I can't believe its almost Christmas again. Time seems to really fly by as I get older. And I'm only 29! It seems like every time I blink, its Christmastime. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. Not because of the presents that I've always been fortunate enough to receive, but because we spend so much family time in the Christmas season. Growing up, I was blessed to live very close to several members of our family. My grandparents bought land and built a house on it, then gave land to each of their 3 daughters when they got married. (Their 2 sons chose to move elsewhere, though they've always been nearby.) So I lived on the same piece of land with my grandparents and two aunts. We started out in a single-wide trailer and my parents built a house when I was about 4, so I never really moved. I loved it.
My husband's family is pretty similar. His parents' house is surrounded on both sides by DH's great aunts, and next to one great-aunt are the other two aunts, then his grandma. And a little bit further down the road is our own home. And all of this is 3 miles from where I grew up. To say we both come from close-knit families is an understatement! Our parents never lacked for babysitters when we were younger, and we always had cousins available to play with.
My point is that though DH and I both come from families that get together all the time (and were more often than not barging into each other's homes on a daily basis!), Christmas has always been special. At Christmas the whole family gets together, not just those that stuck close by. And we're all together at the same time for a big meal. I have so many fond memories of Christmas supper at Grandma's....When Papa was living, he made grape wine every year using grapes from his vines. That was some strong stuff! But so good. After eating a huge supper, we'd go to the living room, the adults would drink wine from tiny glasses, Mama would play the piano, and we'd all sing. I should stop typing in past tense, because this still happens, though now we use store-bought wine (preferably Duplin County wine!). Mama and her sisters always end up making up a silly song or two, which they sing for the rest of us with Mama accompanying on the piano. (We sound like a bunch of drunks, don't we? I promise, we're not! We act like that when there's no wine involved, too. We just like our wine on Christmas!)
At some point during the night, we exchange presents, but that's not the part I ever remember after the day is over. Sure, I enjoy getting gifts, and I love seeing someone open a present I picked out for them. But I really love (and crave) is the family time. Just being together, laughing, eating good food, enjoying each other's company. My family is not perfect, but we've always managed to put any differences aside at Christmas and have fun together. Honestly, I wouldn't mind if we all decided to skip presents this year and just hang out at Grandma's.
Which is the real reason for this post. One of the blogs I read recently posted about Christmas and mentioned something called The Advent Conspiracy. Of course I was intrigued so I looked it up. I encourage you to check out their website, but basically its just an informative website to encourage people to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and forget about all the hustle and bustle of gift-giving. Their video sums is up nicely. Every time I watch this video I get chills!
This may not be the exact video that's on AC's website, but I don't think they change it much every year. The idea is the same. When I first watched the video and visited their website, I was completely on board. I talked to DH about it, and I really pushed for doing something meaningful, like donating our money and time to charity, at Christmas instead of buying a bunch of presents for everyone. He likes the idea, but he's realistic and knows that this is so hard to do.
Since we got married, every year at Christmas we make a loooooong list of people we "need" to buy presents for: our parents, siblings, my sisters' children, grandmothers (neither of us have grandfathers living), and each other. And then there's the "extras:" our bosses, DH's co-workers (I don't have any co-workers), a few friends and special cousins, and then one of my siblings usually has a significant other at Christmas that I feel compelled to buy for. We set a limit for each person, and of course different people have different limits. I am really good at sticking to the "Christmas budget" and I am an excellent sales-shopper. DH, not so much. He absolutely loves buying things for other people. Which tends to make him go overboard. We say every year that our limit for each other is $100, but he has never stuck to that limit for me. (I don't either anymore, because I felt bad he was spending so much more on me than I was on him!)
Usually, DH gives me the money (he's a great saver and saves all year for Christmas, while I am terrible at saving money - mainly because it takes everything I make to pay my half of the bills and my student loans! - and never have any at the end of the year - boo) and sets the budget, and I do all the shopping. He's a great shopping companion, but I am so much quicker than him. I usually know beforehand what I want to get for each person, so when I get to the store, I just pick it up and go. DH is a "browser." So when he does go with me, it takes twice as long, though we always have fun shopping together. He's also great at being a careful listener in the weeks before Christmas, so he knows what people want without having to ask them. So our system has worked well for us for years now.
Except its so wasteful. There are people that we buy presents for that we only see maybe 3 times a year. We don't know them well enough to have any idea what type of things they like, or even what size clothes they wear. So they get gift cards or generic gifts. Of course, who doesn't love a gift card (you can buy exactly what you want), but there's no love in a gift card. Or some stupid little something we randomly picked up because we didn't know what else to get you. We just end up buying something for the sake of having a present. And what happens to that present? Most likely it goes unused. Completely wasted. I know I receive gifts like that, I have no idea what to do with them because they are completely not "me," and then I feel guilty for not using them. (Because what if the gift giver sees you later on and asks how you like the gift?!) SO much stress! Unnecessary stress.
My proposition to DH was to cut back on the amount we spend on each person. Find truly meaningful gifts and not buy stuff just for filler. No one should be keeping up with how much others spent on you. Right?? And for the "extended" people on our gift-giving list, I plan to propose we don't do gifts at all, just get together and have a big meal and just spend time together. Which is what we do anyway. When we get together for Christmas with my sisters (step-sisters, actually), we all have so much fun together that if it weren't for the younger kids pushing us we wouldn't get around to opening gifts. And I think the main reason we do presents at all is because of the kids. But now my youngest nephew is 12, so they're all old enough to understand you don't need a ton of presents. (My daughter will be 2 by Christmas, but she hasn't yet learned that Christmas is a time of presents, so she wouldn't miss it.) I hope to talk to my sisters this weekend to get their thoughts and suggest we eat supper together as usual, and maybe do something fun afterwards (or before), like go ice skating in Raleigh or go see lights somewhere. I have a feeling they'll both be on board.
I also proposed to DH that we tell our parents not to buy me and him anything. Honestly, we don't need anything, and I'd rather they save their money. I'd like to set limits for them buying C presents, but I doubt that'll go over well. He thinks it'll make his parents feel too bad if we say don't buy us anything, like we're doin it out of pity or something. So I doubt that happens. I'd be perfectly happy, though, if no one bought me anything. C's birthday is a few days before Christmas, so she'll get plenty of gifts then, and really she doesn't need many Christmas presents either. But like I said, everyone wants to buy her stuff. (Maybe that'll change one day if we have more children!)
My final proposition is this: For the people we absolutely are buying presents for, we should purchase stuff from local businesses. Like Mary Kay reps (and conveniently, I am one, haha), local bakeries, local specialty stores, etc. That way we're not supporting Target and WalMart, but local people. And the gifts will have more meaning because it took more thought to get them. I'm really digging this idea! (It wasn't my idea, though; I saw a thing on facebook about it and shared the photo.)
So wish me luck on Operation Put CHRIST Back In Christmas around here! Maybe we'll gradually cut back and eventually not buy presents anymore. Whatever happens, I vow to make this Christmas less stressful and more fun and more Christ-focused. ( :