We had the best Christmas ever.
Not a "perfect" Christmas: the kids were sick, the cards are late, the house was a mess, the decorations were minimal...but the best Christmas, because this year as a family, we really changed our focus. Christmas was way more about Jesus than us this year.
We did a couple of things differently. We started a new tradition. A couple of years ago, I heard of a Jesse Tree: an advent activity that uses a different ornament with a corresponding devotion for every day leading up to Christmas. I thought it was a great idea, so last year I found a set of patterns for ornaments and started making them. This year I finished them!
Our Jesse Tree
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, and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Our Jesse Tree devotions were not perfect. Some nights we got home too late. At least one night, we just plain forgot. But we doubled up, got back on track, and Christmas morning put Baby Jesus at the top of our tree. I loved pausing at the end of each day with the kids and remembering what we are really celebrating this time of year.
One other thing that we did differently this Christmas was our gift giving. It was eight years ago that we decided to scale back our kids' Christmas gifts. We were about to have baby #4 (sweet little Eleanor), we were living in a very small house on an even smaller budget and it just seemed like a good time to start reigning in the holiday spending. We went with the "three gifts" idea--Jesus got three gifts, each of our kids got three gifts. That year I was afraid the kids would be disappointed, and that I would be disappointed, too. I love giving presents! But it was really wonderful. Knowing that they would only get three things, the kids were much more thoughtful about what they asked for, and shopping was much less stressful for me. It worked well for us.
This year just felt different, though. I couldn't really put my finger on it, but I am sure it had something to do with this. We just moved into this house three months ago, and already we are filling it to the brim. There is so much of our stuff left in Oakland and Chrisman that I need to sort/toss/donate that it makes my head swim everytime I look at it. My older girls could not give me even one idea of something they would want. Not one. I think the lessons they learned about material possessions in Haiti are still working on them. Elijah's list would be #1 Legos, #2 Legos and #3 Legos, but if you've visited his bedroom, you know that he probably has a sufficient number of plastic blocks already. Even the little girls were short on gift wishes, and they already have more toys than they can keep picked up.
It was weighing on me...this idea that we must bring all this stuff into our home that we don't need and maybe don't even really want just because it's December 25. In addition, although this year we could afford to buy presents more easily than we have been able to in other years, is it the best use of what God has blessed us with? Do we really best honor the gift of Christ by spending a bunch on money on gifts for ourselves?
So Dan and I talked and prayed about it, and came up with what felt like a radical Christmas idea. We would cut what we normally spent by two-thirds, give each kid one gift plus a stocking, and use the rest of what would have been our Christmas budget to bless others. When we presented the idea to the kids, their response was overwhelmingly positive. I have amazing children. Don't ever let me tell you differently.
On Christmas morning, our tree looked like this:
So someone else could have this:
We found a lady through WBGL's Random Acts of Christmas who is raising two grandchildren and two nephews. We had so much fun shopping for them. I don't know her name, and she doesn't know ours. That's okay. It's not about getting credit. It's about God getting the glory, and my prayer is that she knew from our gifts that God sees her and that he loves her.
Best. Christmas. Ever.
I almost didn't write this because I am afraid it will come across wrong. The last thing I want is for anyone to read this and feel like I am showing off or judging how others spend their Christmas. Far from it. I would be dishonest if I didn't admit that as I looked at the little line of presents around the tree, I was a bit let down. Old habits die hard. But there is so much to do during this time of year, and many, many years I have found myself stressed out, strung out and freaking out about things that really don't matter. Doing Christmas differently this year really helped our family keep our focus on Christ. It helped me keep my focus on Christ. If anything about your holiday this year made you uneasy or stressed out, I encourage you to pray that next year, God will lead you to ways that can make Him the center of your family's celebration.