I love Christmas. Reflecting on the birth of Jesus stirs me deeply. The favorite hymns sung through the centuries are fresh to me each season. But admittedly I also enjoy the glitz and glitter of the holiday season and even the shopping. When my gift list is completed and checked off, I find myself thinking of and rationalizing more gifts to purchase. I start putting money aside in January for Christmas. For the remainder of the year, this compulsive buying halts but giving gifts at Christmas captures something special for me.
I think it has to do with tradition. When my own kids were little, we had very little discretionary money. But each year at Christmas, Glen’s parents would provide thoughtful gifts for all of us – need items and desired items – unaffordable in that season of our lives. Months prior to Christmas, we would anticipate what they might give. Through their generosity, we obtained electronics, kitchen equipment, clothing, and even furniture. As grandparents, we continue this tradition and enjoy providing for our adult kids and grandchildren through the giving of gifts.
I grew up as a child with entirely different traditions however. My 82 year old mom was and still is known to our family as “second hand Santa Claus”. Each year she produces gifts for everyone from her bag of items purchased at yard sales. Her style of gift giving is rooted in her past. Raised in Finland during and after World War II, the giving and receiving of new gifts was not practiced in her poor farming family with eight children. In fact, Christmas had very little to do with the giving of material gifts at all. Instead, they enjoyed inexpensive customs and peaceful celebrations, rooted in the powerful values of their simple lifestyles.
Finnish families were generous, however, sharing what they possessed with each other. It was what they did as a nation. In 1940, most of the Karelia region in Finland was taken over by the Soviet Union, forcing nearly 400,000 inhabitants to flee and relocate. The citizens in the remaining part of Finland responded to their government’s request and opened their homes to these refugees. My grandparents sectioned off a portion of their home, and offered it to a family of four, sharing what little they had with strangers. Life in this small country, devastated by war, was not about accumulating wealth and material possessions but about families helping each other survive.
As a wealthy widow and American citizen today, my mom remains frugal. She will never be a big gift giver yet she is very generous. To waste anything is intolerable yet to share what she possesses remains customary to her way of life.
Glen and I, raised very differently from each other, attempted to bring two perspectives about gift giving together to make traditions in our own family. We sought to model wise spending and at the same time generosity. Time flies, however, and the season to influence and train up the hearts of our own kids has passed. Looking back I see how temporary the assignment of raising kids really is. Done again, I would be even more purposeful and thoughtful. For one, I would put more value and thought into traditions- practices that reflect and teach priorities and hold strong opportunities to influence and mold hearts.
This Christmas, we joyfully celebrated the holiday season with our three kids and their young families. We enjoyed seeing some of our traditions continue and also took delight in the new traditions being established. We are blessed – our kids are walking out adult life, married to sincere believers and striving to raise their kids in homes that honor Christ. I long, however, for them to comprehend what I now only in hindsight understand – just how precious and short the season of raising kids truly is. I pray that they will be passionately purposeful, taking advantage of all the opportunities this period of their lives holds, so that what cultivates and moves forward in the hearts of their children is eternal – an abiding and infectious love for Jesus that will influence future generations.
What traditions are you establishing with your kids with regard to the Christmas season? What values do your traditions reflect?
When we have had a good dinner and feel remarkably generous, we say, “If only I had a thousand pounds, what I would do with it!” We do not get credit for that until what we do with what we have is considered. The proof that the design for the thousand pounds would be worked out is what we do with the twopence-half penny we have. (Oswald Chamber, Biblical Psychology, 170L.)