This post is for letter “U” in the 2016 ABCs of Homeschooling Through the Holidays series.
We’ve all had that awkward and funny moment when we realize the beautiful (and sometimes expensive) Christmas gifts we’ve bought for our one-year-old are discarded under the frosted tree in favor of the box and tissue paper. Or worse yet, when we feel guilty for making our three-year-old open the rest of the presents when their deepest desire is to be left alone to play with the wooden helicopter they unwrapped first. Even the big kids are dazzled by the amount of presents. By the time the unwrapping is done and the paper is floating around the room with every exhale, your eight-year-old is glassy-eyed and recalcitrant. “That’s it?” he asks.
Every year the symptoms seem to get worse, if not in your house, certainly in our culture. No more “Silver Bells” – “more, bigger, better” is the new refrain.
If you’re a conscientious homeschool mom, you’re doing your best to keep the culture of greed from infecting your home, but the modern celebration of Christmas seems specifically designed to thwart your plans.
In fact, holiday spending in 2013 generated over three trillion U.S. dollars. That’s trillion with a “T.” From 1999 to 2015, holiday retail sales have grown 3.7% (from Statista). In 2015, according to the American Research Group, shoppers said they were planning to spend an average of $882 on gifts . We all know how those plans go. I always overspend. I forget one or two people on my list and end up splurging on last-minute gifts that I can’t leave on the store shelf.
Every year I vow that Christmas will be more about giving and less about getting, and every year I wonder if I’m missing something.
My husband tells a story about his childhood that fills me with awe, probably because I’m not a natural giver. When he was in elementary school, his family lived on a college campus as dorm parents and teachers. It was a small Bible college in the Montana mountains. His best friend was another son of a dorm parent family, and they spent many happy hours roaming the mountains and having pinecone wars. His best friend’s mom, however, was in poor health, and because of doctor bills and expensive treatments, they had to forego Christmas presents one year.
My husband’s family sacrificially gave up their Christmas presents – all of them – to give Christmas to his best friend’s family. I’m sure it was unexpected. I’m sure it was an amazing blessing. My husband talks about it to this day. I don’t know if my children, much less myself, would be able to do something so unselfish.
Somehow we have come to associate Christmas with unhealthy entitlement.
It’s not that I think no one should ever get presents, after all, the greatest thing we have in our lives came to us as the Ultimate Gift. We are the consummate receivers. We don’t deserve that great Gift, just as we aren’t entitled to presents.
Our children don’t have to give up all their Christmas presents, but they should have the kind of hearts that prioritize giving over getting.
Isn’t Christmas the best time to teach how to give unexpected and undeserved gifts? The Christmas story is full of them. Zechariah and Elizabeth were visited by an angel who promised the gift of a long awaited child. Mary was given the gift of being the mother to the Messiah. The shepherds were gifted with a multitude of angels, praising God with the other-worldy chorus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Even the young Jesus and his family were visited by wisemen from the east, bearing precious gifts fit only for a king.
This is how it is with God – unexpectedly giving Himself away to us. It’s the culture of His kingdom, isn’t it, where those who are far off – the forgotten, the wanderer, and the poor in spirit – receive the unexpected and undeserved gift of His Son?
I know what it is to receive the unexpected gift of love, the undeserved blessings of family, friendship, and home. Now I wonder how to teach my children to extend the culture of unexpected and undeserved gifts to the world around them.
If this seems overwhelming and impossible to you, as it does to me, to stand athwart the tide of our culture, I want to reassure you of the power of generosity.
Just yesterday I found my daughter doing math. It was Saturday. She didn’t have to do math, and doesn’t particularly love math. What, pray tell, could have awoken such a desire in her heart? She said she felt like doing math because she had just finished helping her friend with her math homework. Helping someone else in her hour of need inspired my daughter to do math worksheets.
Giving creates joy. Whether it’s math, a Christmas dinner, or salvation, when we involve our children in a culture of giving in our home, that culture becomes contagious. It infects our children, and they share it without realizing how counter-cultural it is.
What are some ways to build a giving culture into your home this season?
- Encourage giving as much as getting. As my children have grown, we have spent more time on their lists of Christmas gifts to others than their own wish list. Throughout the year, they earn money for chores done around the house, and they get great delight in buying or making gifts for others in the family. Have your kids make a “give” wish list before they make their “get” wish list. (You can download a free “Give and Get Christmas Wish List” for your kids here).
- Participate in church and community projects. If you don’t know where to start, many non-profits are already at work in the Christmas season, and it’s easy to join them. Our local Fairbanks Food Bank partners with churches to deliver food all year round and specifically looks for food donations and help during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Samaritan’s Purse has the Operation Christmas Child project every year, which distributes boxes to needy children around the world. Our church donates winter gear to the CareNet Pregnancy Center. It isn’t hard to find something already going on in your church or community.
- Find a family who could use an unexpected gift and make blessing them into your own Operation Unexpected Gift. Children love to be part of surprises. Whether you pull a caper complete with leaving boxes on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell, and running away or you invite them to your house to share a meal and presents, children are willing to give a lot if they can participate in something meaningful. If you need help finding a family in need, ask your pastor. Pastors usually have a finger on the pulse of their congregation and know who could use extra help this year. Examples of people that might need your help are those who are away from home, those who have lost a loved one, those who have lost their home to a fire, those who have illness in the family, those who have lost a job, and those who are seniors living on their own.
- Partner with a non-profit that gives useful things to people as a way to share the gospel. Samaritan’s Purse has a catalog that you can “shop” to find gifts to send to people, such as hot meals, emergency housing, chickens, and clean water systems. Compassion International and New Light Nepal are two of many organizations that make it easy to support children around the world and protect them from human trafficking while providing them with food and an education. There are countless denominations and non-profits that do similar things, so you can find the right fit for your family. One year the children in our church raised money to buy a pig for a Nepalese family. They ended up raising enough money to buy five or six pigs! We sent the money as cash with our pastor to our missionary friends in Nepal and got to see pictures of the piglets upon his return. My kids will remember that experience for a long time.
As you teach your children about giving, don’t be anxious about whether your children will enjoy Christmas with fewer gifts of their own. God has a way of taking care of that for those who are generous. After all, we’re talking about the same children that have a glorious time playing in the snow all day and think cardboard boxes are the playhouses of kings. This Christmas, revel in their new-found generosity and thank God for the unexpected and undeserved gifts that our children are to us.
Anthea Shirk loves helping new homeschooling moms get started. She blogs at The Inspired Homeschooler and runs a membership community for new homeschool moms called The Inspired Homeschooler Community. You can connect with her in her Facebook Group for new homeschool moms – Inspired Homeschoolers. Don't forget to download the free printable “Give and Get Christmas Wish List.” when you visit.
Anthea has a bachelor’s degree in English Secondary Education from Cedarville University and taught high school English and college entry level writing classes for four years. She has a wonderful husband and three enthusiastic children, who she’s been homeschooling for the last eleven years.
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