Saturday, December 14, 2013

Maybe Christmas Doesn't Come from a Store....

The year we had our first child we were rapidly approaching Christmas and we saw a certain reality heading straight for us, mack-truck style. We were about to be hit by a run away train we would be powerless to stop.

So we did the only thing two strong-willed, out-spoken people do. We stood defiantly in front of the train and ticked off everyone on board. Cause that's how we roll. 

Let me explain.  

Christmas was approaching.  And I took a look at my family and our budget. I counted it all up. We had 9 nieces and nephews, 6 adult siblings, and 4 grandparents, each other, and one child to buy for. That equals 22 gifts. Just for the immediate family, never mind great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, secret santas, etc.... 

If we spent 20-30 bucks per person that's $660 bucks. Realistically we were looking at spending $1000 bucks on toys and junk gifts no one would even want in two weeks. We didn't have a problem spending a thousand bucks (well, we may have shed a few tears) but we had the hardest time swallowing spending so much money on toys doomed for a garage sale that summer.  Especially when there were people in our own back yard starving and homeless.

So we called all the family members and said something like: "Guys, we love y'all. And we love your kids. And we want to celebrate Christ's birth with y'all but we want OUT... We want to opt out. Please understand, we won't buy gifts for anyone. No kids, grandparents, parents, siblings, nada... And DO NOT BUY FOR US. We have calculated what we'd spend and we want to spend it on a family we know who is in dire need.  Please by all means, exchange gifts amongst yourselves, but count us out."

There was an uprising. There was angering and misunderstanding. That first year was the hardest. And being no strangers to awesome family dramas, we took this all in stride. When we all sat down for Christmas the family asked us what we'd done with the money. So we shared our story.

I told them about a family with four kids and the only guardian, a home bound grandparent. I explained that as a teacher one of my students was struggling tremendously in class and when I sat with her to talk about why, I noticed she was of covered in bites. I asked her what they were. She said, "Ants." I said "Ants?? Baby, why are you letting ants bite you??" She teared up and said, "They just keep night." 

When I closed my mouth and regained my thoughts I gently talked with her. She told me she had to sleep on the floor, she didn't have a bed, and parts of the floor were bare dirt. She said the ants bit her at night.

I had to bite my tongue to keep from shouting, "Come home with me!!! I'll be your new mommy!"

I visited her home and saw that what they lived in was barely standing boards holding up a hole-filled roof. And friends, THIS IS NOT UNCOMMON IN OUR OWN TOWN.

I went home and wept. For hours. I told Tim we had to do something. 

After he talked me out of my very well-planned kidnapping plans, we decided we'd buy them everything they needed for Christmas. The money we'd allocated for gifts bought this family food, housecoats, house shoes, jeans, bikes, shirts, hats, a Christmas tree, bubble bath, everything for a great Christmas. 

Christmas eve we snuck to their house black-op style and, with our home group, we descended. We unloaded suburbans full of gifts. Some were needed items and some to them were luxuries unseen before.

The grandmother wept. I wept. We hugged. And I didn't want to leave. My friends drug me out of the house.

When we shared our story with my family no one spoke. All were silent, all were transfixed. I looked at my dad. He was crying.

We went home, we gave our son one gift. He was perfectly happy. 

The next year approached and we steadied ourselves for reexplaining to our family our stance. But before we could, the phone rang. It was my family. They wanted IN. They wanted to know the ground rules. They were sold. Hook, line and sinker, they wanted it. They were in deep. 

Here as a family, we refined the rules:

1. No gifts exchanged between families. Grandparents can give each grandchild ONE gift. 

2. Parents can give one gift, per child, to only our own children.

3. Each family chooses where to give and how much

4. Stockings are allowed 

5. We give our kids their gifts within our own small families before gathering largely Christmas morning

6. Christmas morning we sit around the tree and exchange STORIES. We each share what we did charitably this Christmas.

We've been doing this now for 8 years. Each year God reveals who we need to help.

My kids know nothing different. They only get three gifts (one from each grandparent set and one from parents- and yes, we geniusly tie this to the three wise men bringing their three gifts) plus stockings.

They've never known any different and they treasure each gift more and love to tell how we helped others each year. They still daily use the one gift Tim and I gave them last Christmas. The gifts are more thought out and appreciated.

I've heard variations of this in other families. One family shared they do three gifts, one thing you want, one thing you need, and one thing to give. 

What family traditions do you have?


joy said...

We love you, sweetheart and so glad you brought this wonderful family tradition to us. We have been blessed far more than the gifts we would have exchanged - and my life was made easier and i'm able to enjoy this special season so much more.

scootingranny said...

What a special, fabulous way to show your children what it's all about. Love you!

amy volk said...

I LOVE this. Just found your blog and referred to it in my post today. What I as MOST excited about though is that you live in College Station. Our family lived there 4 years and we went to GBC. I guess that's how you know Tristie:)) Merry Christmas.