Monday, October 09, 2006

Reinventing Christmas

This is a conversation I am going to have with my family. We MUST reinvent Christmas. Is has GOT to be different. And as far as it goes, our family has always had a scaled back version of the holiday, but there in lies the problem: scaled back, whilst a good beginning, can cause its own sort of stress. The stress comes in, at least for me, in the mental "keeping up with the mythical Joneses" that occurs despite my best efforts. Christmas morning at DL always finds me feeling distincly shabby next to those who are glammed up in their new Christmas outfits.

Last year was a fiasco because it was scaled back but not scaled back. I've heard of families saying they are scaling back to a hundred bucks per kid, for instance....HA! That would be the ultimate luxury for us. So I say this realizing that this terminology is loose and it is all relative.

So, scaling back just has not worked for us. I've done the homemade gifts out the yin-yang. I've looked in toy catalogs and created by hand doll dancing stages, rag dolls, doll clothes, etc. I've given framed kid's art to grandparents, etc. etc. It's all been done, tried, worn thin.

I even tried creating for myself a maroon velour christams dress: nice idea in theory but somehow it came off looking like I was wearing pajamas to Church.

And then there's the dread b-word: Budget. Last year we had a budget, which was great, and kept our spending on a cash basis, no Christmas debt, etc. BUT then it became this big stressor: how much bang can I get for my Budget Buck? And it was all about creating a whiz-bang gift giving occasion times four. And what happened? I failed miserably. Most of the gifts I got for my kids fell flat, weren't that great or broke very quickly and were a disappointment. How crappy is THAT?

So, how do I reinvent Christmas? The reinvention started several years ago when Divine Liturgy became the start of our day, and not opening presents at the crack of dawn. A good change. The reinvention continued as we developed the tradition of having people over for Christmas dinner in the evening: people who perhaps don't have family, or who can't get "home to grandma's". So that is a good thing. Much cheer and fellowship.

Part of the reinvntion needs to involve a change in gift expecations, both giving and receiving: I would like for the feast of the Nativity to not be more than Pascha, somehow. We always get a basket full of goodies like good foods, perhaps an icon, gifts, etc. for the whole family to enjoy at Pascha. How can I use that as the base line, and re-invent the Nativity celebration to be similar, not more, still being its own thing?

Here's the brainstorm: at Pascha I do try to get each of us a new outfit (at least the kids, and a new shirt or something for dh). Perhaps one cozy clothing item each at Nativity: you know, P.J's or gloves or something.

At Pascha, besides the fast breaking foods, I try to include a gift for each that will somehow help their spiritual development. Perhaps for celebrating the incarnation of Christ, something personal and material would be appropriate: One toy, or for those beyond toys something to care for one's body...hmmmm, sounding like the traditional Christmas gift list already. But what if the volume were kept low, smaller?

And something for the family to enojoy together: a game, or a movie or a new CD? But what if the total volume was not to exceed what would fit in, say, a pic nic basket? What IF it did not have to be piles of stuff under the tree? Would the kids be OK with that?

Because I remember all the broken toys, all the attempts at fashionable clothes that have gone unworn, all the stuff that just does not get played with, and I just don't want that sort of thing mucking up the holiday anymore. I'm so done with it!

Making Christmas like a LITTLE Pascha....that would be a joy!


Theodora said...

I think your family will have even cooler ideas than you think! I remember when I figured out that my mom could not afford things -- I started thinking how to help.

She always used to get trees from the side of the road or a farmer's field. They were these awful cedar trees, and while they smelled completely wonderful, they were prickly as cacti. So I liked it better on the years when she made a "Christmas castle" and we put all the presents around that. (Note that there is no room under a Christmas castle to fill, and if you put it on a small table, you can readily fill the table.)

I love your idea wonderfully -- making Christmas a little Pascha.

Oh, and a Christmas castle is where you take empty cereal and cracker and oatmeal boxes and cover them with different wrapping paper You cover one big gift box and use that as a base, and arrange the other boxes close together to look like a castle. You can use an empty paper towel cylinder for a tall round tower, and cap it with a pointy tin-foil top.

Sean Carter said...

Making Christmas like a little Pascha is a great idea. I keep reinventing Christmas with new ideas every year so as not to fall in any routine for Christmas. Found some really cool stuffs at this amazing Christmas Blog Check it out people..

