Every Christmas, it seemed to get worse — the commercialism, the longer and longer “want lists," the pressure to make everyone happy by giving them what they want.
We kept trying to shift the focus to giving and to the birth of Christ. We set up traditions like having an empty manger in our little Nativity scene and having kids put a straw in it every time they did service or helped someone or gave a compliment. Then they'd place the baby Jesus in it on Christmas Eve, emphasizing that when we give to others, we give to Christ.
We set up service projects in December. We visited orphanages. We encouraged kids to save for and shop for their siblings, or to make homemade gifts for others.
We tried everything we could think of to shift the emphasis from getting to giving.
And none of it worked very well.
The closer Christmas got, the more the kids' minds were on what they were going to get. The whole Santa Claus culture didn’t help.
Even the whole “Elf on the Shelf” made them think about not getting caught doing anything that would impact what they were going to get.
And on Christmas morning, it was too much about “did I get it?” and “did someone else get more than me?”
Then one year, we had an idea that actually worked.
It simply involved giving into the idea that you couldn’t stop kids from thinking about getting, but that you could separate the getting from the giving and try to give equal time to each.
What we did was devote Christmas Eve entirely to giving, with each child having a designated time to give his or her gifts to the other family members. All the emphasis was on the giver. “Wow, what a great present!” “Did you make that by yourself?” “How did you know that was exactly what I wanted?” “You are an amazing giver!”
We explained in advance that Christmas Eve would just be about them giving their gifts to each other and that each would have a certain time when everyone was focused on them and receiving and thanking them for what they would give. They shopped, they worked, they wrapped — and when it was their giving time, they shined!
If anything came up about Santa or what he might bring, we said, “That’s for tomorrow on Christmas Day. Tonight is just about giving.”
After each had his giving time (the “thank yous” got ever more effusive as everyone got into the spirit of gratitude), we did our traditional, costumed reenactment of the trip to Bethlehem and the Nativity, and went off to bed with a glow.
Then when Christmas morning came, we just let the whole getting thing happen.
Christmases were happier after that, and more balanced, with a day of giving having equal billing with a day of getting.
Somehow each enhanced the other — and both days got more fun.