• Natalie Maxwell

Doing Christmas Different

It seems like the Christmas decorations come out and music starts playing a little earlier every year.

I'll be honest, I don't hate it.

Although I still hold strong to the tradition of decorating for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, I've already made the switch from my Pumpkin Spice to a Peppermint Mocha latte and if you come over you'll likely hear Michael Buble's Christmas album streaming through our Google home.

It's my favorite time of the year and since we live where winter lasts forever, I try to cling to every bit of the excitement and anticipation of this holiday season.

We do Christmas pretty different in our home than most and when I tell people about it they usually have a ton of questions so I figured for those of you who are already thinking ahead to the joyous season right around the corner, maybe you'd enjoy a look at a different way to celebrate.

Before I tell you what we do, I want to say that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas (as long as you're celebrating the true reason for the season, but that's my opinion) so if you love your traditions and how your family handles gifts than don't think that you have to change it. This is just something that we have found to be a good fit for our family and our convictions and values, but the beauty of traditions is they are as unique as the families that share them.

For most families Christmas is a one day event, which makes sense because it is in essence a birthDAY for Jesus, but in our family we open our Christmas gifts throughout the entire month of December.

Yep, All. Month. Long.

We do this for a few reasons.

#1. I remember as a child always being so sad the day after Christmas. I would spend so much time building up all my excitement in anticipation for the get togethers with family and the presents and then just like that it would all be over. I always wished that I could stretch the season further and I guess that desire never left me.

#2. We have children who have anxiety and sensory issues. Guys, the average Christmas is a nightmare for kids that have these struggles. There's so much build up and then they are overloaded and overwhelmed with more excitement and stimulation than their little bodies can stand.

So we decided to plan out several gift days throughout the month of December and on those days we open presents and then spend the moments and days after actually enjoying our gifts.

Also, we have chosen to only do 1 individual gift for each of our kids, otherwise all of the gifts are things that we enjoy together as a family.

After we went through our transformation of choosing to live with less, we knew we couldn't do Christmas the way we had in the past. We took a good hard look at what Christmas has become in our culture and we asked ourselves if that was the message we wanted to send to our kids. We came to the conclusion that it wasn't and then we started to shape our new Christmas traditions around the message that we DO want to send.

As a child, I knew Christmas was about celebrating the birth of Jesus, but lets face it, I was very focused on what "I" was going to "get".

We want to teach our kids that Christmas has nothing to do with them and everything to do with Christ. We can tell them that, but if we bend over backwards to fulfill their every wish for things that they will forget about in a month, is that really the message we're sending?

So we decided that our kids have one day a year where they are showered with gifts just for them and that is their birthday, they don't need more than that. Christmas, in our house, will be all about Jesus first and foremost and secondly creating memories as a family.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong about giving gifts, in fact the reason we give gifts this time of year is to remind us that Jesus was and is the greatest gift the world has ever received. So we didn't want to take gifts out of our Christmas, actually the very opposite, we wanted to find a way for our gifts to be more meaningful and create more memories. We wanted to make gifts more than just the tearing of wrapping paper and then the setting aside of an object so you can open the next one. We wanted to limit the excess so that we could really enjoy the blessing of the moment without all the clutter. We also wanted to simplify the gifts to teach our kids that it's really the little things in life, that when enjoyed with others, are the best gifts. We want to send them the message that life isn't about acquiring things, but rather it's about being grateful for the people you get to share it with.

If I were to ask you how many memories you have of the gifts you received in your childhood, what would you say? I think most of us could think of one or two gifts that really meant a lot to us. For me it was the year I got the Furby (anyone remember the Furby rage??) I had wanted so badly!! Man, I was so excited about that thing! Even that beloved Furby quickly found it's way to the back of my closet though, once I realized it liked to request things of me in the middle of the night and scare me half to death.

That's one gift, out of the hundreds I received in my childhood that I can actually remember.

Think about that...

Now think about the fact that most Americans go into credit card debt buying presents for their children that their kids wont remember a few weeks, months or years down the road.

That's crazy right? All so our kids can have one magical day of consuming bliss. Is it worth it in the long run?

Those are the kinds of questions we started asking and for us it just wasn't. Beside the fact that we try to be very frugal with our money, we decided that even if we "can" spend like crazy for Christmas doesn't necessarily mean that we "should".

Do you know what childhood memories I do have of Christmas? It's not the things I unwrapped, but rather the experiences that seared joy in my mind. It was the excitement I shared with my brother on Christmas morning as we ran downstairs past all the gifts to wake our parents so we could all share in the excitement together. The smells and tastes of foods we only enjoyed that time of year. Skating on the lake until dark with my brother and dad and looking to shore to see our Christmas tree shining through the windows. The laughter that comes when many immediate families fill a home and create one bigger unit, one that you know your just a part of.

