So, Christmas.  I love this time of year.  I love the decorations, the lights, the songs, the cookies, the family time, Christmas Eve candlelight service, and if I'm being honest, the presents.

Oh, yeah, and Jesus.....I feel like He gets sadly forgotten at Christmastime, like He's just one more thing to go along with all the lights and sugar and mounds of gifts.  But -- and I know this sounds cliche -- but isn't He the whole reason we celebrate Christmas?

If my main objective as a parent (other than keeping them alive) is to teach Gus and Lula about Jesus and shepherd them as Christ would have me, isn't Christmas one of the best times of year to do this?  Wouldn't it be amazing if they grew up believing that Christmas was about Christ, and not about presents?  To be honest, I don't even know what that would look like.  But I'm hoping to find out.

So, our Christmas strategy -- And yes, I know that this is controversial.  And I promise we're not Scrooges.  And we do plan on mixing in lots of fun, happy traditions.  And we do hope that Gus and Lula will love Christmas as much as we do.  But this is the best plan we could come up with so far :
*Just 4 presents each 
*Lots of opportunities to serve and share 
*Advent devotionals
*Meaningful decorations that tell about the Christmas story
*And lastly, no Santa.  I realize this is really controversial.  But it's what we're doing.  

I'll explain.  Well, maybe not all of it right now - that might take much too long.  And is anyone still reading anyway?

OK, the presents.  I'm sure many of you have heard of this little jingle:
Well, that's what we're planning on doing.  We're trying it out this year, and I really like how easy it's made shopping.  Each gift has a purpose, and our kids are also not going to get overloaded with toys.  I like that they won't grow up expecting to get tons of "Somethings they want" -- they'll know they're limited to one.  And so they'll have to think hard about what it is they really would enjoy and won't end up with tons of things they'll forget about in a week.  Also, this will make it OK for us to give them underwear (need or wear -- oh, the possibilities!)  Hopefully this will simplify gifts for us.

While I like this concept, it bothered me that there was still an emphasis on gifts, and not so much on giving.  Of course, when they're older they can help with the gift-giving part, but I want giving to be an even bigger part of our Christmas.  So to go hand-in-hand with the gift jingle, I came up with this:
This one might need a little more explaining.
"Bring some joy" might be caroling or passing out goodies at a nursing home, or inviting neighbors to Christmas Eve service.
"Give a toy" -- I had either Operation Christmas Child, Toys for Tots, or the Salvation Army angel tree in mind for this one.  Basically, it's giving toys to children who are in need.
"Show our thanks" -- this one will hopefully make us more aware of the many people who work to keep us safe or who serve us.  It could be taking a plate of cookies to the ER or fire station, making a special appreciation gift for our pastors, or sending care packages to our troops.
"Share our banks" -- When the kids are older, I hope to use one of my friends' traditions to help them raise money throughout the Christmas season (more on that later).  At the end of the season, they can choose where to gift that money.  Our friends like picking a gift out of the Compassion gift catalog (or something similar).  Gifts include farm animals, mosquito nets, and Bibles.

All of these categories are very open-ended, which I like.  I hope that it will be an opportunity for creativity in giving each year that will be just as exciting for our kids as the thought of receiving gifts.  I also hope that we will learn about Christ through giving.  That we'll grow to understand His character and His will for us.  That we'll bring some light to others and share Christ with them.

I have a lot more to say on the subject of Christmas, and I haven't even touched on devotionals, decorations, or Santa.  But I'll leave that for next time.  Right now I'd love your input.  Have any of you tried this system of gift-giving?  Does it work well?  What about giving/ showing appreciation/ service projects at Christmastime? I'd love to hear your traditions!
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