Christmas $hopping for Six Kids
Santa Clause is coming to town. Yes, and this is the part of having (any number of) kids that no one warns you about. There are countless hidden costs to having children, and Christmas takes the cake (pun intended). Although it comes the same time every year… somehow, someway, it still sneaks up on me. Every December, I make a bunch of lists, map out the remaining paychecks, and start referring to bills as disciples (Peter and Paul) in hopes of some divine intervention. Year after year, I’ve found myself in the same struggle situation that, all too often, sucks the fun out of Christmas for me.
Looking back, the year that REALLY changed my outlook on Christmas was the year that I signed up for gifts through the Salvation Army. It was 2005-ish, and I had three small children at the time. Despite working full time, I was barely able to clear the $1500/month daycare payment. We were living check to check, and Christmas was coming (per usual). The season of perpetual hope was looking awfully hopeless (even months in advance), so I signed up for the Christmas Gift Program through my local Salvation Army. That year, the boys received a hefty donation of wrapped presents for Christmas, making them very happy (just as children should be on Christmas morning).
For me, that was my roughest Christmas ever. I had three kids, all under the age of four. Physically and emotionally, I had taken a beating that year, and to top it off, I was also financially exhausted. Humility was my gift that Christmas morning, as I (equally as surprised) watched as my boys opened presents that I could not afford to buy. Although grateful, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad and disappointed. The best part of Christmas, for me, is picking out child-specific items. At that time, the boys were really into “Dora”, so maybe I would have gotten them a toy backpack or something related to the show. That holiday, I was just all around defeated, and I vowed to do things differently moving forward.
In the years to follow, Christmas fluctuated. We had “big” Christmases if I felt like I shorted them throughout the year, and we had Christmases where they received socks and underwear, because that’s what they really needed at the time. Eventually, the dust settled on my life, the gray hairs started coming in, and my finances stabilized (some). I recognized that in order to survive the ups and downs of raising a large family, I needed a more functional approach to Christmas, one that could be duplicated year after year. Christmas should be reasonable, yet meaningful, with feelings of joy on both the giving and receiving ends.
6 years ago, I started a new tradition for gift giving on Christmas. That first year, I called it “giving with a purpose” when I adopted the “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” theme. This gave me direction and structure; it gave me a beginning and an end to shopping. I still had a list, but I wasn’t scrambling around and adding random things at the last minute. Christmas felt calculated and less stressful, and for the first year ever, it actually felt like an act of kindness and not a draining expectation. For the boys, who had gotten a copious number of gifts the year before, they were intrigued by the theme and took their four gifts in stride (just as kids do).
Every year the theme has changed. I love stumbling onto new ideas, and finding the perfect gift (son-specific) to fit the theme. The boys really enjoy waking up to find a typed note that unveils their theme, then opening their gifts and connecting it to the meaning. Christmas is no longer this holiday where I dread the budget and massive expectations. I don’t stress buying evenly or spending equally for six kids. Somehow, I’ve managed dismiss the guilt and reclaim real joy in this holiday again. For 2020, I think I need a "vision" theme...
2014: Something to you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read
2015: Rep yourself, rep your team, rep God
2016: Something to take you far, keep you warm on your way, help you fulfill your dreams
2017: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue
2018: Three gifts from the Wise Men
2019: To Connect, to disconnect, to reflect