I love this time of year. I love the wonder of it all, the joy we can find, the traditions that have become a structure upon which our family hangs our memories. I love the pictures, some many years old, that can still just make me smile.
There is so much good to be found here. So much truth and hope. If we can wade through the craziness that Christmas can bring, we can find ourselves sitting in the midst of such good. Though sometimes, this is not where we land.
Every year around November, my speaking calendar fills up. I have a Christmas talk that I love to give and so this busyness always makes me smile. The talk offers practical tips to help us connect to the true meaning of Christmas and to minimize the commercialism that annually runs rampant through the holiday season.
Toward the end of the talk, I address THE LIST.
You know the one. The wish list that our children want to create that holds not only the things they want but also every single thing they have ever heard of. The list that is handed to you, perhaps to mail to Santa, that will leave you feeling overwhelmed, underpaid, and down-right depressed. There is a sense of deep accomplishment that flows over children who have created an especially L O N G L I S T and a feeling of anticipation that comes with believing that magically all these gifts will appear beneath their Christmas tree. Often, The List holds items you have previously denied your children, items that go against your family’s belief systems, and items that far exceed realistic budget constraints.
And yet we allow (and even encourage) them to write The List.
I have spent a bit of time in local stores over the past several weeks and often find myself surrounded by parents pushing shopping carts through toy aisles, filling them with a wide selection of random toys. I recently overheard parents asking one another how they will pay for all these toys, whether any of it is needed and why this item or that item even made The List.
And yet, the items are added to the cart.
And I am left wrestling with these questions:
1. Why do we do this crazy thing? Would we ever, at any other time of year, hand our children a piece of paper and offer them the opportunity to request all the things they have ever heard of? Maybe this all sounds Scrooge-y to you. And that’s okay. But please know that I adore the holiday season and work hard at making it meaningful for my family. My children DO request and receive gifts. But we do not do The List. We do not do it because it feels offensive to me. It seems to me that something about this practice could foster a deep sense of entitlement and commercialism that do not belong at Christmas. If we think about the meaning behind all these decorations and celebrations, the practice of creating The List does not belong. Which leads me to my next question…
2. What are we teaching our kids? It seems I keep asking this question of myself… but it feels important and I want to think it through. I just cannot look past the fact that this season offers us a time to really help our children understand what it means to be loved. This season can help them (and us) come to a deeper understanding of what true sacrifice looks like. This season can help us all to look outside ourselves and see the world the way God sees it… beautiful, broken, in need. As we enter the holiday season, I do not want to be distracted by what current culture tells me is important about Christmas. Yes, I want to have fun and find myself lost with my children in the wonder of it all. But, I also want to SEE. I want to see how deeply God loved and loves me. And you. And our kids and the whole of His creation. I want to reconnect to the miracle that happened which eventually allowed us to draw closer to God in brand new ways. In this season, when the gritty truth of the Nativity offers us an invitation to glimpse true love, I want to daily draw near and take in the scene. I want to take the hands of my babies and pull them near so they can see, as well. This picture sits at the center of everything we hold dear. The birth of Christ child was more than the delivery of God unto this earth. It was and is the delivery of Hope. And I need that hope. Don’t you?
As we come into this holiday season, we have the opportunity to be mindful of the lessons we are offering our families. Those lessons will be found in the words we speak, those carefully chosen and those mistakenly set free. Those lessons will be found in what we choose to do and what we set aside. Those lessons will be found in the practice of giving, receiving, requesting. This season has everything to do with each of these. However, creating a traditional Christmas list may muddy the waters of understanding leaving us unable to comprehend what any of that means.
This season has nothing to do with rampant requests and uncontrolled commercialism. It has nothing to do with The List. This is a season of anticipation and hope. Reveling in the fun and frivolity that surrounds us can certainly add to the wonder of the days ahead. But let’s not lose our way. Again and again, day after day, take the hands of the little ones near you and help them to see the truth, the hope, the love that sits at the center of the holiday season.
Christmas began with a single meaningful gift that literally changed the history of the world. Celebrating this miracle with a flood of meaningless presents can cheapen the truth of this season. But if we seek to continually draw close to the manger, to see what was given to us, and to include an exchange of meaningful gifts as an extension of our understanding of the gift that we were given, we are using even the presents beneath our tree to teach our children something about the wonder of unexpected (and fully undeserved) blessings.
Unwrapping gifts that matter to your family is a fun and exciting part of Christmas. Rampant consumerism is not. This year, let’s ditch the list, give thoughtfully, and revel in the wonder, peace, and grace that sit at the center of Christmas.