In my sermon today on "A Charlie Brown Christmas," I made the point that it IS possible to have a less commercialized Christmas. Here are some ideas for what The Advent Conspiracy calls "Relational Giving," collected from various sources:
Dinner for Grandparents
My dad is 94 and my stepmother is 88. My dad's grandchildren collect pictures of all the family and have a calendar made for him and my step-mother. They include everyone's birthday plus on the first day of the month they list who will bring them supper one night that month. They divide everyone into 12 groups. My sister took her time and had my dad and stepmother invite 12 friends and she fixed supper for all of them. That way they were able to entertain once again around their own table.
I stole my mom’s photo albums (don’t worry I gave them back), got pictures from my grandparents and scanned all of them, over 2000 pictures, into my computer. I made a photo book with the best 400. I wrote them a letter telling them how much I appreciated them going to all my soccer games, being scout leaders, taking me to national parks, teaching me to drive, helping me with homework, guiding me through life but most of all showing me how to have a relationship with Jesus. I will never forget watching them read that letter and look through that book.
Gifts for the Homeless
My husband gave me a nice surprise last Christmas. He had visited his family in Ohio alone because I couldn't get off work. But he came home early on Christmas morning and he and his family had packed 30 Ziploc bags with gifts for my friends on the street. We drove downtown and gave out bags and told them it was a gift from Jesus. Many of the homeless were thankful that day.
A few years ago we decided that our three kids didn't need more stuff. So, I really thought about what they did need and that was more time together as a family. In lieu of gifts for the kids we take a small two or three day vacation around Christmas. It can be as simple as renting a cabin and sledding or playing board games for a few days or taking in Christmas sights within a car trip of our home. Now instead of making a Christmas list they ask, "Where are we going this year?"
Scripture for the Year
We put everyone's names in a basket and each of us draws one out and this becomes the person you give a scripture to. You pray and ask the Lord to give you a specific scripture for this person that will speak what the Lord wants to speak to them. It has been amazing over the years to hear the scriptures read aloud by the person and to see how it speaks to their spirit, many times in ways you would never imagine!
On the night or day that we celebrate Christmas together we start with the youngest person first (yes we include EVERYONE no matter the age, even if mom or dad have to help) and whoever had picked that person’s name gives the scripture to them and it gets read out loud to everyone. It's a great way to keep the focus on the Lord and give Him opportunity to speak a word to you for the coming year.
The fun part is how you present it. We've painted ornaments and put the scripture on it … given it on paper written or typed out so it can be put somewhere to be seen all year …made it into a magnet, or a bookmark, or even a frame... the possibilities are only as limited as your imagination and creativity will let you go! Oh and something that I started doing a few years back was writing down the reference in a book that is kept for the family to bring out each year. (Oh and I've also scrapbooked them, for those of you who like to do that!)
We never intended for this to become a tradition in our family but God did. It all began one Christmas over 15 years ago when we all had little to no money and we were trying to give something that costs nothing and it has turned out to be one of the things that we look forward to each year and has become a tradition for our family ever since. Hopefully you will like the idea and want to adopt it as your family tradition as well. It costs you nothing but a little time in prayer and as much creativity as you can muster!
Give the gift of experience. The Gift Weblog suggests, “There’s nothing like giving someone the gift of experience, it is something they will always remember.” Sample gifts of experience: sky diving, scuba lessons, hot-air balloon rides, cooking school, lunch with a hero, etc.
Time or Skill
Give the gift of time or skill. Brad has given music lessons. He has colleagues who have given bike tune-ups and wine advice. What skills do you have? Can you help somebody set up a blog? Plant a garden? Learn to change the oil in their car?
The Real St. Nick
Our first Re-thunk Christmas, I was terribly afraid that my children wouldn't get to experience the MAGIC of Christmas. The Christmas mornings that my parents helped me to experience when our living room was completely transformed, waking Mom and Dad with "come see what Santa left!!!" and how did Santa know how much we wanted those bicycles? But the magic was there... more magically than ever... this idea put the magic BACK in Christmas for me as an adult.
