December is here! What a lovely month. I know that some people are annoyed that this shiny month is “so busy.” Of course it is busy. There is so much to celebrate and so many people to celebrate with! I have always been a fan of all things Christmas and cozy. I love that Christmas brings people together and that it allows us all to tap in to memories and emotions. I’m smiling as I type this! Yay Christmas!
Christmas as a mom is so different than Christmas as a new wife or Christmas as a child. It is hard to say that it is better, because Christmas as a kid was pretty magical, but it certainly is a privilege. Sure, there are more responsibilities… Someone has to make the shopping lists, ensure that favorite cookies are made, watch the sale ads for the best deals on gifts, organize schedules with family, remember the class parties, help kids rehearse Sunday School pageant lines, and the list goes on! Did I mention that that someone is me? THE MOM?! Truly, I take it as a privilege. I love it all.
For the last few Christmases (this year included), I have had before me an extra challenge: make the Christmas magic happen with less. Not only are my children growing, but we seem to have accumulated more of them in the last few years. 🙂 So how can I make it happen? I know what Dave Ramsey has to say: “Christmas happens every year. It is not a surprise. Plan for it (financially).” Ha ha. Thanks buddy but when there isn’t much left after the basics sometimes that just isn’t practical. However, I do plan.
I buy ahead. Since my kids won’t be reading this, I can spill a secret: I’ve been collecting things for their stockings for months. My oldest has been wanting swimming goggles for awhile so one day, this Fall, while walking through the Wal-Mart clearance aisle, I saw them! A two-pack. One blue pair for my boy. One pink pair for my girl. I spent a whopping dollar on them! Also, at a thrift store, I found brand new packages of glow sticks, Frozen stickers, and Ninja Turtle coloring pages for $.25 each. I know some moms who raid the Target dollar section the day after Christmas just for the next year. Genius! (And a little crazy…) Oh and mysteriously the Halloween stash suddenly depleted as I stowed away some zip-loc baggies full of Dum-Dum suckers and Twizzlers for December 25th.
I also spread out the gift buying instead of making one or two big trips. This year I have tried to buy one gift per week over the last few months and I’m nearly done on Dec. 4th. I also purchased all of our Christmas cards in October for 50% off so now I only have to buy the fun Christmas stamps this month.
In August, I started a running list of gift ideas for loved ones as well as typical Christmas expenditures such as baking and shipping items. This way, I can visualize what deals to look for and try to buy ahead. I also use August and September to stock up our freezer so that there is extra money in our weekly budget for things like hot chocolate, gifts, and wrapping paper.
We keep it simple. We don’t buy a lot. My kids get one gift from us plus a stocking. They also “buy” each other gifts. The baby gets a new pacifier. 🙂 When it comes to gifts for others, I do my best to wait for good deals-because let’s be real, there are a lot of good deals this time of year! I bake edible gifts for teachers, neighbors, and some family. I bake simple, yummy things that don’t break the bank. At this stage in life, I am not going to buy fancy nuts and dates when I already have peanut butter and chocolate chips in the pantry.
We make cheap traditions. My husband is great at making Christmas memories. He has always enjoyed the “real people” version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Since we’ve been married, we set a “Grinch Date” on the December calendar and we make it a BIG deal. Usually, it involves pizza or tacos and specially made sugar cookies that spell out “The Grinch.” Now, we get the kids in jammies, blow up an airbed in the living room, and turn off all of the lights except the tree. We watch the movie for as long as the kids last. This is a much anticipated free event when we factor the food costs into our grocery budget. Other nearly free experiences: driving around and looking at Christmas lights, hide-and-seek with only Christmas lights on, cookie decorating, playing in the snow and coming in for hot chocolate, daily advent calendar reading, singing Christmas carols while Daddy plays guitar, and one more that we started last year: a daily gift book leading up until Christmas.