Elizabeth said...

The Christmas stress has already started in our house too ! DH was on the web on Saturday buying stuff for the kids. Sigh.

We do have a tight budget but he wants them to have el crappo toys and I would rather buy them crafts stuff and books, which they love just as much, and which is much cheaper.
It`s a permanent dilemma.....

Romani said...

First- as a single person who doesn't live near her family- thanks for thinking of us and inviting us to your Christmas feasts.

Second- an idea from my parents. Every year, they would get us a children's Christmas book. It was always the first present opened- after we got home from our late-night Christmas Eve liturgy. We'd have a meal (typically beef stew from the crock pot), light the fire, and Dad would read the book. If we weren't falling asleep, he would also read a few of the books from previous years.

We've never had a lot of presents under the tree. I don't remember them anyway. But I do have warm fuzzies when I think of those story-times!

Xenia Kathryn said...

Wow, great blog and great comments from everyone!

Christmas, I believe, would be ENTIRELY different if it weren't for the "mythical Joneses" as you said. We know this especially as adults, but it's so much more difficult for children.

I love your ideas, Alana. Thank you for sharing them! I am inspired... my baby is only 5 months, but I don't want her growing up expecting a huge, crazy Christmas. Better start now, I guess!

SheBear said...

This is such a great post! We don't "celebrate" Christmas in our immediate family, but we can't totally escape the chaos, because my Inlaws make a big deal of it. Our kids are still young enough that they don't have too many expectations, so we are trying to raise them to feel that Christmas is simply something we do at Papa and Granny's.

My siblings and I (and our spouses) have a gift exchange each year. We randomly draw names, so we only have 2 gifts to give, rather than 6. I think that might work in a family, as well....instead of your kids giving gifts to each other, maybe they could draw names and each child would be "in charge" of choosing the gift for the sibling whose name s/he drew. The other siblings could offer input, so that ultimately the gift is from all. Then you and your dh might give each child a personal gift (new pjs or something practical) and one group gift (a board game, computer game, dvd, etc) which might have a bigger price tag than the others.

So, done that way, each child ends up with a gift from the siblings (maybe a $10 spending limit on this one) and a practical gift from the parents. And then a gift for everyone to share.

I don't know if you do "santa" or stockings or any of that stuff, but it could be scaled back as well--a family stocking, rather than individual ones, etc.

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Mimi said...

I think that's an excellent idea, Alana.

basil said...

Bill McKibben has a book that one can usually find this time of year entitled Hundred Dollar Holiday. In his community, they started many, many years ago (I first saw this in an editorial when I lived on Main Street in Nicholasville, so it's got to be close to ten years ago, and his community had already been doing it for probably close to that). The idea is that you restrict your total Christmas gift expenditures to $100. What he found (and recommends) are services as gifts --- not only things like handmade gifts, but coupons for babysitting, cutting firewood, making meals. The list is as finite as your imagination.

Luz said...

I think the 'little Pascha' idea is great if you can maintain the different character. It has to be Christmassy but still kill Xmas because Christmas probably was more like Pascha before commercialism killed it. Being single and OC I ignore Dec 25 totally and I'd go to work if the university wasn't closed :-)

Tabitha said...

This post certainly has helped me do some positive planning. I think my older 2 would definitely enjoy receiving wristwatches and they both need new snow boots (which might not be fun themselves but they do make the snow a lot more fun!). Something toddler appropriate for the youngest. A new (at least to us) winter outfit. A Nativity related book or craft (Light and Life has some great stuff). The kids have been asking for bubble bath, finger paints and watercolors. A family game and/or movie and we're done. Plenty of family time singing, baking, decorating, and the traditions that will live on in my kids' memories.

Of course, there are still the social exchange obligations: office, school, friends, and extended family. But at least I'm simplifying the biggest one. And some of the others are home-made or white elephant anyway. Thanks for giving me the jump-start I needed.

Laura said...

We just decided on a 3 (Trinity! LOL!) gift total per kid limit this year. And since we're always broke, it just might be a $100 Christmas! We're also going to decorate first, before piling into presents. I'm hoping we can do a couple of "family" gifts but that just depends. Lots of baking and stuff will probably happen...but not the usually nuttiness. Oh...and I think St. Nicholas will likely put an ornament kit in the kids' shoes this anticipation...