Dear Aunty Tina, How do I pull off a nice Christmas for my 4 children in this economy?
Today’s media blitz of commercialism can really add a lot of pressure and distortion to the holiday season. To combat this, I kept my nine children focused on the reason for the season by throwing Jesus a birthday party every year. In the week or two before Christmas Eve, my children and I would extend open invites to everyone we ran into, with instructions to bring a candle, a potluck dish, and an inexpensive or gently used wrapped present for a small child. The weekend before the party, there would be a family outing up to Kula or Olinda to gather eucalyptus and cypress, followed by wreath making and bough-hanging around our living room. We’ve held this party for about thirty years at my house, and it always begins ‘around sunset’. Someone always volunteers to wear our Santa outfit and hands out re-gifted treasures to the children in attendance.
Another great tradition we’ve kept alive, that is free, is Christmas caroling around the neighborhood. One of my daughters made copies of all the traditional carols, and our dear friend Susan Jensen always led us in raucous rounds of practice before we lit our candles and carolled up and down the road. Back at the house, the festive night officially ends when my family gathers together to sing our favorite family carol for our guests. Over the years, many have picked up the words to this unique song, and this embodies the most important lesson for creating a nice holiday for your family: the traditions and rituals we create together are the real gifts we give our loved ones, the memories of which, last forever.
Of course, if you have little ones, they still expect gifts under the tree! My partner focused on the personality of each of our children and always managed to have the one gift they were dreaming of under the tree; be it an art set, a boogie board, books on tape, or a bike. It wasn’t excessive and we balanced the material presents with other traditional (low-cost) items such as tangerines and nuts as stocking stuffers. Some years we made the kids wooden doll beds and houses or homemade games. Other years we gleaned garage sales for the perfect group gift, such as a $30 foosball table that gave my children and the neighborhood kids years of enjoyment.
As children get older they can begin to share in both the tradition making and gift-giving. As most of my children became adults we began a new tradition: the day after Thanksgiving we each pull a name of one family member and, as their Secret Santa, may get them only three gifts for Christmas. We put a decent monetary limit on the spending and this way each person can expect just one to a few nice gifts under the tree. Any of these gift ideas can become a favorite present, as long as we help our children learn and experience what’s truly important about the holidays.
*This article is dedicated to the loving memory of Susan Jensen.