Monday, December 14, 2009

The Real Meaning of Christmas

Christmas. A holiday of cheer, joy, and laughter. A holiday tuned in to giving. A holiday with unique songs.

A holiday I struggle with.

Why the struggle? I find this holiday to be void of real giving. A holiday focused on greediness.

I came from meager circumstances. Many kids and just enough money described my family. I am sure my parents spent the same amount of money at Christmas time as a small family might, however more kids means less presents.

I dreaded and loved Christmas. I had my list of things I wanted and was excited to see if my wishes were granted. Many times I did not get everything. I was disappointed. Frustrated.

Feelings of jealousy and envy invaded the holiday cheer. If my siblings received more presents, I was sad. I cried. My day was ruined. Going back to school was worse. The inevitable conversations of "what did you get?" increased my sadness.

These selfish feelings disturbed me. As I got older, I began to distrust everything Christmas. I began to avoid the "holiday cheer." I felt like a Scrooge, not because my miserly habits, but because I detested the holiday. I would gladly have given all my money to my family. Given all the greatest gifts to my younger siblings to help them avoid disappointment.

To be clear, I have happy memories growing up. I did not feel the lack of money except for on Christmas.

My dear Mr. B has similar recollections. In his words, he felt the greatest despair at Christmastime. My parents in no way encouraged this thinking.

I do not want this to happen to my children. I don't want them to equate Christmas with presents. I don't want selfishness to pervade their happy thoughts. I want Christmas to truly be a season of giving. Money is and will be tight in our family for many years to come (hello medical school!).

Mr. B and I have wondered about what to do with this holiday. Do we give presents? Do we avoid Christmas trees? Do we make it into a family trip?

Readers, I have a quandary that maybe you could provide insight into. The above questions are starters. These questions also leave me puzzled. How can I make Christmas into a season of giving? How can I avoid the selfishness in my own children that invaded my mind? What is the real meaning of Christmas to you, and how do you incorporate it into your own celebrations?


  1. I think your kids are small enough that they don't need a whole *lot* to make Christmas special. A couple of small gifts, lots of songs, a special story on Christmas Eve. Those are things that will endure.

    My kids are older (16, almost 8 and 4) and this year we are cutting WAY back. On December 1, each of us got to name an activity (inexpensive) that they wanted to do as a family during the month of December. Stepson picked a massive snowball fight. 8 year old picked going to see the new 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' when it came out (shoot me NOW). 4 year old picked painting ornaments at the pottery place get the idea.

    We're trying to focus on just being together. I'm anxious to hear what you guys decide to do.

  2. You know I struggle with this same challenge. I love Kitch's suggestions about picking a family activity and agree that you, like I, probably still have at least one more year to figure this out before the kids start to form permanent memories.

    I just read a great post at Life in Pencil that helped me further along in answering some of these questions. You should check it out:

  3. I wish I had good answers, but I don't.
    I share your concerns, and feel that at this time of year I am vigilant against something that I can't quite name - consumerism, materialism, some threat of being absorbed into the Wrong Stuff. I want so desperately for Christmas to be NOT about things. I have asked grandparents to select one gift per child, and we tend to do the same - so there are not tons of gifts under the tree. We try to talk about all the other reasons that this is a special time of year, too.
    It's hard, though. I am glad to know I'm not the only one struggling about this.

  4. I know I'm Jewish :) but I'm going to weigh in here. If I was Christian, I would do the same thing with Christmas that I do with Hanukkah, I'd remind my kids that all the glorious lights, all the foolishness, all the excess, is actually to celebrate your savior's birth. That sometimes people go overboard, but if they go overboard it's understandable because of the miraculous event that occurred for your religion. And then I'd tell them that you want to be sure and remember the miracle and not let it get overwhelmed, to remember that all those decorations are actually about something and that's what you want to talk about. To me, that's how you transmit faith. I've done the same thing with Judaism (okay, it's a little different) but I have to say my kids have a great deal of faith just like mine.

  5. This time of year is so tricky. But truth is, I think all of us - whether our Christmas experiences were joyous or upsetting - should set new standards for our own kids. It's up to us, right? This thought is at once very liberating and very daunting.

  6. When the children get older, try volunteering to ring a bell at a store. Or adopt a family when you can.

    Now, it is hard as the children do not yet understand.

  7. I've been thinking about this as well. My kids are older, and we've had blended holidays always. What I wrote earlier today - and I hadn't thought about it in a long time - had to do with something we did with my boys when they were young. 4, 5, 6 - in that range. Yours are much too young. Mine were probably too young then.

    We've have dwindling everything for years now, when it comes to space, stuff, opportunities, security. But my kids are old enough to get that. And the really important stuff, well - I was able to manage to give them that, or did my best to try. They know that, too.

    They expect little to nothing "tangible" this year. That will be the case. But we've moved beyond tangibles, except for those that remain around learning, being, and opportunities.

    Everything is broken or breaking in my little house. There's no way to fix any of it. These are things that we depend on. Some are absolute necessities, others - not really. Like the dishwasher. Still, these are all higher priority than a video game or even a book. But higher priority still - my younger son needs to visit colleges sometime in the next 5 or 6 months. That means flights, car rentals, hotels or bed & breakfasts. A much higher priority than more "stuff."

    And beyond that - the three of us together. My older son will come home from his first semester of college in a week, and I'll have to hide how deeply I've missed him these past four months. And I welcome the couple of weeks of chaos, round-the-clock teens sleeping all over the place, endless amounts of coca cola and chocolate chip cookies - and laughter - that will fill the house again.

    Nothing sweeter. Except perhaps one last thing, while my younger son still lives here. To do what we did more than 10 years ago. We still have "stuff" long outgrown and in good shape. There are many people - children - who could benefit. It's about giving, not getting. Giving what's needed. A toy to a kid who never gets one. The aroma of fresh greens and the sparkle of candles or lights because in festivity we all feel our spirits lifted.

    In giving, we fill the well. Maybe it's about giving the right stuff, in different ways.

  8. I grew up in a poor family but I don't remember my holidays being anything but magical. I don't remember how much I got or feeling the dread of not getting what everyone else did. I wonder if it was because of the strong traditions throughout the month that made it never seem about the greed or if it was my mother's obvious love of the day that infused it with magic for all of her children? I'm not sure. But I have always loved Christmas, expensive gifts included or not.


Comments are disabled.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.