Monday, December 1, 2014

How We Christmas

I'm so behind the times. Always, forever, et al.

Apparently it's December 1st, which means I'm now allowing the Universe to bombard me with All Things Christmas. Carry on, Elves! I have officially given you permission! Bear no shame henceforth!

Do you love the way I'm the self-imposed boss of everything? Well, Silas pretty much hates it.

Truthfully, I've been thinking Christmasy thoughts for the past week or so. In the span of one week I decided I wasn't decorating AT ALL. We don't have anywhere to even put a tree, now that our Ikea sectional takes up the entire living room. Seriously, it's the best decision we ever made (ish), but it was a bit like shoving an elephant into a Volkswagen. And then watching untold hours of Homeland and New Girl on said elephant.

Sidenote: New Girl is back on her dang game. The first few eps of the season had me worried. It was all...too much. But committed as we are, we pushed through and now I'm laughing in my ugly robe at 9 a.m. just thinking about it.

Sidenote 2: R.I.P., Scandal. I just can't, anymore. Been nice knowing you. Yes, I will miss Fitz's luscious hair and Olivia's power suits and Huck's chronically furrowed brow. (At least I still have this.)

But back to Christmas.

I decided NO DECORATIONS EVER, then found myself scheming and planning the very next day. You'll crack up when you see where we put the tree, but that's another story for another day.

I struggle with Christmas every year, or at least for the past 5. There's such an internal power-play now. You can open your eyes to the pain and heartbreak of the good, regular people around you, but no one tells you you'll walk away with burned retinas. It changes you, changes your vision, and you spend the rest of your life stumbling around, half-blind from the sun spots.

It's confusing on the best days, positively despairing on November 25th when you're getting all keyed up over Thanksgiving and the world around you has decided Black Friday is now Black Friday WEEK, which doesn't even make sense and sort of defeats the whole purpose.

Next year - Black Friday Month? In November? It could happen. Brace yourselves.

(this is as far as I've gotten so far, thanks to Silas's generous donation of the tinsel garland he bought this weekend at Dollar Tree)

The hard part for me is we say this is all for Jesus, but we all know it's totally not.

The other hard part is that I like the "festive" parts of Christmas, not just the Jesus parts.
Yes, I'm saying Christmas is about more than just Jesus. Or at least we've made it that way.
I don't think that's bad, because Jesus is in us and through us and part of all we do.
I like giving gifts and decorating (gasp! stay tuned)
I like cookies and I love crack bark.
But it seems so silly and disingenuous to say we're doing all ^^ that in the name of Jesus.
Still, how do we possibly untangle all these knots?

For a month solid, I flip-flop between two very different things, re-discovering every single year that I love all of it and that nothing makes sense.

We insist to our kids that Jesus is the reason for the season, bury them in a giant pile of toys, then quietly despair when they don't "get" it.

Or maybe it's just me.

Christmas is a Universal (ish) thing, but it's also a personal thing. Growing up, my usually-placid Dad went into a silent rage whenever he saw that tchotchke of Santa kneeling beside the manger. Now, I have tons of friends who get so much joy from celebrating the whimsy of Santa. I don't think there's a wrong way to build family traditions around the holidays, mostly because I don't think it's even possible to do it exactly right. We're all just trying, yes?

 (2013. Robert gave the kids each a dollar straight from his wallet. Holla.) :)

Here's how we try.

1) We do our very best to focus on loving our neighbors as much as ourselves. The non-Jesus parts of Christmas are all about ME ME ME ME US. I sort of feel like it is what it is. It's okay to be generous to our families (aka ourselves) and it's fun to have a set time of year to drive to Target and buy our adorable 8 year old *brand new* clothes from that quirky new Annie line. (cough cough) It so happens that we've all decided Christmas is the time we'd like to do those things, so now what? How do we make an honest attempt to not do it all wrong? Cory and I decided a few years ago to make a conscious effort to spend as much $ on our neighbor as we do on ourselves. We don't get all spreashsheet-wonk with this. We don't tally up every cent. This idea presents a scary amount of opportunity for legalism, pride, and general weirdness. We're aware of that. But for us this is a tangible way to keep our focus on other people and not just us.

2) It's also a great way to involve the kids in the magic of generosity. This year, along with the gifts our kids get from us, they'll also get an equivalent dollar amount to give to any charity or person they'd like. We're encouraging them to be thoughtful, intentional, and even prayerful about this decision. We'd like it to be meaningful and fun for them to participate in being a blessing to someone else. So far, Calvin wants to find a way to donate his cash (in some way) to South Korea. Ruby wants hers to go to Malawi (this is half of her heritage) and Silas would probably like to buy strands of Christmas lights for ALL THE WORLD.

3) Because our budget is on the smallish side, we have to be really intentional with what (and how much) we give the kids and, consequently, others. We don't have a hard-and-fast dollar amount for each child, but more of like a "retail value" idea in our heads when we shop, and hopefully we find great sales. We spend around $50 on each kiddo, then they get $50 to donate. Each of our kids ends up with around 4 gifts to open, one of which is a book.

