Christmas will be different at our house this year.
We have tiptoed around it in years past. We have discussed the virtues of doing it differently. We have come right to the brink of change, then always retreated to the familiarity of tradition.
This year, the financial crunch has forced us to re-think our priorities.
In years past, my (George) family Christmas has involved wonderful family time, music, spiritual programs and discussions, and food. And also presents - lots of them. Each adult draws two names of other adults, and everyone buys for the seven children. The result is an enormous stack of gifts, usually too large to fit under the Christmas tree. All this, at a time when multiple holiday responsibilities have pushed us past our budgets and frankly, none of us have a lot of money to spare.
Admittedly, it's fun to open gifts. Especially for the kids. But as I look at their rooms and toy-boxes, already jammed full of stuff, I wonder, do they really need anything else?
Last weekend when my family got together for the triathlon, we talked about Christmas. And, as often happens when my family is together, we started to throw around some strange ideas. Maybe, we reasoned, this Christmas could focus on something other than buying more stuff.
By the end of the weekend, we had decided to go for it. The rule about presents, we decided, was that they had to be either second-hand, made, or non-material, such as a certificate for a particular act of service from the giver. At any rate, they could NOT cost much money.
Since then, my mind has exploded with other new ideas to make the Christmas weekend meaningful and memorable, without costing much of anything. JD and I will be hosting Christmas at our house this year, so to start out with, we won't have the cost of renting a cabin as we have for the past two years. Here are some other suggestions, some of which - if the rest of the family agrees - I would like to try.
1. Candlelight program. Our big family room has now been re-done with hardwood floors, new walls, windows and paint. We will be moving our piano into this room shortly. It is a big room, the perfect size for a candlelight program - Friday night, as Sabbath is beginning, would be a good time. I would like to have each family bring candles, then place them around the outsides of the room and light them as the program begins. I would place chairs in a big circle around the room, and give people parts to do several months before we get together, so they would be ready. Music would be alternated with readings or testimony. Pretty much everyone in our family is musical and it's always fun to hear them, especially if they've practiced and are prepared. We also would do some hymns or choral music all together, as a group.
2. Christmas Tree Decorating Ceremony for the kids. We could put up a tree with lights but no ornaments. Then, we could set out two big folding tables in the middle of the family room and put all seven kids around the tables, and put craft supplies on the tables. Popcorn strings, pictures painted on old glass ornaments, ornaments made out of favorite small toys, or pinecones and other objects collected outside - this would keep the kids occupied, and make the tree much more interesting - something the kids could be proud of.
3. Christmas 5K or 5-mile run. My brothers, sister-in-law, JD, and I have been training for a trail run and possibly a 10K or half-marathon, and this would be a great time to run all together. We probably won't be able to find any organized races this time of year, but we could map out our own course and run all together one of the mornings that everyone is there.
4. Letters to prisoners and those less fortunate. Our Christmas will be held over New Year's weekend, so by then, we will have already given away gifts to the families we are sponsoring. I was thinking that a great service project over New Year's would be to get together for about an hour, and each of us write some letters or cards to people in our lives who are going through a rough time, incarcerated, missionaries overseas, or anyone just needing special encouragement. A lot of times we concentrate on giving away material things to those less fortunate at Christmas, but we forget that encouragement and messages of support are probably just as helpful and uplifting, and usually don't cost us anything.
These are some ideas to get started. So far, I have not discussed any of these plans with JD's family, only with my own, so the above plans may only apply to one of our Christmas celebrations.
However, I am excited about this, can't wait to plan it all out, and am looking forward to this Christmas with my family more than I have any Christmas in a long time. And the great thing is that we won't still be paying it off in February:)
I would welcome any of your own suggestions for ways to make this holiday season meaningful without going broke.