At the beginning of the Advent season, I wrapped a BIG open box and put it in the living room. My children (then 2 & 5, now 6 & 9) were to carefully to think about what toys they didn't need anymore. They cleaned them up, and put them in the box to give to Santa. "Santa has a lot of children to give gifts to, let's see if we can help by sharing the gifts we don't need." They really got into it. If they were hesitant to give an item, I reminded them that if it was too hard to give it away, they could take it out again. They put so much thought into what they still needed, and what they thought would be better enjoyed by someone else... and into what might be considered "junk" that no one would want. On Christmas Eve, we sealed the box and put a note on it, "For the children who have nothing."
That night, Santa came to my children. All of the "just what I wanted!" things. The living room transformed. And when the children woke me up Christmas morning, running into the room with enthusiastic giggles, I didn't hear "come see what Santa left!!" I heard, "Come See! Come See! He took it! Santa took our gifts to the children!! The box is gone!" They hadn't noticed their stockings full or the specially wrapped gifts. They were thrilled with the magic of the Real St. Nicholas, whose legend we tell every year: A priest who sneaked to give gifts to those who were without gifts. THAT's Santa Magic.
Memories for Grandfather
The most wonderful gift I have ever given (it’s still talked about years later) cost me almost nothing. I spent a few months contacting friends and family members and asked them to send me memories and old pictures of my grandfather. Then I wrote one memory (or printed one picture) on each of 365 business card sized pieces of card stock. I folded each in half and secured it with a bit of tape, then placed them all in a big jar I decorated. Every morning for the next year, my grandfather would take out a paper, open it, and see what other people cherished in him. He loved it.
We have four kids and are trying to "rethink" Christmas this year for Advent Conspiracy. We usually will do 4 or 5 gifts per kid. This year, they each get one gift on Christmas and then I thought it would be fun to give a coupon book...personalized for each child. Each one will have a coupon to redeem each month. It may be "breakfast in bed" or "go out for a milkshake w/mom" or "hit a bucket of golf balls w/dad." You can go real simple or get more detailed. The key is that they get to redeem only one/month. This spreads out your cost over time.
The Gift of Staying in Touch
I have 2 good friends who live on the other side of the country. Over the years we have lost touch just from getting busy. Last year I mailed each of them a mug and some tea bags that I had. I enclosed a card saying that every 2 months, on the anniversary date of their birthday (the 8th and the 26th of the month) I would call and we would catch up. It has been wonderful. I mark it on my calendar and despite needing to change the date or time occasionally, I am back in touch with both close friends. My one friend told me it was her favorite gift she received last year.
Write a personal letter to your children and grandchildren letting them know what you think of each of them. Recognize their gifts, talents, and character qualities. Even considering sharing what you see as God's working in their lives. I have done this for 27 years and it has become the highlight of every Christmas as everyone waits to receive their letter from dad and grandpa. After death these letters will still be read over again and again. The influence we can have will always be there in their lives.
One Christmas growing up, my mom presented each of us three kids with a special ornament. Each one represented an aspect of our God-given character.
Laura: Star-shaped ornament, representing my ability to reflect the light of God to those around me.
Emily: Heart-shaped ornament, representing her tender and giving heart.
Brian: Shepherd ornament, representing his ability to guide and shepherd people.
I don't remember many of the gifts given at Christmas, but I sure remember this one!
Telephone Book Club
I live 10 hours away from my sister. We are both very busy with our jobs and our children, but we share a passion for reading and being able to discuss what we're reading with someone else. Last year, I wrapped two copies of the same book and gave them to my sister with a note describing our newly formed book club. It consists of only the two of us. We read one book together each month and we take turns choosing the book. The first Sunday night of each month (after our kids go to bed) we have a designated phone time to discuss the book we just finished.
My mother in-law has boxes and boxes of photos (in no order, nor in albums - just thrown in boxes). We purchased a photo organization box for around $20 and we'll be giving her a gift certificate for our time to help her organize the photos. Not only will it be productive, but an activity where we can reminisce about the past and spend time with my mother in-law