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December 9, 2010

This is my favorite time of year.

The cool mornings have given way to full-blown chill in the air–the kind of chill that makes hot chocolate a regular staple; evenings by the fire standard fare; and the smell of apple cider, gingerbread, and pumpkin pie a requirement at every restaurant, bakery, and candle shop. The trees have all lost their leaves and the piles we made to jump in have long ago blown away. The mountains are covered with a thick blanket of snow, ski areas are opening right and left… it’s the time of year for red noses, and mittens, and heavy down coats… snuggling under the afghan on the couch, and peppermint, and flannel sheets.

And?

Christmas is just around the corner!

My Hubby has been doing his Clark Griswold best to make sure that our house is a standout in the neighborhood for Christmas cheer. We added an extra breaker last year, and will need to add another next year, I am certain. We have lighted trees and reindeer, a sleigh filled with presents, a giant pine bough sign with Merry Christmas spelled out in white lights, snowflakes hanging from our tree branches, snowflake lights surrounding our berm, lighted candy canes lighting the pathway to the front door, a large Christmas tree (yes, lighted) outside our front door and three smaller ones just to the right of it, lights on the rooftop, rope lights around the treet trunk, and a music box that makes the whole works light up to ten different Christmas tunes.

This weekend we’ll put up the tree and our plethora of indoor decorations. It’s always a fun-filled family event, this decorating extravaganza, and it’s absolutely hilarious to hear the kids plotting with My Hubby to make our house even more festive next year… just a little more than the guy three streets down… the one whose electric bill MUST be over a thousand dollars in the month of December.

I do love the family togetherness, and I love putting up the tree, and I’ve learned to genuinely enjoy all of the work that goes into dressing our home for Christmas. But somewhere along the line, I feel like the true meaning of Christmas has gotten lost in the tinsel, and pine needles, and presents.

My children, the people who so delight in reading the Christmas story (and watching A Christmas Story–You’ll shoot your eye out!), and who know the reason for the Season absolutely, are so focused on PSPs and PS3s, and video games, and gift cards, and clothing, and perfume, and Nerf guns, and MP3 players, and wrapping paper, and the rest, that I hardly hear about anything else.

For years, My Hubby and I have watched the aftermath of Christmas morning with consternation. The new toy, the latest thing, the one I spent two days hunting for at every… single… store on the face of the planet, only to get the very last one they had, marked up to 150% of the original price just because they could… unwrapped, paper discarded in a crumpled heap in the corner, played with once. Maybe twice. And ten minutes after Christmas dinner, the next big thing on the list was already the topic of discussion.

My Hubby and I would spend Christmas Day mostly exhausted from all of the shopping; the running; the late-night wrapping followed by the early-morning, bleary-eyed, stumble out of bed to the excited shouts of the kids; and the money… oh, the money. What didn’t come out of our grocery money (making ramen noodles and Mac and Cheese a for-sure on the weekly meal plan for the next three months) was put on a credit card, maybe even a shiny new one, and by January the bills were rolling in. We were feeling the pinch–physically, mentally, financially.

Christmas came and Christmas went.

We just wondered what happened.

It’s tough, in a blended family situation, particularly with high conflict, to even things out.

It’s hard to know your kids are being torn in two on the least important day of the year–let alone the biggest holiday of them all. When Christmas comes to town, and you have to share time, or emotions, or plan vacation under stressful circumstances, it’s just plain difficult for everyone. I know I’ve overcompensated in the past, attempting to make sure that the whole crew has the time of their lives. And I know I’ve worn myself out making sure that each of them had everything their little hearts desired.

I think it almost became a mission, this Christmas thing. I distinctly remember one Christmas that the kids were with The Egg Donor (ED) on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In every Christmas past, Santa Claus arrived at our house whether the kids were there or not, and this was no exception. We had told them from little up that Santa would be at both of their houses (because that’s really how it should work to minimize confusion), and he had come through on that every year.

Except this one. Oh he came… but only for Shaggy. Shaggy’s stocking was filled to the brim with candy, and little toys, and a million other fun things. Velma and Daphne’s stockings were empty. I can still hear their sad voices, on the phone, telling us all about it. My Hubby was furious, and I was heart-broken. How could she? How could she do that to them? At that moment, I decided that they would never… ever (EVER) have that kind of experience at our home. And I have made good on that promise, no mattter how much effort it took.

Later, it morphed into something entirely different. When ED took an actual interest in providing them with things they wanted, it became competitive. I certainly fell into the trap of not wanting to be one-upped by her. We made Christmas lists early and changed them often. I can’t even count the number of times I told them, “You can’t put the same thing on both lists!” I felt victorious when I knew she had gotten them something they didn’t really want, or when I found out that the thing they wanted the very most was under OUR tree and not hers.

