Keep the Budget, Sanity, and Meaning in Christmas by “Going Back in Time”

Where’s the peace and joy and real meaning in the Christmas celebration these days?

If you’re feeling like life – and your budget – is out of control during the Christmas season, it may be time to reconsider your priorities and make it the type of celebration it was more than 100 years ago.

Last weekend I read my grandmother’s account of what Christmas was like about 100 years ago.

And wow! Have we ever commercialized [read: ruined] Christmas since then! Our appetite for “stuff” has gotten completely out of control.

By today’s standards, their Christmas was simple but profound. It was special, but not in a commercial way.

So, instead of blowing a wad this year on Christmas, how about aiming to simplify it?

It’s not just about the economy. It’s about relationships and worshiping the Lord, about what’s really important for eternity, not just the moment.

Why not turn over a new leaf and create memories that focus on what you do together and your relationship with the Lord?

I know it’s counter-cultural and all, but as a homeschooler, you should “get” that.

So here are several practical ways to ditch the commercialism and restore what your kids’ great-grandparents grew up with. It’s well worth restoring!

Plan how to create meaning – in advance!

In advance means today, not the weekend before Christmas.

Also, create a budget and stick to it. If you’re still paying for Christmas in February, you will resent it. After all, it puts extra strain on your household budget and your marriage, and it’s not the point of the holiday anyway.

1. Get a grip on trying to live your life vicariously through your children. Sure, you wanted more toys than you got. Who doesn’t? And we all love our children, and most of us would love to load up a truck with tons of stuff for our kids. But please… it’ll teach them all the wrong things. Don’t live your life vicariously through them. God had a reason for everything you experienced as a child. And it wasn’t so you could spoil your own kids.

2. Ask the grandparents not to over-indulge your children also. But be specific. Express what your limits are – and ask them to respect those standards. Of course, that means you can’t go hog-wild while denying them the pleasure of doing the same, or your limits don’t truly exist!

3. Slash the number of things you allow your children to request. One easy way to do this is to cut the time spent watching TV to a bare minimum. Otherwise, every ad can easily become something new that your child believes he “needs.” And that doesn’t help your cause at all.

4. Limit your volunteering. Put your family first. It’s easy to neglect those God has placed directly under your care, while trying to care for the needs of the world. Don’t do that! Your children will grow up to resent that. And that goes for your church activities too. Take it from me. I’m a pastor’s kid, and I experienced that struggle first-hand.

5. Teach your children that the best part of Christmas isn’t the gifts they get, but the ones they give. Help them earn money to buy or make simple  gifts for their siblings.

6. Find a new way to make Christmas more meaningful. In 1983, the year my third son was born, I was meditating on my recent pregnancy and delivery when Advent rolled around. It was recent enough that I had compassion on Mary for having to travel for days by donkey right at the end of her pregnancy.

Eventually those thoughts created a family Christmas tradition that’s been our hallmark for 31 years now.

I called a Jewish deli and asked about their dietary habits, to get an idea of what Mary and Joseph may have eaten on that historic trip to Bethlehem. We modeled our “picnic” Christmas Eve dinner based on what they told me. We spread out a blanket on the floor every Christmas Eve and eat nuts, fruits, and smoked fish, as they may have 2,000 years ago.

And believe it or not, it is our children’s and now our grandchildren’s desire to have that special Christmas Eve dinner.

7. Instead of giving separate gifts to each person, buy a family gift – something you can all enjoy together. Some ideas that come to mind are a Ping-Pong table, games, bicycles, or something else that will create memories for years to come.

8. Make homemade gifts from the heart. It’s an excellent way to let someone know you care, but lets you disengage from the consumerism of today. This year, my adult daughter and I are collaborating to create gift boxes for my marketing clients. One of the items in our packages is a beautiful bean soup mix in a canning jar. Inexpensive, practical, and healthy. And in many cases, you may develop a valuable new skill by doing this.

9. Read about the symbolism of the Christmas tree, candy cane, and St. Nick.

10. Say no to new decorations – you probably have enough already. Is it worth busting the budget to buy “the latest?”

11. Buy a smaller tree this year. Or buy an artificial tree so you’re not spending an extra $100 every year for a tree. I can tell you, my kids hate this idea. But we bought ours more than 10 years ago, and only one year have we spent any additional money on a tree. And that was the year our grandchildren were in Michigan and wanted to go cut down a “real” tree!

12. Make a pact with sisters and brothers not to exchange gifts this year. Or, alternatively, draw names so each sibling gives (and gets) on e gift. Not many.

13. Save time and money by shopping online. When my children were young, retail stores opened at 7am the day after Thanksgiving. One store had underwear and Nike socks on sale. I went early that morning, fought the crowds, and bought our entire family’s supply of socks and underwear (and a few other things) for the year at that sale. We saved a lot of money.

Today it’s a lot easier. You can do everything online. Now I’m shopping for a year’s worth of birthday presents and other family needs at the steep discounts offered during this time of year. And it’s not all going under the Christmas tree either.

14. Have a nice date night out with your spouse instead of exchanging gifts. The memories will be worth it.

15. Run out of wrapping paper? Use decorated brown bags, pictures from old calendars, newspapers, or other “free” items you already have lying around.

And plan ahead for next year by stocking up on wrapping paper and gift bags the day after Christmas at a steep discount. Pack them away for next Christmas.

Incidentally, we reuse all but the most torn-up gift wrap, and nearly every gift bag is retrievable too. Don’t throw them away. It’s expensive and a waste of resources.

Use scraps of wrapping paper as labels or gift tags. Fold them over and write the “from” and “to” information inside. You can also use index cards for this purpose. It’s been more than 10 years since I bought gift tags.

16. Make Christmas dinner a potluck instead of having to do all the work yourself.

17. Give seeds. Explain how to grow them. It encourages self-reliance and sustainable eating.

18. Make your own recipe book with a compilation of family recipes from generations past.

19. Make books on tape. With a trip to the library and some time, you can create fun memories.

20. Make a family calendar with photos, birthdays, and anniversaries. Fun and appreciated by all.

21. Instead of trading presents at work, Bible studies, or homeschool groups, have a cookie exchange.

22. Sing a song, write a poem, send a card. It’s rare for anyone to take time to do these things today. But everyone still loves receiving them.

23. Give babysitting coupons to new parents. They’ll love the idea.

24. Buy a used book, and write a note to the recipient inside the front cover explaining why you chose it for them. The “Friends of the Library” often have used books available for fifty cents to $1.50 apiece.

25. Make a soothing herb pillow filled with an essential oil – lavender, orange, etc.

There are so many more ideas available that will keep your Christmas sacred and financially on-track.

Don’t be sucked into the frenzy – or into the debt trap. That can have negative repercussions for years to come. It’s just not worth it.

My Grandmother’s Christmas presents consisted of an apple, an orange (which was very expensive in New England in the winter those days!), and one other small present. She says it was her parents’ special attention and the care they took to make it special that made all the difference.

May we learn some valuable lessons from her Christmas 100 years ago, and create memories our children will cherish their whole lives.

Wishing you a Christmas that is more “unplugged” than ever before, yet richer than you ever imagined.

Let Your Voice Be Heard!