises:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
So on the day after Thanksgiving when traditionally we set up our tree and bring out our Christmas decorations, we ate breakfast and talked about the changes that were coming to Christmas this year. We talked about how in America Christmas has become about getting stuff and breeds greed and distraction from what the gift and “magic” of Christmas is really about. We talked about how along with our advent calendar we would read a Jesse tree story and hang an ornament on the tree that symbolizes that story. And we talked about how on Christmas morning we would give them stockings of a few fun little things to open and then the real joy of Christmas we would go out together and give to the community. Because we have this gift God gave us, and we want to share a glimpse of that joy with those that are still in the darkness. We talked about Kings day in January and how on that day we would celebrate Jesus still by giving gifts to eachother, no more than three. And between Josiah and I we would make sure that what we spent on our family did not exceed what we spent on others for our Christmas day service. We feel that what we spend our money on is reflective of our values and our children learn from this even when we don’t say anything.
But what does this mean for Christmas parties and friends that want to give toys and books galore? This is where it might get uncomfortable, cause it impacts more than our family. And as we all know many people have strong sentimental value attached to the giving of “stuff”. But what we have noticed over the years is something more meaningful, giving the gift of time, a special outing together, some intention brought to a “date” or an outing, where you listen and share, laugh and grow together. This is long remembered and cherished above the toy that will be broken or forgotten up in the closet in a few months.
In leu of any gifts people want to give our kids they can give money towards our Christmas day service project. This year we will most likely buy a bunch of blankets and take them to the railroad tracks where all the homeless sleep. Many die in the winter months without adequate warmth. We will be saving up money all month to go purchace as many blankets as we can for Christmas nights handout. Or people can give the gift of time. Take A out on a coffee date and be a good listener, invest in her. Or take M to the park and kick around a football with him. Bake cookies with V, spend some time getting into their world and heart. That would be a gift to remember!
We are really excited about pruning back “X-mas” and bringing back CHRISTmas. We want our kids to know what it is they are really celebrating and be able to explain that to people who don’t know. We want there joy to come from the celebration of the gift Jesus. And we really believe the greatest thing they will get this Christmas is the joy that comes when we serve people, love people. People that desperately need it and that can’t give in return.