The holiday season is a weird time in American culture. It has become an opportunity for many people to use a Christian holy time to exploit commercialism and consumerism to extreme degrees. While there are many who strive to “Keep the Christ in Christmas,” there are others who are equally happy to boost the year-end sales of every nationally known chain store for the purpose of demonstrating the holiday spirit, or expressing love to others.
My dad was one of the worst when it came to this.
However, about seven years ago, my husband and I had a discussion about what we thought the holidays were teaching our children. The belief that “more is better” and that Christmas is the perfect excuse to get or give more just didn’t sit well with us anymore. In addition, my husband and I don’t participate in any sort of organized religion, and we don’t really consider ourselves to be Christian in the traditional sense. We agree that Jesus was an exceptional person, and exceptionally important, and even divine. But we also believe that to be true of other transcendent beings such as the Buddha, Krishna, Mohammad, and others. Why do we not celebrate each of these with the same glutenous thrill? Because that wasn’t their message. It wasn’t Christ’s message either. It’s the message of American retailers who try to guilt-trip consumers into the belief that spending more means loving more.
So around seven years ago we decided it was time to change. Instead of an orgy of gifts on Christmas morning, we told our children that Santa would only bring a few things, but that he would give our family one gift that we could all enjoy together. The idea was that this family gift would be the gift of time to spend with each other, and that instead of toys that broke or clothes that would be outgrown, they would receive memories that would last them throughout their lives.
The first year, Santa gave our family a trip to Disneyland. We went in the spring, when crowds were small and the kids had the run of the park. We still have the pictures of the three of them hanging out with their favorite characters. And they still laugh about running through the fountain that shot water up at untimed intervals, and how the youngest one got so mad when she g0t wet.
Another year, Santa delivered to us a tent-trailer. We have hauled it to a great number of campgrounds, eaten smores to the point of ridiculousness, and created new annual traditions around this excellent gift.
Last year Santa blessed us with a trip to Hawaii. A week of whale-watching, para-sailing, hulas, waves, and sand in the middle of January. It was the perfect gift, falling on the heels of the death of my dad, our Papa.
And this year, Santa spilled the beans a little early: The Yucatan Peninsula. Puerto Aventuras, not far from Cozumel and Cancun, is where we will create additional memories. The ruins of Coba, Tulum, and Chitzen Itza are all on our itinerary for our time there.
Before this sounds like we’ve swapped one form of consumerism for another, let me also note that one year our family got a basketful of games and activities like movie passes, laser tag passes, board games, bowling gift certificates, and movie rentals.
It isn’t about money, or stuff, or expensive trips. What we care most about is spending the time together, becoming closer as a family, and creating memories that we smile about for years.
We are blessed, and we know it, to be able to do the things that we do. But even if we couldn’t travel the way we’ve been able to, we would continue to find ways for us to spend time together over buying each other “things” and “stuff” that we don’t really need or want.
Our focus has been, and remains, that time and memories are the greatest of all gifts, and that becomes even more important with each passing year as our children grow and begin making plans for their independent lives.
Our hope is that we are teaching our kids to think beyond the influence of corporate America, and no matter what spiritual path they choose, to honor those beliefs in accordance with their own mandates, not the mandates given by television, radio, or print ads. Personally, I think it’s working. And my kids have never complained. What they have done is pointed out the how other kids, like their cousins or friends, can be so selfish and ungrateful at Christmas. I think it means we’ve done something right, and we most certainly plan to keep on doing it. After all, it’s a tradition now.