As I entered Costco this summer and passed the beach towels and swim goggles at the door, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Christmas wrapping paper on sale. I took a picture and sent it to my husband with the caption, “It’s August.”
It seems as though each year the stores we frequent are pressuring us earlier and earlier to remember that “consumption season” is coming. Everywhere I turn, the message is clear:
BUY MORE THINGS YOU DON’T NEED TO SATISFY A PERCEIVED OBLIGATION THAT YOU SPEND MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE ON GIFTS THAT MUST BE EXCHANGED INSTEAD OF FREELY GIVEN.
No matter your beliefs or the holidays you celebrate, I imagine we can all admit that it’s easy to get wrapped up in unwrapping gifts. I love a good gift as much as the next person, and if Greg were reading this, he would find out I would love a new espresso maker. (Hint, hint, the one we have is broken.) For me, it is so easy to forget that the reason I celebrate this season is the ultimate no-strings-attached-gift-ever – the gracious birth of the Savior of the World. If the meaning is different for you, I think we can agree our culture pressures us earlier and earlier each year to consume more.
I’ve wrestled with how to point my children to the giver of every good and perfect gift during this season, to make our faith the focus instead of an afterthought. We can all do better in this area. Here are a few ideas:
Do a gift exchange within your family so you buy a gift for one person instead of for many.
Give small, homemade gifts to friends and neighbors such as baked treats, homemade body scrubs, or flavored simple syrups. Pinterest is a great place to go for ideas that are both from the heart and won’t break the bank.
Focus on gifts of time instead of gifts of stuff. Buy your bestie concert tickets so you can go together, or museum passes.
Look for gifts that give and serve the purpose of life-sustaining work to those in need. Some of my favorite companies are ABLE (livefashionable.com), 31 Bits (31bits.com), Purpose Jewelry (isanctuary.org/purpose-jewelry), Raven and Lily (ravenandlily.com) and Noonday Collection (noondaycollection.com).
But perhaps my favorite focus shift for the season is not in the gifts we give, but in daily Advent service projects.
Years ago, my mom gave me an Advent calendar in the form of a house. It has little drawers for treats that can be discovered each day in December leading up to Christmas. I decided to include notes with an act of service my children could do (with help). When I started this, I had a four-year-old and a nearly three-year-old, so our first one included pretty simple tasks such as “go through your toys and find some to donate” and “give a friend who is sad a hug.” Today, of the 24 drawers we open, those two acts still make an appearance. But as the kids have grown, we’ve added age appropriate service items.
TO START YOUR OWN, HERE ARE SOME ADVENT CALENDARS:
VARIOUS GROUPON ADVENT CALENDARS – https://gr.pn/2Qwlfsw
AMAZON ADVENT TREE – https://amzn.to/2AQZb6d
TARGET ADVENT HOUSE – https://bit.ly/2Qs1LIN
ETSY ADVENT BAGS – https://etsy.me/2D7Ajc2
Around Thanksgiving, I come up with the list by looking at our calendar. I look for days when service projects are already scheduled and include those. Then, I think about the various activities we do annually and where they might fit best based on everything else that’s going on. For the busiest days on our calendar, I choose activities that won’t take up a lot of time. Here are some examples from years past:
- Send Eliza to school with underpants and white shirts for the orphans in Kenya.
- Stack our cord of firewood so we can enjoy fires.
- Help mommy weed the garden.
- Pack six homeless bags to keep in the car so we can pass them out at traffic lights.
- Pack a basket of snacks and water bottles and set outside for delivery people.
- Go through your toys and games and pick at least three to give to Toys for Tots.
- Go through your books and pick at least three to give to Milk and Bookies.
- Choose a pair of your old shoes to donate for children in Sierra Leone.
- Go to Build-a-Bear, make bears, and put them in the donation bin at the store along with our other Toys for Tots donations.
- Build our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and deliver to Samaritan’s Purse.
- Write letters to your teachers to thank them for all they do for you.
- Write thank you letters for all your coaches and music teachers for all they do.
- Write a letter to our Compassion International child and mail it to her.
- Bake cookies and deliver them to our neighbors.
- Pack backpacks for the kids in need at our local elementary school.
- Volunteer at A Wider Circle’s North Pole Holiday Program.
- Collect hats, mittens, gloves or scarves to donate to a local coat drive.
- Take a meal to a family with a new baby.
- Clean up all your messes in the house today without being asked.
- Make a care package for a college student we know who’s taking finals and mail it.
- Send a care package to each of the deployed military members we know.
- Shop for our Angel Tree selection and take it to church.
- Take some canned goods to Starbucks and donate them in the collection bin.
- Deliver Christmas treats to daddy’s co-workers.
- Make a casserole and deliver it to a local homeless shelter.
- Forgive someone who hurts your feelings today, even if the person isn’t sorry.
- Make your siblings feel special today.
- Spend the day with friends and be kind to them, putting them first.
- Visit a nursing home and make crafts with the residents.
- Deliver breakfast to firefighters or nurses in a hospital.
- Throw out a piece of trash you find outside.
- Take the dog for a walk and play with him in the yard.
- Bake a birthday cake for Jesus.
Of course, the list will continue to change over time as the children become teenagers and perhaps come up with ideas of their own. They – now 10-, eight- and five-year-olds – receive a lot of gifts. I do love the wonder of Christmas morning and of unwrapping gifts that have been carefully made or bought with each other in mind. But it warms my heart every year when I pull out the Advent house and the kids get more excited about it than any other Christmas decoration.
May this Advent season be filled with the wonder of gifts well gifted and graciously received.