I have had mixed emotions about Christmas over the years. For a very long time, it was not my favorite holiday. And that’s because Christmas wasn’t always so magical or jolly. There were many Christmases where I was very disappointed. In fact, a few times I cried alone in my bedroom on Christmas night. Something had stolen my Christmas joy.
Was that something a lack of Christmas traditions?
Our family did not have a lot of traditions, let alone Christmas traditions.
We may or may not get a tree (always a cut Christmas tree one from some lot in town) up in time for Christmas Eve. And my parents would always argue about the size of the tree and whether to get long needles or short.
And we may or may not get out the ceramic (partially broken) nativity set in time for Christmas Eve, and we may or may not talk about the true meaning of Christmas.
We also didn’t go caroling as a family, didn’t always make Christmas cookies, though we did sometimes.
We didn’t drive around and look at Christmas lights like I know many other families did.
We did hang up our hand-knit stockings above the doorway that led to my parent’s bedroom, although a few years they were just laid out on the dining table Christmas morning because my mother didn’t want to hang them up.
The Christmas traditions we had were that on Christmas morning we would rush downstairs and open our stockings, which always had the same traditional stocking stuffers in them – an orange at the bottom of our stockings, a new toothbrush, a bag of peanuts and M&Ms, and maybe some other candies or a card from our Great Aunt or Grandma with a little money in it.
After everyone woke up, we would take turns (at first) opening our gifts.
As the youngest of nine children, we usually picked a name out of a hat at the beginning of December and would have to buy that person a gift, with a price limit of about $20. It guaranteed we would at least one nice “expensive” gift under the tree. Some of us would tack up Christmas Wish Lists onto the bulletin board, hoping that whoever had our name would look it over.
Shopping for others was a great tradition we had, and one of my favorites as it helped me think about what someone else might want.
The best gifts I received were a CD/Tape player from my father. I kept that thing for years and loved it.
The other best gift I got was my mother finally taking me to get my ears pierced when I was 16. I am sure I received some other good gifts as well.
My sister Brittany was always awesome and gave me a gift every single year, even if I wasn’t her assigned family member (she’s pretty thoughtful like that. Really, both of my sisters are).
But, did the lack of awesome family Christmas tradition steal my Christmas spirit? Was it these things that made me a Grinch?
Sure, I wished we did some of the awesome things other families did to get into the Christmas spirit, but it didn’t bother me that much.
So, then was it the gifts you received?
The great thing about our family tradition of gifting someone else in the family a gift, was that it almost assured that the gifts were thoughtful. Someone spent the time shopping just for you. Sure, I didn’t always love the gifts I received, as they may not have been my style, or I could have outgrown dolls by then. But, the gifts were fine. The gifts didn’t steal my Christmas joy.
Then what stole your Christmas joy?
The one thing that stole my Christmas joy was greed, discontentment, envy, jealousy, ingratitude, selfishness – whatever you want to call it – that is what stole my Christmas joy from me almost every year.
Sometimes, even if I wanted a certain gift, I still wanted the version that was just a little better, bigger, a different color, or a different brand. This greed and selfishness was especially apparent within in myself when I would go to my friends’ houses over Christmas break and I would see the countless, seemingly endless amount of new toys, clothes, and items they received.
I was jealous. Bitterly so. And I never thought my friends understood what it was like to only have a few gifts wrapped under the tree for you. To only ever have a few toys.
Plus, in my hometown in Wisconsin, frequently my friends would come to school the day after St. Nick’s Day (you can read more about this holiday here) telling me all about what St. Nick had brought them the night before. I had no idea what they were talking about! Wasn’t St. Nick just another name for Santa Claus? Why was he coming to my friend’s houses early in December, and why didn’t he bring gifts to my home too?
I hated being, what felt like (though I’m sure it’s not true), the only kid who hadn’t received candy or gifts the night before.
Because, here’s the thing: we were fairly poor. Hand-me-downs, handouts, and clearance-only shopping were the norm. And we didn’t’ have grandparents around who doted anything on us, ever, or aunts or uncles or cousins nearby: we were the family that had moved away.
So, you were a worldly child, huh?
Yes. I was.
For years I would make my Christmas wish list super long, full of items I had found and circled in store catalogs and had seen commercials for on TV. I wanted pretty much everything that looked fun! I dreamed big, each and every Christmas. And, each and every Christmas I was usually disappointed because I had these unrealistic expectations.
When I really wanted a Ken doll (because we only had girl Barbie dolls, and I really wanted Barbie to get a boyfriend that was her size, instead of the small G.I. Joes my brothers had) I would just get a box of new Barbie clothes instead (year after year). When I got a new piece of clothing, it was never something I liked.
I had bought into the commercialism that was fed to me on TV. I wanted all the toys my friends had (especially when one had an awesome Pow-Pow Power Wheel Jeep, and didn’t even want to ride it all the time! What was wrong with her?).
Even though I knew my parents couldn’t afford endless amounts of toys, it didn’t stop me from feeling those pains of desire, of envy. Greed had stolen my contentment, because I let it take root in my heart.
It was often hard being poor and not having a lot because we live in a material world (are you singing that Madonna song now?). It’s hard to know that you must be poor because every other house you go to has nicer things, more and bigger TVs, expensive toys, and sometimes even an entire room designated solely as the “toy room” that was overflowing with bins, tubs, and playsets, not to mention backyards teeming with play equipment and ride-ons.
