Joy In Spite Of The Holidays: Part Two: Celebrating The Holiday Magic When You Can't Afford It
It's so shiny and beautiful! The lights and the trees and the sparkly newness of all the gifts! Music, cookies, excitement! This is such a joyful season. I enjoy decorating, cooking, singing, and giving gifts. But I remember clearly holiday seasons where money was so short and resources so limited that I didn't think I could create Christmas at all. But I did. Here's how I did it.
The children were small, and it was the first Christmas that they were aware of the growing excitement and anticipation of the very special day. They were busy in Sunday school and at home learning about the birth of Jesus, the shepherds, the long walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem undertaken by faithful Joseph and gentle Mary. We talked about the manger, the star, the angel and more. We sang songs together, baked cookies, decorated, and waited eagerly for the other Christmas character that they had become aware of: Santa Claus.
My children had recently learned that Santa had a bag full of toys for good girls and boys. My girl and boy were good; they knew they were good. My children knew that Santa would not let them down. They met the criteria, they were fully qualified to be on Santa's nice list, and they were very excited. I was very anxious. How could I possibly live up to these early expectations? The income barely met expenses, and anything extra was rare.
That was when I learned how to make a wonderful Christmas using almost exclusively the primary ingredient of Christmas itself: love. Love is creative, active, generous, and costs nothing. I harnessed the power of love and all the elements it contains and set to work. I was determined that our Christmas would be full of good things and precious memories.
How can you harness the creative, active, and generous power of love and use it to create a beautiful Christmas for your young children? Here are some things that I did myself and saw others do when they were in similar circumstances. You can use these ideas to add joy to your Christmas even if you have substantial means for buying what you wish. Here are the suggestions that worked best.
Positively manage expectations. Many families have ways that they explain gift receiving to their children so that the meaning of Christmas is honored. Often, Christian families limit the number of gifts each person receives to three. This replicates the number of gifts that the Christ child received from the magi. Other families limit gifts by saying that each child will receive "something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read". However you want to do it, give positive, valid reasons for encouraging your children to reign in the greedy nature that will all have. Be gentle, kind, and positive. Leave room for joy, but set limits on the expectations. Children need only a few simple gifts to enjoy the day.
Harness your creative energy. Can you sew? Can you craft? Do you have the skill to do woodwork? There was a Christmas that I took a sheet of plywood, sanded it by hand, painted it, and put it on saw horses. It was a ping pong table. I researched at the library the approximate regulation ping pong table was supposed to look like. I got pretty close! What really made this fun was the build up of anticipation while I was making this in the weeks prior to Christmas. We lived in a house with an unfinished basement and some stuff had been left behind. Among the stuff was the sheet of plywood and saw horses and some paint. I put a sign on the door to the basement indicating that Santa had a helper at work on a secret project down there and no one was allowed to enter. I often said, "no peeking!" or "Santa can't give you a gift you've seen!" I really poured on the anticipation. By the time of the Christmas Day reveal we were all so excited. We played ping pong on that table for years. The only investment was the net, paddles, and balls. And creative energy. Look around you. There are items you can repurpose to create a great memory. There were lots of other years and lots of homemade gifts. Get creative! It is really fun.
Gather decorations. Our decorations often came from the woods: Greenery with berries, evergreen boughs made into wreaths or swags, a tree, birds' nests, etc. Coupled with inexpensive dime store decorations it was all very pretty and festive. It was also fun to gather and gave us time to walk and talk and enjoy each other. And the house smelled so good!
Ask for help. There are so many organizations that are eager to assist families just like yours at this time of year. Churches, community non profit groups, and schools generally have resources that they want to share. More people than you can possibly imagine have been in your situation and have come out of it. I am one of those. In my gratitude for the prosperity I now enjoy I seek out families that are struggling and help them to have a wonderful holiday season. I give toys, money, time, food, whatever is needed because I remember what it was like to have very little. You may very well be able to give generously in the years ahead. You will look back and remember what this Christmas was like and you will reach out in love to a family that reminds you of yourself. You will remember and you will give.
Make a big deal over little things. I always made a big production over the televised Christmas programming. I would make hot chocolate and snacks, and we all gathered in our pajamas. A holiday film is such a small and inconsequential thing unless the grownup decides that it is an exciting event. Then it becomes a wonderful, magical evening of fun. Going to your town's parade or tree lighting is free and you can make it a big event with your attitude of excitement. Every community has free things to do at this time of year. Take advantage and enjoy.
A word about teens: If you are struggling financially, your teen already knows it whether you have told them or not. Go ahead and be honest about how much money you are able to spend. Be positive. Remember that teens are still children and still want Christmas to have magic attached to it. Protect your teens from the adult problems that they can not fix. Give them as much of a child-like Christmas as you can. They can cope with concrete figures. If you have, for example, $100 you can spend for Christmas gifts ask your teen what would be most enjoyed for that amount. A few small things? One big thing? Be honest, but remain positive. Also, there are groups that help teens specifically at this time of year. Our church pulls together and provides Christmas gifts for a few high schoolers who were identified by guidance counselors. Speak to your teen's guidance counselor about this.
In addition to love, Christmas has another ingredient that is built in to the Christmas story itself: finding joy in the midst of displacement and uncertainty. This is a matter of choice. You can watch the media blitz in which people receive new cars with big bows, strings of diamonds, and the latest electronic device or you can fix your eyes on what is lovely and true. Your children need you and the active love you can give far more than they need the latest and greatest gift. Keep it simple. Christmas has a deeper meaning than gifting.