Thursday, December 20, 2007

An Alternative to Christmas Presents

Disclaimer: I don't really know how to write this without coming across as condemning and self-righteous...Before you read on, please know that it is NOT my heart and that I LOVE Christmas presents and everyone who gives and gets them...

That being said...you probably won't be getting one from us this year.

For the last few years, I've had this icky feeling when fighting the crowds at shopping centers and malls around my town. From Black Friday on, I have been feeling very stressed and unhappy...the feeling of obligation is one I've never warmed up to. I have had this pressing thought in my mind that even people who say that Jesus is the reason for the season don't have a problem putting Him away for a while as they max out their credit cards, get into debt, and worry over what to get for who...

Might so-and-so get me a gift? Should I get one for her just in case?

My ___________(fill in the blank with obscure relative who is coming over for Christmas dinner) will probably spend $_______ (fill in the blank with outrageous amount of money) on me this year, so I have to match that even though it may mean I won't eat for a week.

If ___________ (closer relative's name) gets me a sweater, I should probably get him/her a piece of clothing, too.

And so it goes, all the way until late evening on December 24th.

December 25:

(The sound of wrapping paper being torn and quick "thank you's"--lasting about an hour)

Morning + 1 hour:
(The sound of the newspaper rustling as we try to find the next best sale and make our strategy for taking back a whole bunch of gifts we didn't like)

December 26:

Everyone is walking around in the same Old Navy sweater trying to figure out how to get out of debt while Mr. Old Navy sits back in his cushy lear jet on the way to family vacation in Fiji.

Last year, I was in the midst of my first trimester of pregnancy. Me and Mr. Toilet Bowl were good friends by then. My husband was experiencing his first major event at work that he was in charge of and was putting in 80+ hours/week for the entire month of December. We were living in an apartment but trying our hardest to save money so we could buy a house before this baby arrived. I was out in the stores, looking for the perfect gift. Buying for both of our families...not wanting to forget anyone.

I remember standing in a store that had potpourri burning, and I had to ask to be let up to the front of the line because the scent was going to make me puke. But I couldn't leave without buying the gift...it was for an office mate and had to be a certain amount of money. The next day the office would exchange gifts, and I couldn't bail out now. I barely knew this person, and felt compelled to do spend $25 of my hard-earned money--it wasn't out of love. I hated it.
My mom and dad, exhausted from a year and a half of battling Pulmonary Hypertension, dragged themselves out to the stores, through the traffic, etc...and paid for it by being laid out for a day on the couch afterwards.

Brandon didn't even know what we bought for his family. His only shopping opportunity came at 7pm on December 23rd...after he had pulled off Holiday Hope--feeding over 4,000 people and organizing Toys for Tots for all the families. He had been out of the house since 5am, was absolutely exhausted and had to go out and buy his wife gifts afterwards. He didn't get home till after midnight, and spent the rest of the night trying to wrap them as I slept. The next day when we went to my parents' house, he was so tired and couldn't really enjoy the time together.

So this year, as we were anticipating another hectic Christmas season, I felt that sick feeling in my stomach...and I wasn't pregnant this time. We had a beautiful baby girl and had bought that house this year. Our monthly budget had less than $50 of wiggle room...hardly enough to buy presents that were as good, if not better than last year. I still haven't mastered going shopping with an infant in tow in between the two hour window her schedule allows. I was NOT looking forward to Christmas. The shopping and everything put such a viel over the celebration of a perfect Savior who came to earth to set me free. I didn't feel free. I felt trapped in society's expectations.

So, I decided we weren't going to do it. We weren't going to be trapped, in debt, and stressed this year. We talked to our family members about it and explained our situation briefly and also offered them the opportunity to not have to buy presents for us either.I didn't want to be a scrooge...don't get me wrong. I just recognized that everyone we love has a lot of stuff...There wasn't anyone in our family who needs another sweater or a book to go on their shelves or really anything. We certainly didn't NEED anything. As I sit at my laptop in our beautiful home which God has provided, I am unbelievably blessed.

But not everyone is as blessed. There are people in Africa and in Asia and in the inner city of Greenville, SC and all over who need things. They need education and clothing and food and hope. So we decided to take Brandon's bonus, which last year went to paying off a portion our credit card Christmas spending, and investing it in a life...

Meet Brian Otieno. This picture was taken in March 2004 when I was in Mbita, Kenya on a mission trip. I fell in love with this little guy (who has grown up a bit since then, I'm sure) and took the opportunity to support him through Christ's Gift Academy, a Christian school that my old church, Seacoast Church, supports in a holistic manner. This year, our money went to make sure that he is going to have an education, food, clothing, and medical care in 2008.

We also spent money on items to throw 2 parties so we could spend quality time with friends during this season. I had a diva drop-in for my girlfriends in the area, and my sister-in-law came down to help out...It was AWESOME! Later, we were able to open our home and bless some friends who are expecting their second son by throwing a baby shower for them and hosting the get-together well into the night.

Finally, I was able to use my creativity in making one-of-a-kind gifts for our closest family members. I won't get into it yet because it's a surprise, but I wanted to let them know that we love them and are willing to put time, thought, creativity and love into their gifts this year.

I have had more time, energy and excitement about spending time with those I love this year than last.

I also was given another idea from my cousin, Tracy, concerning Christmas presents. Tracy and her husband, Chris, are pretty amazing business people. To say they are well off may be an understatment. They have 3 precious children who could probably have anything they wanted if money was the only concern. I was talking to Tracy yesterday, asking her what the kids were asking for for Christmas. She said her youngest (who is maybe 5 or 6) said he didn't want anything.


What 5 year old doesn't want anything? I've never seen it with my eyes, especially at Christmastime.

She said that each of the kids usually get about 2-3 small presents and then the rest of the things under the tree are IOU's...wrapped up like gifts. They are for activites with the family, like a bike ride or an ice cream cone or special alone time with Mom and Dad.

I thought it was brilliant. It values family, quality time spent together, and memories over materialistic things that end up at the bottom of the toy box. I think I might steal that idea from her when Ella and her future siblings are old enough to understand what society says Christmas should be.

I know this is a LONG post. If you made it this far, my hat goes off to you. I appreciate you trudging through my thoughts, and I would love to hear your thoughts as well (please comment, no matter whether you agree or disagree with me). I also want to thank my family and friends who usually find a store-bought gift under the tree from us and won't this year. Thanks for your support and your understanding.

Brandon, Ella, and I want to wish everyone a BERRY Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. May the reality of our Savior's grace, love and hope overwhelm you this season.


GranolaGirl said...

good thoughts...
Personally, I LOVE shopping for christmas presents. But most of my family understands that we can't spend a huge amount of each person. Elijah is getting a wooden kitchen from us, and Ruth is getting some pj's and socks. I think the grandparents will take care of the rest.
Hats off to you for taking control of your Christmas and keeping it joyful. Can't wait to see pictures of Ella's first christmas!
(by the way, I added you to my blogroll, is that okay?)

Lora said...

I love your post, I feel similar when it comes to buying gifts for Christmas. No one in our family is in NEED of anything. I personally just would like to get together and eat a nice meal. I also would like my children to learn that we should help a family that does NEED something, or work in a soup kitchen on Christmas, something that has meaning. Not buying things just to buy them or be told what to buy someone by a list !!!! I am still trying to get OUR Christmas plan together but I hope I won't be at any store shopping unless it is for someone who truely needs something.