25 Days of Christmas Books
I found this idea on Pinterest last year and I love it. I hope we continue to do it for years to come. It also involves two of my favorite things: children’s books and wrapping presents! The premise is simple. Every day in December, leading up to Christmas, we open a present. The present is a Christmas-themed book. Then, we get cozy and read it. Sometimes this even involves hot cocoa and cookies. (A book has also been read while brushing teeth because we forgot to open it earlier.) You might be thinking, “How can I afford 25 Christmas books? Isn’t that a lot of wrapping paper?” Well, last year, I counted up the Christmas books we already owned (7) and wrapped them. Then I went online and reserved 16 books from the public library. (I returned a pile at a time as we finished them and had to renew just a few.) I am a huge Scholastic Books fan so I ordered 2 books that cost $1 each from my son’s teacher. I spent two more dollars at the Dollar Tree on some cheap wrapping paper and I got to work. I know this sounds like a lot of work for my kids, but take a look at the benefits: 1. I get to spend 2 cozy afternoon nap times watching Hallmark Christmas movies and eating cookies (have I mentioned that I like Christmas cookies?) while wrapping cute little books. 2. I get a reason to sit and connect with my kids everyday by reading a book together. 3. The books open us up for conversations about why we celebrate, traditions, family, and the changing seasons. 4.The kids look forward to it all day long!
This year, I intentionally looked for Christmas books at rummage sales and thrift stores. I also bought a few favorite titles from Scholastic Books again. I don’t even have to get library books this year which is huge because our new library only allows 7-day check out for holiday books. That would be a mess for me.
In addition to planning cheap traditions…
We try to work on the hearts of our kids so that much is not expected. This is a 24-7 job. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t guide our children’s hearts for the sole purpose of making a cheap Christmas seem less cheap. 🙂 What I mean is this, we try to live a lifestyle of gratitude and contentment so that anything presented as a gift is just that – a gift. We try to teach them that gifts are not deserved. Presents are a joy to give and a joy to receive. We want to give gifts to our children, but we really want them to understand why. When we make time for family devotions we talk about God sending His Son as an undeserved gift. Why did He do that? Because He loves us! Simple as that. That is my favorite thing about Christmas, giving to the people I love. I can’t sit here and tell you that my children get it and that they are always gracious recipients of their gifts. All I can say is that we try. As they get older, it will be interesting to watch their reactions to worldly interpretations of Christmas and the differences in how people celebrate. It is my prayer that God will work on their hearts and use their flawed parents to guide them towards selflessness and contentment.
Finally, I give up. Doing Christmas for less requires me to give up some of my past ideals. As a teenager, I remember watching the movie “Home Alone” and proclaiming that my future home would look like the McCallister’s at Christmastime. I would have mutiple Christmas trees, white lights galore, and the presents…OH the presents would be perfectly wrapped in gold and silver foil with voluminous glittery bows. Well, I chose a life of ministry and 4 kids instead. So, you know what I did this year, that I thought I would never do? With giddiness and joy, I walked right past the gold-foil wrapping paper and picked up Paw Patrol, Disney Princess, and Mickey Mouse wrapping paper. For my loves. Being a mom at Christmas changes things. I find so much joy in the excitement of my children! My living room looks like a dorm room because my husband loves to hang up colored lights around the perimeter at Christmas (and I don’t have a family room to send him to). Putting up the artificial, pre-lit tree has now become a “make-it-work” moment as we wrap strands of Wal-Mart lights over the sections that no longer light up on their own. But it is beautiful. Someday, we might splurge and get a new one, but not yet. This tree was a wedding present and has been the tree that has moved with us 5 times in 10 years. It has been the backdrop for many Christmas photos with added baby faces. It’s just perfect.
I used to think, “Someday I won’t have to work so hard to make Christmas work. Someday I will have pretty Christmas things. Someday I’ll be able to bake whatever I want with whatever ingredients money can buy.” Well, I’ve come to realize that I’m not promised a someday. I love that, right now, I am so conscious about every penny spent. I love how much I think about a purchase and about who I’m purchasing for. I love my tiny kids and the tiny Christmas light reflection in their happy eyes because they don’t know any different. I want to celebrate with them, right now -no puffy bows required. I want to revel in the glory of that baby Jesus who is the same -no matter our monetary circumstances. I want to praise Him for the light, and life, and love that he has lavished on us- no strings attached.
So, I’m going to go bring out the princess paper and get busy, because there is lots to celebrate.