Last year at Christmas we didn’t buy gifts.
We bought one pink matchbox car set for Natalie. She was just three, and had only asked Santa for a small, pink, toy car. She still treasures it.
We made tree ornaments with her school pictures for the family. She loved being involved in helping. She was able to practice using paint and glue, and she even wrote the letter N on some of them.
Instead of fighting traffic, battling crowds, and calculating discounts: we sat in our kitchen with the warm smell of cinnamon ornaments baking in the oven.
Instead of fighting with our screaming, sobbing, snot-nosed toddler who would rather get swiped up by a stranger than sit safely in a shopping cart: we got to play with cookie cutters and paint and glue. (I do like the added security of letting her be the most annoying, disgusting, and distressed little brat in the store. If I was a kidnapper, I’d go for the nice, clean, quiet kids)
Instead of slyly looking at the neighbors through the stealth-slots in our window blinds, wondering which terrible soul stole the soggy, dirty, snow-soaked Amazon box off our front porch: we were putting that fake fire place scene on the tv so we could string popcorn garland like the high-class.
And when the family Christmas gatherings came around last year, Natalie was SO proud of her creations! It was definitely special to see her give away those ornaments that she so lovingly made. I can’t imagine she would have been nearly so joy-filled to hand out gifts we dug out of clearance shelves and bargain bins during a hunger and stress-induced shopping-day rage.
It felt good that we didn’t have to stretch budgets or open credit cards. It felt good that we didn’t have to run out for tape on Christmas Eve to wrap up the last presents. It felt good that we didn’t have to clean up boxes and paper, or look for batteries, or try to find receipts on Christmas morning. And if felt good knowing I was prepared to have the most relaxing and stress-free Christmas ever!
But I wasn’t prepared for the bad feelings. There was a lot of guilt. I felt bad that my child wouldn’t wake up on Christmas morning to a room, filled, floor-to-ceiling with sparkling boxes covered in bows. I worried that her friends would talk so much about all the gifts they got. I wondered how she would feel to have only gotten one measly present.
I realized how much I was doing at Christmas out of a sense of obligation, and even out of resentment at times. I realized how much the consumerism and advertising campaigns actually affected me. Seeing the commercials, t.v. shows, Facebook posts, and Black Friday sales really did somehow make me feel like I should buy stuff. Part of me even felt like if I wasn’t buying stuff, then I must not be a true Christian/American/Woman/Human; and they never stopped.
It was also pretty hard to accept gifts from people without delivering a gift in return. And I questioned my own motives. Would I have actually bought a gift for someone if I knew they weren’t returning the favor? I thought about how they worked so hard, and earned money, and traded their time, to go buy gifts, and wrap them, just for me. I felt very selfish accepting those gifts. I wondered if they really, didn’t believe us that we were not buying gifts and if they had some secret expectations that we planned to surprise them or something; because what the hell kind of church dwelling Christian doesn’t buy Christmas presents?! Not even for their own child?
In a couple weird ways it also felt selfish to want to buy gifts. A lot of my motivation to buy gifts was to combat the guilt, and to fulfill the sense of obligation that I had over the whole thing. And it was eye-opening to notice how often I saw something and wished I could buy it for a loved one; yet only thought of how it would feel for me when they opened it, not how it would make them feel. The true spirit of Christmas giving was harder to find inside of my heart than I had expected.
This year, as we see people starting to post about Christmas shopping and the market starts shifting to the holiday season, my husband and I are getting excited.
We won’t exchange gifts. We will exchange smug looks when people start complaining about the stress of the holidays –because our stress is a different kind. It feels more like progress than pressure.
And this year, as we work through the feelings of obligation and guilt that consumerism has created about the holidays we will dig deeper into our faith, grow stronger in our selves, and hopefully experience the true meaning of Christmas that has been so shaded by the world.