By Jen Hatmaker
1. A coveted “Forenza” tag on a pair of black leggings with a corresponding purple-and-black plaid shirt. (The outfit could’ve been anything, as long as it was from The Limited.)
2. A red football jersey-type sweatshirt.
I loved them both. Loved, loved, loved. I was certain these gifts were my ticket out of Dorkville. My feathered haircut and Bargain Selection glasses would become moot in light of my new stylish garb. The popular kids would wonder what they had previously missed in me. The cute boys I pined for would fight over inviting me to homecoming. I would probably start winning awards.
Until one unfortunate eavesdropping session.
I was supposed to be in bed but was actually creeping in the hall when I heard my mom say to my dad: “Her red sweatshirt? I found it at Walmart for $3.”
Oh. No. She. Didn’t.
And just like that, the sweatshirt lost all its charm. It became something a girl would wear because she couldn’t afford Esprit and her mother refused to buy her Guess jeans. It communicated: I’m poor. (I was in sixth grade, people. It was a very dramatic time.)
And that’s the only thing I remember from Christmas 1985. Not Jesus. Not reverence. Not generosity. Not gratitude. Just a selfish, materialistic reaction because every single gift I received wasn’t from an overpriced store with a name brand I could casually brag about. What a brat.
This sort of nonsense still happens every year. What happened to Christmas? When did it transform from something simple and beautiful to this? How did the enemy hijack Jesus’ birth and serve it on a silver platter to Big Marketing, tricking His own followers into financing the transfer?
Every year we bear this tension. But in the absence of a better plan or — let’s just say it — courage, we feed the machine yet again, giving Jesus lip service while teaching our kids to ask Santa for whatever they want because, you know, that’s really what Christmas boils down to.
I can’t take it anymore. What if a bunch of us pulled out of the system? What if we made a radical decision like: “Our family is going to celebrate Jesus this year in a manner worthy of a humble Savior who was born to two poor kids in a barn and yet still managed to rescue humanity”?
I’m going to throw out some ideas for what I hope is a more meaningful Christmas; you may take some and leave some. Maybe you’ll tweak an idea to fit your family. Good reader, you may take none. Here goes.
Because I’m anxious to isolate myself from your goodwill, let me start with a biggie: Last year our family pulled the plug on Santa. Our newly adopted kids were then 5 and 8, preparing for their first Christmas in America, and Brandon and I were just done, y’all. We had spent four years unraveling the tale we presented to our other kids, and we wanted to start this round differently. We gave Christmas back to Jesus. Not a corner of it; all of it.
There’s no longer a fake benefactor my kids can petition to get more stuff. Because honestly, for a 5-year-old, how can Jesus compete with Santa? Will kids choose a baby in a manger or a twinkling, flying character who showers them with presents? Believe me, I’m not here to judge. We did Santa for years! You don’t need to defend your position to me or anyone. For our family, Christmas has gone through several years of reconstruction, and each year progressively becomes more simplified. God is doing different things with different families at different times. Everybody, be cool.
My friend Andrew, a non-believer, explained the conundrum this way: “I always thought it was strange how Christians will tell me they have this giant, awesome truth deep in their soul [that they] want to share with me, but when December 25 comes around, they lie to their own progeny because, apparently, that liberating and awesomely simple truth is somehow just not enough. It may be a good story, but it needs a little something to give it some panache.”
Another drawback to the Santa scenario is that it sets a “be good and you’ll get stuff” tone for Christmas, which becomes so deeply seeded that undoing it is almost impossible. When our children then hear at age 9, “Never mind! It’s all fake! Oh, and stop being so selfish because Christmas is about Jesus,” don’t be surprised if they ask to move in with Grandma. It’s so much easier to make Christmas about Jesus from the start rather than undo it later.
Let’s tackle this one: spending. Brandon and I recently watched a video from Christmas 2004 when our kids were 6, 4, and 2. When we saw the mountains of presents in front of our preschoolers and watched them rip through boxes so fast that they barely registered what they received, I caught Brandon’s eye and mouthed, “We were freaks!” Not to mention our home was burgeoning with loot already, so we had to purge a bunch of toys just to shoehorn in the new stuff.
Five years ago, Brandon and I started this gift-giving policy for each kid: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. (We’ve since added something to give. See “Give Instead of Get.”)
We can find alternative rhythms to show love to one another. My mother-in-law gives gifts of new memories together. She takes the kids to plays and museums and on day trips. She invites them over individually and spends precious time with them, and they gobble up her focused attention.
How about trying out some gifts of time, experiences, creative talents, and words this year? These will last long after the electric griddle has been forgotten.
Finally, instead of just rejecting old habits, let’s replace American practices with — and I mean this so sincerely — Christian practices. As much as possible, let’s mute the competing chatter invading our spaces. Let’s talk about Jesus’ birth like it’s the thrilling, miraculous moment that it is.
Can we risk difficult conversations with grandparents, friends, and our own children, understanding that Jesus called it the narrow way for a reason, and He wasn’t kidding when He said few would find it?
I’m not trying to ruin Christmas. On the contrary. I’m dying to rediscover what is simple and magnificent about the Savior of the world coming to earth, putting on flesh, and saving my life. I want my kids to marvel that Jesus came, just like God said He would, forever transforming the concepts of hope and peace and salvation. When I create a season revolving around wish lists, frenzy, and mythological characters, I make it difficult for my kids to understand this.
We have the opportunity to show a watching world something truly hopeful this Christmas. We can show them something better than stress, spending, tension, and exhaustion. We can raise children who understand exactly why the songwriter wrote, “O come, let us adore Him.” We can bring good news to the nations yet again, fighting injustice and carrying hope through something as simple as sharing our money. Most importantly, we can render to Jesus the reverence He is owed, pushing all substitutions to the side and making our homes holy ground. This is why:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
’Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
The weary world rejoices, indeed. Thank You, Jesus! Joy to the world.
Give Instead of Get
Last year, our family added something to give to our kids’ Christmas lists. Each child gets $100 to spend on the vulnerable. This is part of their Christmas present because, as we know, it feels so remarkable to join Jesus’ redemptive story. Brandon and I will provide some options, and the kids can distribute their money however they choose. Here are some trusted, responsible organizations to partner with, where you can donate in increments as low as $10:
Jen Hatmaker lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Brandon, and their five children: three the old-fashioned way and two adopted from Ethiopia. She’s the author of nine books, including A Modern Girl’s Guide to Bible Study and Interrupted (NavPress). She’s recently released Seven (B&H) and its corresponding Bible study (LifeWay).
This article originally appeared in the December, 2012 issue of Home Life. Subscribe