Joy in the Gimme Gimme Christmas Season


Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column is about finding joy in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season.

The Celebration. The Awe. The Music, the Joy, the Reverence. Even the Silence.

These are all words we’re supposed to associate with Christmas. But I find that too often Christmas becomes a contest: who can get the best gifts, bake the best cookies, and get it all done the fastest.

For some people that excitement is motivating. You can pick these people out if you’re driving around town at night (they’re the ones who have Santa on the roof). They don’t have that panicked look on their faces because they finished their Christmas shopping in August.

The rest of us, though, find Christmas exhausting because we’re already busy and Christmas then gets “tacked on”. It’s a whole new list of things we must get done while there are still lunches to be packed and laundry to be folded and homework to check. How do we find the time?

I tend to fall into this latter category, though most people in my extended family fall into the former. My mother buys gifts so early and then hides them away that her only stress at Christmas is remembering where she hid them. So here’s lonely little me, not very organized but still intent on finding joy. How does one accomplish this in the midst of the bustle?

I can list a myriad of ways to get more organized, but let’s face it: I don’t even follow my own advice, so why should I burden you with it? I’m not sure organization is the root of the problem anyway; if we weren’t organized, but we were excited, the busy-ness wouldn’t bother us so much.

The problem, then, is not so much a time crunch as it is an expectations gap. We want Christmas to be something that too often it isn’t. Instead of being a time of family fun it’s become a huge “gimme gimme” day. And when people—and especially children—get greedy, Christmas can feel somewhat empty, and certainly not worth the pain we experience opening our credit card bills.

This entitlement feeling is natural, though, if most of our Christmas traditions revolve around gifts. The best antidote, then, is to inject other traditions that become as regular as waking up at dawn to check what’s under the tree.

So invite someone who’s alone at Christmas to join your table. Do a ton of baking and drop off Christmas squares anonymously to people on your street or at your workplace. Attend a Christmas Eve church service. Fill up a Christmas basket for a needy family. Spend Boxing Day poring over the gift catalogues from World Vision, where you can buy a goat for a family overseas, or Three Little Pigs, or soccer jerseys, and donate some of your Christmas money. We also spend Boxing Day playing board games as a family, which is always a memory I cherish.

Or perhaps change the very nature of the Christmas presents themselves. About five years ago our family started The Three Gifts of Christmas, where everybody gets three gifts, and nothing else. We call it the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh tradition. The Gold gift is something they want; the Frankincense gift is something they need; and the Myrrh gift is something that nourishes the soul. Maybe the Myrrh gift could be a journal, or a book, or some music. It could be a family game you all play together to nurture relationships. It could even be $50 towards anything they want to give from the World Vision catalogue.

My 3 Gifts of Christmas

If Christmas has become too “gimme”, and you want some of that reverence back, then add a bit more “giving” and “family” to the season now. It doesn’t have to be all about the presents. And when it’s about far more, perhaps those bah humbugs all of us occasionally experience will go flying back up that chimney!

Need to get some good ideas for a “myrrh” gift–A Christmas gift to nurture their soul? I’ve got a whole bunch, divided up by age and gender, here.

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  1. Tacked on.
    I don’t live life on a schedule (hate appointments, detest “have to” events), so I think “tacked on” describes my Christmas preparation … or maybe “jammed in” fits best?
    We discovered that eliminating or backing off on a tradition or two helps a lot. Our extended family has stopped gift-giving among the adults (none of whom need anything) and have focused on outreach, instead. We buy for our parents, who ask that we do for others in their name. Easy and effective. Hello, World Vision?
    I made it a mission to offer a “Merry Christmas” to every store clerk assisting me this year. It has changed my focus immensely. Two words. Who’d have thought? It replaces “thank you,” and gets the message out there. No extra work, just a shift. Yea!
    Baking cookies has to happen at our house, as our biggest and messiest tradition, and we manage to give them away to neighbors, the mailman and various charities to share the sugar and, we hope, brighten someone’s Season. An encouraging note attached goes a long way.
    I know I still tack it on or jam it in, but I don’t find it exhausting anymore. This year, I have actually finished shopping and have only a bit of baking to complete.
    Oh. And I have a preteen and a fourteen.
    Christmas prep seems easier, most days.
    Amy recently posted…Ten Ways to Love: Speak without AccusingMy Profile

  2. Have you heard of Advent Conspiracy? A few years back, my church was one of three that helped create this to “take back Christmas” It has really helped our family to stop and remember that the commercialism of Christmas is NOT what Christmas is about. The tenets of AC is Worship fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love all… but I really like your 3 gift idea and may add that to our tradition as well.