4) We don't open gifts on Christmas day. This is a big one for us, but also a hard one, because even thought it's important to us, it's (understandably) not The Big Cheese to everyone else in our lives. We ask our families to accommodate us on this one if they can, and so far it has always worked out. But should the day come that it doesn't, we'll hopefully find a gracious way around the conflict, because relationships are more important than our self-imposed traditions. We open our gifts on the morning of Christmas Eve, and reserve Christmas day for whatever other opportunity might come our way. Again, this is more of a mind/heart trick than anything. I totally get that we're just substituting one day for another. For us, it just makes it easier to present the (true!) message that Christmas is not about presents.

5) Last year after we opened our gifts, we drove around town with random rolls of quarters and some anonymous cards filled with cash and "God loves you so much!" messages. We asked God to direct us to the right people, then we walked up to them, said Merry Christmas, handed them the gift, and walked away. THIS WAS THE BEST THING EVER. So much serious fun. If you want to see Christmas through sun-scorched eyes, drive to Goodwill and notice the people doing their best 11th-hour effort to shop for their loved ones. (As a self-professed Goodwill fanatic, I'm not implying everyone shopping there is poor or needy. But the reality is, some of them are. Hand them a card with $50 or $100 and walk away. I promise, it will make a difference in their world.) We also drove to local laundromats and gave the rolls of quarters, because can you even imagine hauling all your dirty clothes around town on Christmas eve? It's a small, simple act, but it lightens the load a little.

6) We go to the Christmas Eve service at our church. Last year, we had dinner before the service at McDonald's because nothing else was open. Our kids had a blast playing in the play area with another family of kids who ended up at the same place for whatever reason. Gathering with our church family during such a sacred season, lighting a candle, thinking about the hope we pack into this month, century upon century, is a great way to center our hearts.

7) We make a good effort to do an advent study with our kids. This is relatively new to us. Before recent adulthood, the only thing I knew about Advent was that it was a little calendar with hidden pieces of candy. I wish I was kidding. Our previous church began teaching us what Advent is years ago, and our current church has expanded on the beauty of waiting for our Savior to rescue us as an infant. This perspective has changed the way I see the season, and I'd like our kids to begin to understand this now, rather than years from now. Last year we read through Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift, but it was honestly a bit over our kids' heads.

This year, I'm thrilled to have a copy of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift also by Ann Voskamp. Gorgeous, full-color illustrations and pulls-you-in truth. YES! The thing about us is, we're not super regimented, scheduled people. I would like to tell you we sit together every night and do nightly devotions, but that would be ridiculously untrue. So, we will miss days here and there. But we'll make an imperfect effort and we'll trust God to pour meaning into this magical, heart-pining, watching-and-waiting season of Emmanuel.

That's us, in a Christmas nut-shell. I'd love to hear how you celebrate!

I'll be back this Thursday with some of my favorite, thrifty and meaningful gift ideas, and I'm hosting a link up where you guys can share your favorite charity, your Etsy shop, the book you just wrote, your adoption fundraiser, etc... Heck, you can show us your Christmas tree if you want to, or share your favorite Christmas recipe. It'll be the FPFG All Things Festive party link-up. Wanna?

I love the idea of sharing my space with you - my community. I've wanted to do this for a while, and this seems like the perfect time. We can maybe do some shopping while we support each other and the world around us, and we can connect a little more. So be ready with a link to a shop or a post, and we can walk this month together, inspired by one another, and asking God to set our hearts straight. Sound good?

For now, I have a couple of time-sensitive deals for you, because like it or not, today is Cyber Monday. (Next year? Cyber Monthday. haha)

** Sevenly is offering free shipping today on all US orders! Plus, $7 of each order goes to a rad charity. Give/Give! They have TONS of shirts available right now, along with prints and accessories, benefiting several charities. (One of which is my favorite, Mocha Club!) My Sevenly shirts are my FAVES. They're also offering the uber-intriguing Causebox, which seems like prepared gift-giving at its finest.

** These letterpress blocks from Dayspring are blowing my mind right now. (And the entire site is 30% off today!) They have a really cool, interactive page where you can play around with putting different fonts/sizes together to build your word, then each letter clips together. I have "small" because I keep trying to remind myself that this is the way God likes me. I also bought "Clark" as a recent wedding gift. This is SUCH a fun gift idea! Who isn't obsessed with letterpress? Find them under "Collections".  Use the code 30MONDAY14 for 30% all orders, plus each order comes with a free ornament.

** You know what a canvas fanatic I am. These make perfect gifts, and I only buy when they're realllly discounted. Right now Canvas People is having its Black Friday Sale. 70% off ALL canvases plus flat rate shipping! 

Happy December, pals!

*affiliate links up in here