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


  1. You are hilarious and real and a totally captivating writer!

  2. Advent. yep. we've pulled out a sweet, albeit tattered square treeish cardboard thing with little drawers and stuffed scripture and candy in each one, then succumbed to hassling our kids to read the scripture before eating the candy. yikes.
    so in an effort to be more intentional this year - we are doing candles and reading and liturgy. we hijacked our teenagers as they returned from youth group last night - husband on one couch, me standing next to white taper candle (wrong color, i know) with lit match in hand... so yeah... we'll see how this goes. our 16 year old son got something out of it, because he said he felt guilty for wanting stuff...

  3. Oh Shannan! I love this! Giving your kids money to donate...what a gift! I will be approaching my hubs with this idea as well as the rolls of quarters and loaded gift cards. That's good stuff, sister!

    I swore off shopping at Goodwill (and all thrift stores) in December many years ago when I realized that I was CHOOSING to shop there and there were others for whom it was the only option. It seems a bit silly when I write it here, but I felt like maybe someone else really needed that $3 sweater that I wanted but did not truly need. So. No more thrift stores for me in December.

    Trying to keep it small in our corner of the world as well!

    1. Such an interesting perspective! Thanks for sharing it.
      On the flip-side, our GW purchases, no matter who makes them, help provide employment opportunities for folks who need them. But yes, I like the way your heart thinks. :)

  4. Been doing the dance of keeping focused on Christ and working with loved-ones who know nothing of Him yet still have their traditions and that thing called expectations. Trying hard to work with rather than against the thems, and we've found success in a couple of small areas;
    1-we don't buy gifts for our kids at Christmas-but like you- have them 'shop' via Compassion or Samaritan's Purse, etc. Because there is no competition or expectations for valentine's day-that is when we buy gifts for our kids and make much of it.
    2-because grandma requests loooong lists (she gives at least 10 gifts each) we have the kids make lists for anyone else but themselves. This has been the best on the fly idea yet. Last year I had the joy of watching one sibling lean over to the other and declare; "I put that on your list!"

    I bought Ann's family Greatest Gift book this year too. I worked a bit yesterday scrounging up every colored pencil I could find, stuffed them into a rinsed out tomato sauce can, printed out the free ornaments (times 3) from her site-and viola-Advent For The Win! 3 kids coloring away at their ornament while mom and dad read from the book -and since hands are busy, listening- rather than poking and other such nonsense -actually happened! All 3 (even the teen!) enjoyed it.

  5. I like this post. Especially that you did not take photos of the gifting of the envelopes of cash,, nor make a blog post of it when it happened. I feel that these kind of acts should be discrete and the giver humble, not making it about how "good they are" A good deed is undone a bit if you have to shout it from the rooftops. Great ideas Shannon.

    1. Good gracious, I would never take photos of something like that.
      It's such a fine line though, balancing sharing these things. It's something I always over-think, and it really has to be that way. Because we do learn from each other, I LOVE hearing how other people live or handle certain things. No sense in hiding under the bushel, right? Still, the people in our lives aren't props and nothing but DOOM comes from pointing to ourselves. Maybe all we can do is pray that God uses us in spite of ourselves and our junk. I just want to point to Him. He tells us to love big and wild, and I fail more often than not, but that's what I WANT to do.
      Thanks for the love, my friend. xo


  7. Good stuff ! Especially love #5 !!!!
    We are also sifting through the 'wordly traditions' and focus more on the biblical relevance.

  8. The best thing that ever happened was the year we did not get invited to a single party. (everyone thought we were included in someone else's circle....) My feelings were SO hurt and I cried many tears, until I realized that while everyone else was running around like crazy people we were home enjoying each other and a much more relaxed Christmas pace. From that point on, we SEVERELY limited our holiday outings and have never regretted it a day. We now try to look "out" way more intentionally....and we have time!

    1. God has used loneliness to to love and teach us SO many times in recent years.
      Still, gack, it hurts!
      Thanks for sharing this, sister. Makes me feel like I'm not the only sensitive weirdo on the block.
      Not that you're a weirdo...
      I'll stop now.
      Love to you!!!

  9. I used to go to a church that didn't believe in celebrating the religous aspect of Christmas. Their reasons were many but mostly because nowhere in the bible does it tell us to and it does specifically mention not esteeming certain days, Dec 25th is not actually Christ's b-day, and we are to worship the almighty and risen Savior. It was actually easier to celebrate this way. We could do fun christmas traditions with our family and continue to worship and serve the Lord on a daily basis instead of trying to be uber spiritual for a season.

    1. Fascinating! I'm going to have to chew on this one a while.
      Thanks for sharing. I'm curious, do you still follow in this way, or have you chosen to celebrate differently now?

    2. Mostly yes. My children are aware now that Christian's consider Christmas Christ's birthday. I just really like the idea of serving, worshipping, loving etc. everyday.