    • I loved that! Yes, I have seen Advent Conspiracy. Really well done, and I hope it catches on!

      The thing that I love every Christmas is trying to come up with a good “myrrh” gift. It was easy when we started: they both got a beautiful leather Bible. But lately it’s become harder to think of something. But I love the challenge!

    • Thanks for the post on the Advent Conspiracy! Great idea and really do-able for our family. :)

  3. Must admit, I am one who plans early and buys all year round and have the challenge of trying to remember where I hid the gifts! A few have been known to surface a year later LOL! Have found that being ready early allows me to fully engage in and enjoy the Season, drinking deep of all it holds and means to me rather than being all stressed out. Sometimes it means saying “no” to some events and cutting back on the number of cookies baked etc. but always find it worth it, otherwise, much of my “joy” is robbed and I HATE the emptiness it can bring. Puzzles, Wii games, board games, “jammie days” — love it!! One of the best Christmas’ we had was when we got a very uncharacteristic dump of 2 feet of snow. People were house bound, the snow muted a lot of sound, the beauty outside was breathtaking (as was the shoveling of the driveway LOL!) and the family time together was priceless :)

  4. I Love your 3 gift idea! So much I told my husband about it at lunch! I plan to do this with our neices and nephews who are in un-christian families. and our future kids. How old were your kids when you started this? Do you guys do Santa Claus at all? I have seen some christian families who do and others who do not.

  5. Our Christmas became less hectic when we moved out of state from my family. I do miss the family, but I don’t miss the stress. :) We adopted the three gifts a few years back too. It has been a blessing and has helped out with our budget.

    My husband, in his first marriage, had gifts thrown back at him by his step children because they weren’t what they wanted. With his own children from his first marriage, it was all about who got the more expensive gifts. Unimaginable to me, but we didn’t want this time of year to be about the presents with our children. We wanted them to know that presents are an added bonus. We haven’t categorized the gifts though, an idea that we will add for future Christmas’. We try to instill the giving attitude by buying toys for Toys for Tots, giving to the bell ringer, etc., and this year we added the shoe box ministry.

    I like to think I am organized, but I barely got my Christmas cards out!

  6. The three gifts idea is wonderful! But you still have to deal with the rest of the family… Grandparents who feel they have the right to give their grandson everything they want just because they can… Or the aunts and uncles who want to splurge and give you amazing gifts when all you can afford are budgeted tiny symbolic gifts. I try to ignore my feelings and just realize that we give what we can afford and they give what they can afford and if they don’t like our gifts… Well, that is their problem and not mine. And I feel we should not feel bad about the expensive gifts they give me or my family only because we can’t return the gesture… Do you have other tips to deal with extended family?

  7. Traditions are what makes Christmas special for us. I buy a Christmas ornament for each of our boys every year, and write their name and the year on it (still doing this, even though they are 19 and 24!). When they have their own families and trees, they will each have a collection of ornaments from their childhood. We all get new matching pajamas to wear on Christmas eve and morning. We go to church on Christmas Eve, and then have a late dinner of jambalaya. And we open our presents very slowly on Christmas, going one at a time around the circle and admiring each gift.
    Gaye @ Calm.Healthy.Sexy. recently posted…Quick Tips for a Sexier Christmas SeasonMy Profile

  8. ButterflyWings says:

    Wow I couldn’t imagine everyone getting three presents. My family has always been one present only and under $10. And this is actually the first year my siblings (in their mid 20s) are actually giving presents.

    The only exception is my daughter – she usually gets gifts of around $20 from her grandparents – and because her birthday is so close to christmas, she gets her choice of one expensive gift from me for a combo birthday/christmas present. In past years, it’s usually been a game console for around $100-$150 and that’s the only present she gets from me.

    My husband’s family is even simpler – just a secret santa with a max of $25, so everyone buys only one present and only receives one in total from everyone in the entire family.

  9. We have done three gifts for years, buying gifts for five boys had become very difficult, three gifts keeps it manageable. When my younger kids tell their friends their gift items that they received, their friends look at them and say “is that all you got?” This is something I still struggle with, feeling like I’m not doing enough. Although in my heart I know my kids need nothing.
    The best Christmas I had was the year we decided to prepare early, and cut out all extra curricular activities during the Christmad season.
    Buying three gifts was an easy solution for us, and our sons understand why we do this. It makes the holidays much more pleasant!

  10. Hi Sheila!
    Love your Three Gifts for Xmas tradition! 😉 thanks for sharing!

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