At the end of October we went and stayed with my sons God-Parents and had been having a conversation with them about Christmas. Their children are much younger than ours (3 and 1 year old), they are both Anglican ministers and run a Parish in Cheshire together. Christmas therefore is an extremely busy time for them. So far they have managed to keep 'Santa' out of their Christmas celebrations completely. We were having a discussion about how that might continue and it got me thinking why I chose to go the route I did with my family. I have to be honest and admit that it wasn't something I felt I made a conscious decision about. My children are not the eldest within the wider family, so maybe I just picked up the traditions that my siblings and parents had already put in place. I feel quite ashamed that I did not put more thought into it.
In November I was reading another of Ann Voskamps posts at Holy Experience and it shook me to my core, it once again took me back to why as a family we do the things we do at Christmas. In her post she describes how 10 years ago when her son was 5 years old, he suddenly asked why people get presents at Christmas, when everyone normally gets presents on their birthdays and this was Jesus's birthday. Her reaction to this was to invest in presents for Jesus and not for their family members - a tradition that they have carried on ever since.
This year I was working up until Christmas Eve, the first time since I started paid employment within the church. I found this far more focused my mind on the reality of Advent and Christmas. Boosted by the idea that Ann took on for her family, I chatted with my husband and we decided to talk to the children about it. This meant no longer talking about Santa leaving presents, we knew our eldest two (13 and 11) didn't 'believe' in Santa but knew we just talked about him with a twinkle in our eyes, however I was not totally certain about my youngest daughter (9 years). We sat together after a meal and I told them about the blog post that Ann wrote. We chatted about Santa and why we have always followed the tradition that we have - honestly. They were all very interested and understanding in our discussions. Then came the point when I made the suggestion - "How would you all feel about not having presents from your parents/carers this year?" I quickly reassured them that we could still do stockings (small things including lots of sweeties), feeling that cutting everything out might just be too overwhelming. I also pointed out that they would still get presents from wider family members and friends and we would still buy presents for them to.
It was during this conversation that we started talking about the stuff that they often got, usually one main present (a toy, etc) and then lots of smaller presents of things that to be honest I would at any other time of the year buy them anyway. For example, wellies, pyjamas, new underwear, new school bags, etc. We all agreed that generally we are in the very luxurious position of being able to get the things we need in our life. My husband and I most definitely did not 'need' anything and I knew he found present buying very very stressful. We then started chatting about what sort of things Jesus would like for his birthday. With some very gentle encouragement they started to understand that he would probably want things for those that don't have anything, or at least very little.
So on the afternoon of Christmas Eve we sat down together after lunch with an Oxfam unwrapped brochure. I gave each one of us a sum of money and then read through the brochure so we all knew what was in it. Once I had done this we went round in turn and said what we would like to spend our money on. I was so very proud of them all, there was no moaning, no mournful looking faces. Instead we were laughing and playing a little game of guessing how much things might be before I gave them the answer.
It was really lovely when just after the New Year we received a whole load of cards from Oxfam showing all the items that we had purchased, we were all able to again reflect on what we had chosen for Jesus. The photo at the top of the page is just a small number of these cards, but things like a toilet, a shelter, home care assistant and clean water were just some of the things we were able as a family to give to those who needed it.
I have to confess that we did still treat the children - we brought one family present - a games console, the first time I had purchased one of these for over 14 years (and then it was for my husband as we had no children). However we didn't let them see this until they had already opened other family/friends presents and their stockings and been to church, and needless to say it has been a great hit.
My youngest summed up the whole experience this Christmas a couple of days ago with "can we or at least can I do this again next Christmas please". I most certainly think a new tradition has begun.