It's the experiences that become things we remember and things that shape our view of ourselves and our family. Those kinds of experiences are the things that we want to give to our children and those kinds of things are what we plan our Christmas gifts around. Experiences that send the message that you are loved and celebrated and you belong in this family. Experiences that send the message that this season is not a time to think about what you can get, but a time to be grateful for what we have. It's a time to come together as a family and celebrate the giver of all perfect gifts, the ones that we never forget, the ones that wont break or lose their appeal. What if we could wrap those experiences and make those the gifts that our kids will remember?

In essence that is what we're trying to do and these are some of the ideas we have come up with...

We started this tradition last year and now I don't see how a December could pass for us without it. While the kids were playing downstairs we made popcorn and set out the gift. To make one gift still exciting and fun with 5 kids, we had a number written down and the kids took turns rolling the dice, the one who rolled the correct number got to open the present, but all of them were very excited and invested by that point. I had our family Christmas photo made into a puzzle and even the kiddos who couldn't do the puzzle had so much fun looking at the pieces and trying to find pictures of each member of our family.

We had so much fun putting it together and OH my goodness the celebration that happened when that last piece was placed!!

What astounded me was that months following this night, our son Gresham continued to put the "family puzzle" together multiple times every day until he had every piece memorized. He has always loved puzzles, but I think this puzzle was extra special for him because every piece was a reminder that he belongs in a family and that is something that wasn't true for him the first 4 years of his life. He did this puzzle until the pictures rubbed off the pieces.

I can't wait to watch his face light up again this year!

We have learned that the secret to making small simple gifts exciting is a little bit of wrapping paper.


I think kids enjoy the whole experience of unwrapping a gift more than they do the actual gift sometimes. Which is why we buy 5 boxes of candy that look like what you get at a movie theater (they are 50 cents at Walmart) and then wrap them and give each child one. In the past we've also bought a new dvd for them to unwrap, but now that Disney Plus is here I don't see us doing that anymore haha

So after dinner some night in December we do this movie theater gift and the kids LOVE it! We end up sharing all the candy usually, but they just love the thrill of getting a present and the experience of enjoying a special night as a family.

I really don't think I could choose one favorite Christmas gift tradition we have, but if I absolutely had to, it would probably be this one. We get each of the kids a new pair of jammies (we usually get ours at The Childrens Place on Black Friday) and we wrap them and hide them around the house. They each take turns finding their jammies (we've done scavenger hunt style and pictionary style games to find them) The kids all cheer each other on while the one sibling searches until they've all found them.

As they get changed into their their new jam jams, I set out their hot cocoa and cookies to take with us as we go look at Christmas lights.

It really is a magical night and one they don't quickly stop talking about.

We usually open our stockings after we get back from spending Christmas with our extended family and the kids always get a new coloring book. (Dollar Tree is my favorite place to buy coloring book and they even have adult ones!) We also wrap new crayons and markers since that's usually a need we have at this point of the year. They open their gifts while the egg bake cooks and then we eat a good breakfast, put on an Adventures in Odyssey or a new audio book and we eat and spend the entire morning coloring. Me and Ryan always have a friendly competition where the kids judge whose picture is the best.

One year I bought these mugs at the Dollar Tree and we wrote their names on them with Sharpie and then baked them so they would stick. They got to unwrap their mugs that each had a hot chocolate packet in them and a new game. I made their cocoa while Ryan set up the game and it was a perfect Saturday morning!

Most kids get at least one book for Christmas, but let's face it if it's between playing with a book or a toy, the toy is probably going to win, which is why we makes books the stars of the show for a whole day. Usually this is another one we do after breakfast some Saturday in December. I stock up on books a few months prior from places like Sams Club, Scholastic, and Usborne books. The kids take turns unwrapping and then they spend the hours following looking at, reading, being read to, and listening (we love audio books) to their gifts.

So like I said earlier we only do one individual gift for each child and it usually isn't anything huge or expensive, but if we do get something more large or spendy we make sure it's something that all the kids will enjoy. Our kids love music and always seem to be performing so last year Ryan made them a small stage and we bought this fun curtain (I'm a fan of the Antsy Pants Build and Play kits) it has equaled endless hours of singing, dancing, and instrument playing.

A few new ideas we have for this year is giving the kids new sleds and gloves (a forever need in our house haha) and then spending the day sledding as a family. Also, we'd like to buy or make the kids personalized aprons and then we will spend the day together in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies.

Above all, our goal is for Jesus to be glorified through the joy and peace in our home and our hearts and even our bank accounts this season

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