Christmas with White Space

December 22, 2010

Over the last few Christmases, our family has been exploring how to make Christmas more meaningful and less commercial. This has been coming for quite a few years. Two years ago, my husband was unemployed. So, Christmas was very simple by necessity. It also turned out to be one of the best Christmases we’ve had to date. We cooked a bit. Did no Christmas shopping. Sent out no Christmas cards. Made a Jesse Tree from tree limbs with down-loaded, kid-colored ornaments. Spent lots of time together. It turned out to be a deeply meaningful, wonderfully tender time for our family. Last Christmas, we gave the book Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben to almost all of our family members- hoping to pave the way for future simple holidays. It’s tricky. Charlie and I love our families, and gift giving is such an entrenched custom in both our families. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. At the same time, we do want the Christmas season to be less frenzied and more meaningful.

It’s turned out to be easier than anticipated. Our families have been game. In fact, it’s been fun to discuss giving opportunities with my sister and sister-in law. Our children have opinions! I love that. They were interested in where the money was spent- as they should be. My kids don’t believe in Santa, so I haven’t had to worry about the Santa piece of the puzzle. We can speak frankly about how funds are spent without having to worry about how Santa fits into things. Do we spend money mainly on ourselves and our family (who frankly have more than we need)? Or do we do the majority of our Christmas spending in a way that might improve the quality of life for people who are living in poverty or slavery? In case you’re curious, our family has done most of our giving through World Vision, International Justice Mission and Akili Dada. All organizations that are worth investigating.

It’s a bit odd, if not disconcerting, to have this white space when you grew up with elaborate Christmases. Both of us have very generous mothers who orchestrated gift-filled Christmases for us when we were little. Our kids will each be getting one thing that they really want this year, plus a few things that I want them to have (books on CD from Greathall Press). Home made play dough. Candy from Trader Joe’s for their stockings. That’s about it. There is a sort of awkwardness in the transition. We have very little media in our house. We don’t have a TV, and our kids have very little screen time. But, we have watched a few Christmas movies. Even those few Christmas movies give me a catch in my chest. Watching imaginary children with gift-filled, magical Christmases. It’s awkward to step off the beaten path of a gift-filled Christmas. Then, I shake it off. Clear my head and remember why.

It’s not about deprivation. It’s about re-setting what our family values. Re-setting how we choose to spend our time and money. Re-setting “normal” for our children so that as adults, hopefully they’ll remember the Christmas season as a time of service and giving.

When we’re not spending time at the mall, or wrapping gifts, it leaves white space. What to do when we’re NOT doing all theses other things? We’re left with some very sweet traditions. Shopping trips with my kids to pick out toys so that more children in our area will be able to have a few gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. A cookie exchange with neighbors. Taking a Saint Francis walk on Christmas Day, scattering seed to feed the birds. Delivering baked goods to people who are working on Christmas Day (think a local hospital, fire department or police station). Maybe a crackly fire in the fire place? Time. Sitting down with my kids and spending time with them. I don’t have it sewn up. The extra time does leave me rattling around a bit. I’m trying to sink into the challenge of feeling the white space during the Christmas season- and just letting it be white space.

Image by Keith Bryant via flickr used under a Creative Commons


3 Responses to “Christmas with White Space”

  1. Love white space. We have always only given our kids 3 presents, we tell them that is how many Jesus got and by golly, it is HIS birthday! I grew up similar to you so it takes adjusting too, and I find myself having to readjust while in the midst of the hoopla some times.
    Great post!

  2. […] a related note, you can read here about my thoughts last December as I was celebrating a Christmas with White Space. […]

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