The Christmas Lesson: How the observations of a Hindu changed Christmas forever.
I typically share craft/design ideas with simple step instructions. Today is different. I planned to post this in October. As I typed I thought, “Why waste your time….” and shelved it. Yesterday, I read an article about a family in Utah that “cancelled Christmas.” I was curious about the article and decided to read it. They are decorating their home, continuing certain traditions and donating the money that would have been spent on Christmas presents to provide to those in need. Canceling Christmas? That sounds like Christmas to me! We have been celebrating in a similar fashion for 5 years now and guess what? My kids LOVE Christmas. If not giving your kids a plethora of toys translates to Christmas being cancelled, then sharing this is an investment of my time.
My husband was born in this country to immigrant parents from India. Christmas was something his family celebrated solely as a fun “American tradition.” They put up a tree and exchanged one gift. He said they would use their time off from school enjoying dinners hosted by other Indian families and staying up late. He has nice memories.
When we started dating, he came to the inner circle of “American Christmas” and learned what Christmas was all about…or so I thought. I shared with him that we celebrate Christmas to commemorate the birth of Jesus, God’s only son. So for a few years, he would watch me go into debt to buy extravagant gifts for everyone and stress over how many days I had left to buy, wrap, bake, decorate for the big day. He watched as we attended a Christmas dinner and the host refused to allow one of the guests to bring a lonely friend because it would “mess up the table setting.” He watched as we ripped open gifts and the kids had so many to go through that they would get bored opening them. He watched as family battles brewed over whom shared their “joy” with whom during the time that was allotted for them. He watched people get angry over their gifts. Celebrating the birth of Christ was stressful, chaotic and joyless. He was confused. It became an event we dreaded and that made me sad.
One spring afternoon, my husband and I were walking our dog. We talked about how certain smells could take you back in time and the good memories associated with them. Food is a big memory maker. His mother is a fantastic Indian cook and all of the women in my family cook. I laughed at how the smell of southern green beans and mutter paneer bring the same feelings of comfort now. We started talking about Christmas. The joy of of a glistening tree, the smell of pine, the Christmas carols, and the wonderful holiday food. Not once did we mention gifts. We realized our best memories were associated with things we did not things we bought.
In 2009 our middle daughter was just two years old. She was such a pleasure to watch that Christmas. She would squeal with excitement over the Christmas lights. Whether it was driving through a neighborhood or visiting friends, she was just as ecstatic as the first time she laid eyes on a lighted tree. We invited friends over to decorate cookies that year. She was thrilled. She was excited to bake them and even more excited to host guests and decorate. We read Christmas books about the birth of Jesus and she asked a lot of questions. We were driving one evening and my husband was happily talking about how fun our daughter had been to watch. He said, “See Lindee…this is Christmas. Not the gifts or the craziness.” Watching her bubbly spirit, answering her inquisitive questions, and simply feeling joy in her presence made me realize that I had been doing it all wrong.
Since that year, we have changed our traditions. We host an annual “Gingerbread Party.” We bake the cookies from scratch and invite our neighbors and friends. This year we have such a large guest list, we actually had to rent a facility. We decorate our home with lights, trees, stockings, novelty hand towels, etc. It is a “Christmas House.”
We participate in the “Meaningful Christmas” ornaments. Each day we hang an ornament and read a Bible verse about the significance of that ornament. We talk about what the ornament means to them and apply it to our current life.
We do random acts of kindness such as, paying for someone’s gas or food, helping with a particular service, participating in helping a family for Christmas, etc. Wherever there is a need, we try to lend a hand.
We do not have a “Naughty List.” We want our children to understand that a gift is not earned. A gift is a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present. We give it graciously from our hearts simply because we love them. No strings attached and no “take backs.” We allow each child to choose three gifts. One of my dear friends, Thom, suggested this to me years ago. They chose the number “3” to represent the “Three Wise Men.” My older son had to adjust to this change, but my younger two have never known anything different. Would you believe they are super excited to receive three gifts? We also fill the traditional Christmas stocking.
In our family, we don’t count down to Christmas. We enjoy every day. Try incorporating this top ten list into your traditions
1. Quit counting down.
Slow down and enjoy the season. Counting down to the big day when you rip open gifts can possibly relay the wrong message.
2. Throw out the “Naughty List.”
Remember that a gift is not earned. Give your gifts expecting nothing in return. That is what makes it a “gift.”
3. Do something kind.
Do something kind for someone, again expecting nothing in return. Whatever you do, DO NOT POST YOUR KINDNESS ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Nothing makes me cringe more then when I see someone posting their “random act of kindness” on Facebook. Last year I saw pictures of a woman posting her “kindness” step by step with photos. She even photographed herself with the poor homeless woman that was the recipient of her “kindness.” No, no, no!
4. Decorate with joy.
Considering my job is about making things look beautiful, I struggle a bit with this. I like my creations to look magazine worthy. Do you think my kids care? Nope. They want to hang the “Miss Piggy” ornament close to the feathered snowman ornament so they can be friends. They don’t care about color schemes or textures. They focus on the the pure joy of making something beautiful. Our family Christmas tree is just that. A big, beautiful hodgepodge.
5. Make something.
Sitting down and creating something with your family will give you much more then a hand made craft. Turn off the TV, make some hot cocoa, talk, listen and enjoy. You will all treasure the moment and the memory. Also, don’t stress about the outcome of your craft. If they want help, offer help. If they are happy with a two-headed snowman with carrot antennas, then give them a high five for creativity.
6. Say “No.”
You don’t have to attend every dinner, every concert, every ornament exchange or even visit every relative. We killed ourselves for years trying to please everyone, just to look down at our own kids and see exhaustion and frustration from the constant hustle. My current, most important position in life is wife and mother. I must make my husband and kids needs the priority.
7. Say “Yes.”
So what if inviting your lonely neighbor over for dinner messes up your place setting? No one will remember the place setting, but your neighbor will remember the kindness. Your family will also be watching your example.
8. Quit buying so much!
No explanation necessary.
9. Be considerate.
Christmas can be the happiest time of year for some, but sad and lonely for so many people. You never know what someone is going through. Try to smile and treat others the way you would want to be treated. Even if they don’t deserve it. They probably need it.
10. Relax, be merry & spread joy.
Don’t sweat the small stuff and control your temper. Be friendly and kind when you are shopping. Be the joy in someone’s day!