  10. and this is why i LOVE you.
    you jack with me and all my wonky ideals in the best of ways.
    <3- thank you for being weird and totally Jesus.

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  12. I love all of this. Especially that you were concerned about where Jessica Day was headed this season. Because I was worried too. ;)

  13. So...we decided a few years ago to do stockings on Christmas and gifts on New Year's (to celebrate the new year). Last year's stockings included an ornament that helped a family with their adoption, and this year's stockings will be ornaments from Ornaments 4 Orphans. And that may be it. We have a tree. We have ornaments from my childhood. And honestly? We're just trying things each year and seeing how they go. I have loved Christmas since I was a little girl, but the wonder of it waned as I grew older. Now that I'm actively waiting during Advent, I find myself becoming giddy over the season again. And Advent has led to discovering the Church calendar, which makes sense to my poetry-loving brain.

  14. Hit up pinterest. Advent Bible verse each day. We 'adopt' a family that we have prayed for and hope we can share and be a blessing. We did 4 presents when the kids were little. For me to represent gold, frankincense, myrrh and Jesus
    the big present. Ive shifted gears. We do activities and
    RACKD (purposed random acts of kindness) to keep us
    grounded. I dont decorate. I never have but i do bake, make caramel corn and watch silly movies.

  15. as often times happens when i read my fpfg devo, i'm teary...

  16. My family moved to South Africa two years ago to work as volunteers with a faith based NGO. My favorite thing done here at Christmas is almost every church has a Christmas morning worship service…we take our girls each Christmas morning and it speaks volumes to me to the priority we put on Christ. They get maybe one or two gifts that morning but then we leave and are gone most of the day. After the service we took a meal and gifts to several of the people we have been able to get to know through our ministry and time here. It was such a blessing to see our girls more excited to do this and they almost forgot we had more gifts for them back at the house. Americans have commercialized Christmas so much it is sad because we have to look really hard to find Christ in much of it. A few years ago when Christmas fell on a Sunday I was so disappointed in so many of my close friends who didn't come to church because it interfered with their "Christmas" and their kids. It is sad….thanks for these wonderful other ways to make Christ a priority!

  17. Good friends of ours host a Saint Nicolas party almost annually, celebrating the true story behind the man we now call Santa. Guests at the party reenact bits of the story which is always hilarious but also enlightening. Our friend has even written a short book called "The Santa Papers: An Unauthorized Autobiography" available on amazon. It would be a fun book to add to the mix, if you read Christmas stories with your kids.

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  19. A friend of mine told me you were the only blog she reads...because apparently she doesn't read mine. Ha! :) So I had to come see what all her fuss was about. And I have totally been WON OVER. I love your heart for Jesus. I mean seriously, it takes some God-sized conviction to do Christmas the way you do, and it's inspired me. And p.s. I am in love with Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. I mean, seriously. Can there be more beautiful words and stories? Sigh. It's awesome. Anyway…nice to meet you! I'm the better for it, no doubt!

  20. Ever since our kids were little we opened our presents on New Years to try to keep Christmas about Jesus---we always knew we were not the norm. The kids are mostly grown now and don't want to change the tradition. Favorite advent book is Jotham's Journey and the 2 sequal books--riveting adventure with the beautiful story of Christ's birth woven into it.

  21. There is so much joy in unbridled giving. I love imagining the looks on people's faces as you hand them the money. It's like once we get over ourselves and our acquisition for STUFF, we find out how much FUN it is to give and give and give. The ugly head still rears itself in my heart, but maybe less and less? Hopefully. :)

  22. Hi, first time commenting for me. We are hard and fast agnostics who celebrate Christmas more as a secular holiday, but really struggle with the material and me -ness of it all. I absolutely love your post about keeping it real and fostering perspective and compassion with your kids at Christmas. Also I think you're kinda rad, your approach to doing good but keeping the humility in check; I've seen my share of smug nonbelievers in this regard (self included!). Thanks for sharing everything.

    1. Sarah - Hey! Thanks for your comment. I just loved it and wanted to let you know.
      And you already know this, but there are a lot of smug believers in the world (self included!) :)

  23. Just wanna say , "really love you, girl!" I can so relate to the internal angst around the beginning of this precious time of yr , but it feels so bi-polar! Thank u for straightening all this out (ish) ---btw... those parentheses have calmed me more than you will ever know! I look forward to reading your life-abundant words every time! May His presence be our craving as we s l o w things down and breathe Him in! Glittery hugs!!

  24. Of course, I just love you and what you put here and that arrow thing...yes, so hard not to point to our beautiful decor in this season! But can we talk about Scandal for a minute??? I've been concerned, too, because and now, the world has just changed so darn much...

    1. I mean, I KNOW. I've got pretty loose media standards, but I just cain't.
      Makes me sad.
      And beyond that, it's just silly. They just keep recycling the same old storylines!