Pretty bracelets my 4 year old made for the "Mary's Meals" raffle.

Pretty bracelets my 4 year old made for the “Mary’s Meals” raffle.

As much as I cherish the beauty of Christmas and the splendor of this holy season, I have to admit I dread the materialism that goes along with our secular world’s celebration this time of year. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve found myself in the toy aisle filling my cart with things my kids don’t need that are only purchased to ensure everyone has the same amount of gifts under the tree. I’ve run to the store mere days before Christmas to pad the stash or buy yet another gift exchange item for a party that we were invited to last minute. I cringe thinking about how much frivolous spending I do to prepare for the holiday. Even though its hard to go against the spending craze, each year I’ve tried to start some new traditions that help us focus more on the giving than the receiving, and to bear in mind that there are so many who go without.

These are a few ideas that have been suggested to me that we’ve implemented in our family:

  • Keep it simple. We try to adhere to the three Kings rule in our house for our children – 3 gifts each in honor of the three kings. They certainly receive more gifts than this from other family members, but this helps keep my own shopping habits in check.
  • Donate gifts to those in need. We try to provide at least one gift from each of our children to a child somewhere in need. We utilize our parish giving tree which supports the poor in Appalachia, the local Catholic Social Services organizations and the Run the Race Center.
  • Give a gift in honor of someone to a charity. There was a time when my husband would give small Christmas gifts to all those who sent him business. I’d spend days running around town delivering chocolate and candy coated nuts to businesses and homes. A few years ago, we started sending cards instead and including a little note that says, “In lieu of traditional Christmas gifts, I have made a charitable donation in your name to Holy Family Soup Kitchen & Food Pantry.” I was a little worried at first that people would be offended, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to receive the nicest notes from the receivers about how much this meant to them!
  • Instead of exchanges, do a charity raffle. Every year, our family has a Christmas gathering in which we do a “Yankee Doodle” or Christmas game. We all buy a gift valued at a certain amount and have a swap, each going in turn in a circle and picking and stealing gifts from each other. It’s always a lot of fun, especially with a really hot item that everyone tries to steal and gag gifts that people get stuck with.  This year, I was delighted that my husband’s Aunt Geri offered a beautiful but simple way to have fun but also make it about helping others. Instead of spending money, everyone has been instructed to bring a gently used item, something homemade or baked good to donate to the raffle. We’re to bring the money we would have spent on a gift and instead buy raffle tickets for the donated items, with the money going to our charity of choice. (This year it’s Mary’s Meals, the organization we support with our book, which feeds over one million hungry children a day throughout the world.) My four year old and I had a really fun time making the glass bead bracelets you see in the picture above.   Not only is our gift helping others, but the special one on one time with my daughter was a gift to both of us.
  • Buy a gift that supports a cause. My mom had a great idea this year to buy Footprints in the Sand tumblers from my kids’ school fundraiser. She gets to give a nice, Christ-centered gift and support Catholic schools at the same time!

It’s so important to remember that at the heart of this season, beyond the shopping sprees and wish lists, Christmas is a beautiful event grounded in our faith. The true purpose is to celebrate the greatest gift of all, Christ Incarnate, and to praise God through all we do, whether or not it’s embraced by our secular culture.

Wishing you all a very merry and merciful Christmas season this year!