‘Tis the season for self-appointed experts to tell us which Christmas traditions are silly, self-absorbed, unhealthy, materialistic, excessive, or utterly beside the point. I’m all for trashing traditions that give us only glitz, gluttony, and maxed-out credit cards. But many of the traditions that get a bad rap, including these five, remain cherished by our family each year.
1. Sending a Christmas newsletter.
I once read a letter, written three months after Hurricane Katrina, from a woman who earnestly thanked God for allowing their basement to flood so they could undertake a desired remodel. Annual letters can be awful, but they don’t have to be.
I continue to send a newsy letter with our Christmas cards and enjoy receiving letters regardless of how well they are written. Writing our letter invites me to slow down long enough to reflect on our family’s year. Receiving other people’s letters invites me to pay far more attention to what’s happening in their lives than the occasional Facebook status update allows. I read every letter I receive twice — once when it arrives, and again after Christmas when I go through the cards again before bundling them off to be recycled.
2. Piling gifts under the tree for my children.
While my privileged kids don’t want for much, I provide a small bounty of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning — lots of practical presents (like pajamas or gloves) and one or two special items I choose deliberately for each of them. The giving and receiving of Christmas gifts reflects God’s generosity and echoes the wise men’s gifts to the infant Jesus (which were, after all, more symbolic than needed).
I also want to model for my children what a gift should be — an opportunity to show loved ones that you’ve paid enough attention to know what they really want and/or need. Rather than scale back on Christmas gifts and/or give to charities instead of each other, I’d rather scale back our purchases the rest of the year, and invite the kids to work with us throughout the year to identify charitable giving opportunities.