I just finished the last Joy School class until January. Four little girls cooking together, giggling, singing, delivering cookies and caroling and acting out the nativity (four times so that everyone gets a chance to be mary) = a really great morning. I love Emmeline’s Joy School group. Boy have I learned a lot about Joy School since I did it with Hazel, suffice it to say, there is a lot more “joy” in the experience.
Today we learned the Joy School song: “The Very Best Part of Christmastime.”
The very best part of Christmastime, the very best part I know
is not the tree and not the treats and not the lights that glow.
The very best part of Christmas time, I’ll tell you any day,
the very best, happiest part of all are the presents you give away.
It’s a song I sang growing up (one of the reasons I love Joy School, it was such a part of my childhood). The girls loved singing it and doing the actions and talking about all the presents they are giving away this year. They got all giddy.
I love it when the Joy of giving lights a little fire inside of my kids. It’s kid of unstoppable and can be so strong that it squelches all that greediness that calls to kids at Christmastime.
We watched this commercial that my brother sent us over and over again last week. I love it for the music, the totally britishness of it and I tear up every time that kid walks past his own presents. Charlie especially loved it and got all stoked about buying his presents this year.
All this excitement about giving is my favorite part of the season. I feel it well up inside of me too, and I’m trying not to let it get buried by stress.
Here are some of little simple traditions that we’ve done to help our kids catch the vision of giving:
We set out this little basket empty on the piano when we get out all of our Christmas decorations and next to it we set out a tin of “straw.” All season long the kids are busy (if I remind them over and over again) doing kind things for others and placing bits of straw in the manger. Our goal is to have it nice and soft for the Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve.
Ours was getting soft this year, until Peter came and scattered the straw all over the house and I haven’t had the energy or time to gather it back up again. Got to get to that.
We try to help the kids budget well before Christmas so that they know how much money they need to save to buy presents for people they love. Some years we are much better at doing this than others, but I think it’s so important that children save and pick out and wrap and give their own presents. It is such a thrill. We started off small, everyone just needed to do enough jobs to get a dollar for each person and we all went together to the dollar store to pick out gifts. Sure, it kind of filled up our house with some junk, but there are surprisingly useful things at the dollar store if you look hard, and the kids are delighted with those little simple junky presents. Sometimes the kids (if they’re really poor) wrap up one of their own treasured toys or gifts to give a sibling. One year I asked them each to just do something really kind for someone, something that takes effort and then write it on a card for me and give it to me for my present.
We have been doing an annual Children for Children benefit concert at the Kruckenbergs house. It’s a small concert put on entirely by the children to raise money for a charity that focuses on helping children somewhere in the world. This is one of my favorite holiday traditions ever. Growing up we did it every year, inviting all of the neighborhood kids to participate and parents to come and donate. We do it at the beginning of December and it really helps the kids think about those in need. We send out an email with three potential Charities for the kids to learn about and then vote on which one to raise money for. I feel like just going through those websites and exposing the kids to the incredible needs of children in places and situations they never imagined sets a good, non greedy tone for the season. Click on my sister Saren’s blog to learn more about these concerts.
It’s so easy for the excitement of Santa and all that getting to outweigh and overshadow the simple gifts the children are giving, so we have our children give their gifts to each other on Christmas Eve. This is something else that has carried over from my childhood traditions. Man, those Christmas eve gatherings around the tree right before bed, giving out the gifts I had made or saved up for are some of my most poignant Christmas memories. Each child takes a turn handing out their gifts to everyone, one by one. My parents used to always give a lot of praise to the giver, take time to really acknowledge the gift, encourage thanks and hugs from the receiver, lots of oohs and ahhs etc. We make sure that each of our kids wrap their presents to give out in the same paper so that it’s easy to find them on a busy Christmas Eve.
The kids are already giddy with excitement about their gift giving. Especially dear Hazel who has been saving up for months to buy herself an iPod touch and, true to that dear girls immense sense of generosity has decided to use that scrimped and saved money to buy everyone really nice gifts. She gets the giving thing, always has. Click here for an awesome example. It’s just part of her nature, something I certainly am learning from her rather than teaching to her.
But enough about giving, what about receiving? Seriously. I’ve been browsing through a book of advent readings this season and one that really hit me, written by William Willimon, a minister and Christian author is all about the importance of learning to really receive. Here’s some of what he says:
It may well be, as Jesus says, more blessed to give than to receive. But it is more difficult to receive. Consider what we do at Christmas, the so-called season of giving. We enjoy thinking of ourselves as basically generous, benevolent, giving people. That’s one reason why everyone, even the nominally religious, loves Christmas. Christmas is a season to celebrate our alleged generosity….. We love Christmas because, as we say, Christmas brings out the best in us. Everyone gives on Christmas, even the stingiest among us, even the Ebenezer Scrooges. Charles Dickens’s story of Scrooge’s transformation has probably done more to form our notions of Christmas than St. Luke’s story of the manger. Whereas Luke tells of God’s gift to us, Dickens tells us how we can give to others. A Christmas Carol is more congenial to our favorite images of ourselves. Dickens suggests that down deep, even the worst of us can become generous, giving people.
The Christmas story -- the one according to Luke not Dickens -- is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers.
This essay made me think, turn all this giving stuff on it’s head to realize that Christmas is just as much about receiving as it is about giving. That the very best part of Christmas time is giving and receiving. Receiving the gifts others give us graciously, but mostly receiving God’s gift to us. A baby. A baby that has brought us light and peace and goodness and miracles and grace.
I love what Elder Uchtdorf (counselor to the President of the LDS church) said this year in the Christmas Devotional.
My brothers and sisters, my dear friends, what kind of receivers are we? Do we, like the Savior, recognize gifts as expressions of love? I hope that this Christmas and every day of the year we will consider, in particular, the many gifts we have been given by our loving Heavenly Father. I hope we will receive these gifts with the wonder, thankfulness, and excitement of a child. We know that “God loveth a cheerful giver,”8 but does He not also love a good, grateful, and cheerful receiver?
This Christmas season and always, I pray that we will see the marvelous gift of the birth of the Son of God through the blessed eyes of a child. I pray that in addition to giving good gifts, we will strive to become good and grateful receivers. As we do so, the spirit of this season will enlarge our hearts and expand our joy beyond measure.
So I’m going to think a little more about how to help my children be grateful and happy receivers this year. Any ideas out there? Maybe this is the year to get better at writing thank you cards. Maybe it’s about helping them recognize the sacrifice that goes into all the gifts that they are getting. Maybe buying and giving their own gifts also makes them better receivers since they better understand what has gone into the gifts that they have been given. Something to think about.
Mostly I want to teach them to receive the real gifts of Christmas. And I think to do this I need to slow down to catch them myself. There is too much clutter, too much rushing, too much buying and wrapping and baking and eating. When I sit and be silent is when I can receive the Gifts God has for me and my family.
I love this old verse my friend Catherine put on her blog last week:
Lo, in the silent night
A child to God is born
And all is brought again
That ere was lost or lorn.
Could but thy soul, O man,
Become a silent night!
God would be born in thee
And set all things aright.
I turned to Jeff before falling asleep after reading these stanzas and tearfully told him that I didn’t think that there was a more opposite word for my soul than silent, that in that crazed day there didn’t seem to be one single silent thing in my soul. It was all frenzy and noise and overload.
Since then I’ve been struggling, working, flexing to find silence. To become, even for a second here and there, a silent night. And the moments are there when I search and work to see and make them. They slip in between everything else. And in those moments I do feel God setting things aright.
And there you have it, the hodge podge of Christmas thoughts whirling around in my brain this season.