Because here in America there are parents who too frequently over-indulge their children, and spoil them with more toys and clothes than one child could ever need, in part because they feel like they need to make up for not having as much when they were children. They need to prove that they can provide the very best of everything to their children. It’s a bit of this 21st Century Parenting where we compete in child-rearing and possessions and the number of activities they are in.
And with more working moms and divorced parents, many feel the need to overcompensate their children with things, because they aren’t as available to them as they want to be. But, it’s also because parents have bought into the greed, commercialism, selfishness, and entitlement themselves.
When this greed is in your heart, it is hard to look forward to this major gift-giving and gift-receiving holiday with joy. It’s hard to love it, or view it as a magical time of year, when it really just reminds you of everything that you don’t have, won’t have, and may never receive.
While the years of my childhood are behind me, the pain and disappointment are still there if I choose to dwell on them.
It is truly a shame that I let these selfish emotions win out on Christmas day several times, and cried a “woe-is-me” cry alone in my bedroom that night, sad that I still didn’t have what I wanted, or that the gifts weren’t enough, and that I wasn’t like so-and-so who received 20 amazing gifts for Christmas!
My joy was stolen because I let it be stolen.
Do you still feel this way about Christmas?
Since leaving home, I’ve learned to like Christmas more and more each year, especially as I have had my own family, and with a spouse who loves Christmas.
But, the bigger reason is that I have matured and learned to uproot greed, discontentment, commercialism, selfishness, and envy from my heart.
Of course it’s not completely gone, and sometimes the bitter fruits of jealousy and comparison threaten to steal my happiness. And that is when I have to work hard to remember that comparison is the thief of joy, and to praise God for the blessings I have, which are so, so many.
I’ve also learned to embrace frugality, penny-pinching, and minimalism, as key parts of my life. I’ve embraced the mentality that less is more. I learned to love what is mine and be okay with going without.
How are you helping your children not be worldly?
Obviously, I know from personal experience, how easy it is for children to get sucked up into commercialism, into wanting more and more, into greediness and entitlement. I see it in my own children as they open the flyers and start circling things that they want! I see it when we go to stores and they tell me they want this or that because it’s pink, cute, or they just want it.
I see it when they get excited watching an advertisement for a new product, and get a sense of it when we visit a friend’s house that has lots and lots of toys and playthings.
It hurts me to see them doing these things, to see that envy in their eyes and in their hearts, to hear them yearn for things they do not really need. And it hurts me as a parent to deny so many things to them, just as my parents so often did to me.
But, I know the value of doing so. And while we can’t really afford to give them everything they want right now anyway, even when we are making more money (when my husband is finally done earning his degrees), I don’t think we’ll change much in how we gift and buy things for our children.
Because, did you know, having a lot of toys, clothes, and other possessions doesn’t give you a feeling of contentment, of satisfaction, of joy? It’s like in the book Thanksgiving Heart (that I reviewed here), where the author says:
In so many ways my children are being raised similar to how I was, in a “low-income” household, being denied many of the things they want.
They receive only a few, simple gifts themselves, and my husband and I give each other a gift or two. So, when it comes to Christmas time, I don’t want my daughters to stop looking forward to it, or to cry alone in their rooms, because they are disappointed that their greed wasn’t met fully. I know I’m fighting an uphill battle in today’s society and culture to root out entitlement and jealousy from their hearts.
To combat the commercialism that seems to be Christmas, my husband and I are working hard to establish family Christmas traditions that will allow them to associate Christmas with happy memories. We want to make the season jolly, but not because of the number of gifts, or what gifts, they receive.
So we make setting up our tree a family affair. We listen to Christmas music all month-long. We go out to look at Christmas lights. We make paper snowflakes and hang them up. We sing, we serve, we bake, we make good memories.
And, most importantly, we talk about our Savior, Jesus Christ.
We pull out our Fisher-Price Nativity set, and read the Biblical Christmas story on Christmas Eve, and remind our children all month long what Christmas is really all about. We do this because we don’t want them to associate Christmas only with presents from Santa Claus on Christmas morning. Because, Christmas is so much more than a day to receive gifts. It’s a day to be thankful for the ultimate gift.
I want to #ShareTheGift with my kids, with family, with friends. I want Christ to stay in my Christmas. And above everything I want to fight the worldly pressures of entitlement, of greed, of lust, of jealousy, of discontentment. God is the greatest gift. It is Him would should desire above all. I don’t want to raise worldly children, but godly children.
I know it will be a struggle in the coming years as my children continue to grow at breakneck speeds. But, I want gratitude and humility and contentment to be pervasive traits of my children and myself. I want Christmas memories to be jolly for them, not because they received killer gifts each year, but because of the memories we made, the discussions we had, the people we blessed, and the warmth they felt in their hearts.
And I know I can only fully do this if I can help them overcome the greed and selfishness that threatens to steal their joy, by helping them coming unto Jesus Christ, trusting in His love, and changing their hearts through His atonement.
Tell me, did you have jolly Christmas memories, or not so much like me? What do you do in your home to battle the commercialism and greed and focus more on the reason for the season?
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