I frequently exchange emails with a group of friends from college days, known as The Bank Girls (we lived in what was formerly a bank). When we have a lapse in emails, someone will initiate another string so we can get caught up. This is a copy of an email I sent in response to one of those emails. My friend had asked us all to tell about our favorite memory from this past Christmas, and also a favorite gift we or our kids received...
"hey, all! it has been a while. well, i thought a lot about these questions, and they were actually hard for me to answer right away, which i think is a sign that we haven't developed any super traditions yet, but here is what i came up with:
Favorite Memory: I am divided between two: 1)the evening the week before Christmas when we bundled up and took the kids to a park downtown that is all set up with lights and stuff. There are these candy cane lanes where you can walk underneath arches of giant candy canes, all lit up, and there's a light fountain, and a (close to) life-size manger scene ("Look! God!" Charis said, and proceeded to ride on the sheep, saying "yee haw!"), and then after that, we walked a bit more downtown and then went to our favorite coffee shop for hot chocolate and coffee (for us). My other favorite memory is 2)when we celebrated Christmas, just the four of us, which we didn't get to do until New Year's day. I counted up all the different times we "celebrate" with different parts of the family and the kids open presents, and it came to 6!--6 times they are bringing home more stuff. It's a little bit ridiculous. But for all of the times I watched them open gifts, it was the best and most memorable whan we were at our own home, and I made breakfast quiche and bacon and our traditional Christmas Morning sicky rolls, and we made a big huge mess of paper and toy parts. I liked it best because it was ours.
Favorite gift: I pretty much got one gift (and a few stocking stuffers)from Abe, and it was a DVD-Recorder, and I'm pretty psyched about it. I have for a long time hated our vcr recording quality, so this will be nice. We also got a few "gifts to us--" a great speaker system for our computer, and also a new stereo for our car. I feel incredibly technological. I should also mention that I'd asked for 3x5 recipe cards from Moriah, and she MADE them for me--hand decorated every single one. The best things the kids got...hmm...Judah got a blanket from Abe's sister-in-law Lindsay. One side is flannel, and the other side is fleece, and she hand-binds them with a running blanket stitch. She made one for Charis when she was tiny, and it is Charis' favorite. I was sooo hoping that she'd make one for Judah! You know, they will last forever, and they mean so much more than something purchased. Charis got...a truckload of toys. Nothing fantastically special, I'm afraid, except a bear/blanket thing that my mom made for her to cuddle with. I mean, she made the bear and everything. I wouldn't even know the first place to start. I guess I love those homemade things because most of the other stuff will end up as garage sale fodder at some point, but I know those handmade gifts will be things to cherish. Of the toys the kids got, I'd say my favorites are the ones that aren't battery-operated. :) Blocks, toy trucks, a doll that wets, a doctor kit, puzzles, books...
The more I get into being a parent at Christmas, the more ridiculous the whole thing seems, with the presents. Especially between adults--we did a gift exchange with Abe's immediate family, and decided on a spending limit, and then all pretty much got stuff off of the other people's wish lists. It was definitely cheaper than buying for everybody, but it later struck me: if we all spent the same amount, and didn't actually have to think about getting something meaningful or special, all it means is that we went shopping for each other, which we're all perfectly capable of doing by ourselves. So what does it mean? Why do we do it? Gift cards are the worst--they say, "I have no idea what you want, so you get it...but you can only get it at this one store." It's a half-step away from handing someone a check. Don't get me wrong, I still give gift cards on occasion (and received some pretty handy ones this year), particularly to family members I don't see often and therefore don't know very well, so I am speaking to myself as well.
Here's what I think Christmas should be:
...Traditions of doing things together as a family--memories, not things, are the true treasures of Christmas.
...Giving each other gifts that cost more than money, gifts that cost time and effort and thought--that probably means fewer gifts, but I think that should be okay.
...Getting together with family and just enjoying one another's company, not necessarily centering around the tree celebrating commercialism.
...Enjoying the simple things: baking Christmas treats for people, singing carols, decorating the tree, watching White Christmas or The Grinch or It's Christmas, Charlie Brown...
...Doing for others--caroling, picking out a couple of toys for "Toys for Tots", or picking out coats for "Coats for Kids", or shopping together for a box for Angel Tree. I am hoping some of these things will replace the marathon gift-opening sessions we now have.
...Celebrating the true reason for the season. Our nativity scene is a lovely ceramic set hand-painted for us by a family friend, and it's beautiful and very breakable, so I put it up, and I put it up HIGH, away from little fingers. But I would love to have a plastic one that we could set up as a family, and maybe read the Nativity Story from Luke 2. What if my kids grow up believing that Christmas is about presents? That will be a true shame. I do think we should celebrate Christ all year, but Christmas gives us a chance to focus on His birth, and what that meant for the world, which is what life is all about.
There is is. I'll get off my soapbox now. I want to note that these are things I aspire to--definitely not things we currently do. I just spent a lot of time "doing" Christmas this year, and the fact that it took a while to think about my favorite parts of it made me realize that it was all a blur, and I don't want my kids to have blurry memories of Christmas. I don't want to have blurry memories of my kids' Christmases."
Now, if you read my previous post, you will realize that I didn't think our Christmas(es) were bad--but where we are now, standing at the crossroads of our own childhood traditions and making new ones for our kids, has really put this on my mind a lot. I want my kids to look back and remember the important stuff about Christmas. Several of my Bank friends chimed in with great ideas and their own family traditions--the Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set was a recurring one, and I love it--but I always love to hear about others' traditions. If you've got a good one, let me know!