A Christmas tree adorned with lights and keepsake ornaments…hand-stitched stockings hanging from the mantle…snowmen, santas, snow globes, manger scenes, nutcrackers…the sweet scents of pine wreaths and sugar cookies fresh from the oven…all of these paint a picture of Christmas at our house.
We were always generous with our children at Christmas, quite honestly, to a fault. They woke up on December twenty-fifth to stockings jammed with small presents, and packages galore surrounding the base of our tree. But when our youngest of four was rapidly approaching adulthood, we decided it was time to rethink our festivities and expenditures for the holiday.
I remember the year we all lived with the post-Katrina reports that seemed unimaginable for our nation. We watched the nightly reports of the loss and devastation and talked amongst ourselves about the countless victims. I was moved to tears night after night as I watched the nightmare of so many lives unfolding, wondering how they were coping with the aftermath of such utter destruction. I began to wonder if God was calling me to do something, but what? We never ever seemed to have a surplus of cash; every month was a stretch to get by.
But one thing we could do was to take the bulk of the money we’d lavish on our children at Christmas and use it to help those who were in such desperate need, who didn’t even have a home for Christmas. My husband and I discussed with each of our kids the idea of toning down on the gift-giving so that we could help the Katrina survivors. We were so proud of all of them for not even hesitating to make the sacrifice. All four saw our "rich" condition in comparison to so many who had next to nothing after the hurricane . They assured us that they would be content with whatever we could afford to give them. It was equally exciting to watch our extended family embrace the idea of changing gift-giving traditions and lend a helping hand.
The holidays were a refreshing season of calm, relaxation, and peace in our house. The pressure to buy and wrap a lot of gifts was gone. I had fun coming up with ideas for presents that stayed within our new meager budget. Even the stockings were filled with little, inexpensive knickknacks.
Christmas morning was joyful in our home. A handcrafted photo menagerie made by our daughter for her younger brother was a huge hit. All four of the kids expressed surprise and gratitude for the gifts we had managed to purchase. Their dollar value didn’t seem to matter. I honestly think that it was one of my favorite Christmases.
The next day, I reflected on the amazing gifts God had given me that year, gifts that were so much more meaningful than any material object I could receive under the tree. I thought about our great marriage and how God had strengthened our union and filled our hearts with a deep, selfless love for each other. I savored the mental images of our family…all four children, alive and well and maturing into adulthood. I was grateful for the season of calm we were experiencing as a family. I reflected on the gift of agape love and how God had been teaching me to see others through His eyes. Finally, I rejoiced in how we learned as a family to accept and embrace each other with all our imperfections.
My thoughts went to the priceless gift of being able to stay at home that year and devise a workable budget, and to make our home more organized, welcoming, and healthy. I couldn’t help but think about the gift of our church and the people we befriended there, and our precious freedom to worship. I meditated on the gifts of contentment, peace, hope, faith, trust, and the ability to let God carry the life's burdens. How richly God lavished these priceless gifts upon us!
Christmas has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. But that year was something extra special. I watched my children see beyond their own little worlds and material objects desired, and open their hands and hearts to a hurting world. I saw them appreciate and show genuine gratitude for small gifts they could have provided for themselves. I saw their focus shift from what awaited them under the tree to the gifts we have in each other. And I couldn’t help but imagine the faces of those who were blessed by our decision to give to them instead of following the traditions of past Christmases. I even imagined the face of God looking down on us, and I’m sure I saw a smile.