Twisted. I am ashamed.

After all of these years of trying so hard to get them exactly what they wanted, overcompensating for the divided family thing, attempting to one-up ED, to the point that I completely lost focus on the true meaning of Christmas, I am DONE.

So is My Hubby.

Back in September, we had a long discussion about how this year would go and we determined that it would be an about-face. It has to be. Our children, as wonderful as they are, are growing into entitled young people–people whose concern is not for the homeless or the fatherless or the widows, but for themselves, for the next thing they can acquire; people who do not remember Christmas as it should be remembered–full of family times, and laughter, and giving (not getting) and celebration of the birth of Jesus–the reason we do everything we do in the first place. And we? Are contributing greatly to this travesty.

The first order of business was to slash the Christmas budget in half for everyone. We’re making a lot of gifts this year–fudge, and cookies,and My Hubby’s famous lemon bars; bath salts, and sugar scrub, and hand-drawn cards. And for our children who want the latest and greatest of everything? They’ll still get some of the things they want. They’ll still have stockings full of fun stuff. But it won’t be on the grand scale it was last year–it will be half of that.

The second order of business was to set aside fifty dollars in cash, for each kiddo… to pay it forward. We have already discussed this with them and I was pleasantly surprised, I must admit, at just how receptive they were. We set some boundaries–no giving to friends, or family members, no giving away the whole fifty just to “unload.” It has to be thoughtful, it’s important to find someone who really needs it, and it has to be in secret. The recipient should have no idea who the giver was. These people, my very entitled but most favorite people on earth, who I obviously underestimated, did not whine, or cry, or throw the fit to end all fits.

Instead, their eyes widened and they immediately began coming up with ideas of just how they could use this money to help others. It sidetracked the PSP vs. PS3 discussion immediately. I’m excited to see them do it. I am. I can hardly wait for Christmas to come, not so I can see them open the latest, greatest whatever, but so they’ll open their envelope and take out their money, and give it away. I’m dying to see what they do with it.

This? Will be a new tradition, along with slowing down at the holidays to enjoy our time together, and focusing on the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

Maybe this will be our biggest gift to them ever.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2010 4:26 pm

    What a beautiful gift to give your children.

    Our Christmas budget is cut this year too. I think everyones is this year. We’re going to have a baking weekend and give homemade gifts too.

    Merry Christmas and God Bless

  2. December 9, 2010 5:05 pm

    What a great idea! I can’t wait to hear how they spend their money. I think this will be a great tradition they can carry on to their own families when they are older.

  3. Anounymous permalink
    December 9, 2010 7:12 pm

    What a great idea! We cut our Christmas budget by adopting a method some friend do..

    “Want, Need, Wear, Read”

    So much easier for me to be LESS impulsive, since I have to make the items fit into those catagories. Also, we’re giving int he kids’ names to Samaritan’s Purse.. they get to pick the item & the area.

    Oh, btw~ I’m Carol 🙂 I write ChapmansRus.. glad to have found your blog!

  4. Desiree permalink
    December 10, 2010 7:35 am

    What a great idea!!! I’m going to have to steal it… so consider that your “pay it forward” act! 🙂 I, too, have children (biological and step) that think they are entitled to everything under the sun, as long as they say so. And this is just what they need to start thinking about others. For the record, my kids aren’t as spoiled as that sentence made them seem, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Thank you for the great idea!

  5. December 11, 2010 7:34 pm

    Amen, sistah! I dropped out of the gift contest years ago, as much because of joblessness as anything else, but it actually started because PEW and her family and friends got the boys so much crap, I’m telling you that there was literally NOTHING more out there that I could get for them that they didn’t already have.

    Gifts went educational and we traveled to different destinations through the resourcefulness, creativity, and craftiness of DW. Unfortunately, a mandatory something-or-other for me came up on December 27th that can’t be avoided and I sadly had to scuttle plans to go to Myrtle Beach, SC to stay at a friend’s amazing 3BR 3BA condo which he is vacating to visit family over the holidays.

    HUGE (inexpensive) missed opportunity there… but we’ll make due. The kids are mindful of our budget, they know that they’ll get more than they need from the other side… so our Christmas holiday is centered around togetherness and merrymaking… not toys, electronics, and entitlement.

    You’re going to find this to be a very big first step to even better things in the years to come.

  6. December 12, 2010 6:38 am

    I think this idea is spectacular! I love hearing heartfelt stories and especially love when people remember what the Christmas season is all about……because, I too, forget!

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