Posted: Dec 20, 2013 7:00 AM
 
Most kids think Christmas amounts to what stacks up under the tree. But how do you focus on fewer presents and more presence without letting your kids down? Let these parents inspire you.

Wish Jesus a "Happy Birthday"

Before we do anything on Christmas morning (no matter how tempting that pile of presents), we place Baby Jesus in the stable and wish Him a Happy Birthday!

Mary Fetzer, mom to two daughters ages 10 and 15, admits that while her family does get "caught up in the gift giving and all that, we do put Jesus first on Christmas Day." Mary explains that at the beginning of December they set out their Nativity set and manger complete with Mary and Joseph as well as the shepherds, animals and angel — everything but the Christ Child. She says, "Then, before we do anything on Christmas morning (no matter how tempting that pile of presents is), we place Baby Jesus in the stable and wish Him a Happy Birthday!"

Give the kids control

Clyde, a father of three, says while his family celebrates Christmas together, they have never incorporated gift giving into the holiday traditions. He says, "Our saying among each other is that every day is Christmas. As for Christmas, that was always the time we would spend extra time just being together."

Instead of giving gifts, his children were taught to trade stocks (for their allowance) at the age of 9. He adds, "They would buy whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. This is the way we wanted them to think since they were little. Albeit, their most fierce and focused stock trading occurred when a new Xbox or electronic device was released. So at least they knew that having something they wanted was in their control. Raising them to think this way, and getting things under their own control, the commercialism of Christmas just never computed for them."

Waste not, want not

The benefits of the 'one special present' go beyond the obvious... equality among children of different financial backgrounds, modesty, smaller wish lists and less stress on Santa!

Zero Waste Lifestyle expert Bea Johnson has been implementing her no-waste policy into the Christmas season for her family, including sons Max, 13, and Leo, 12, since 2009 by limiting Santa's gifting to one per person. She says, "It comes unwrapped because Santa cares about the environment. The benefits of the 'one special present' go beyond the obvious... equality among children of different financial backgrounds, modesty, smaller wish lists and less stress on Santa!"

Focus on traditions

Donna Bozzo's family, which includes her three daughters ages 10, 12 and 14, focuses on tradition versus a pile of presents at the holidays. Every year her husband reads The Night Before Christmas to their girls as his father read it to him and his siblings, and using their dolls, her daughters perform a play that they write, audition for and create sets and sound effects for. Donna adds, "Making wreath cakes iced green with red berries and licorice bows with my mom and sister" is another tradition they have kept up over the years.

Bring awareness to "need" vs. "want"

Brent Anderson, author of Wee Three Kings, admits he and his wife used to feel the pressure "to have as many wrapped presents under the tree as possible." He says, "Years ago we agreed as a family that we would limit each family member to three gifts each in honor of the number of gifts the Christ Child received. As our children have grown they have become the strongest advocates for holding our family accountable for this non-commercial philosophy."

Years ago we agreed as a family that we would limit each family member to three gifts each in honor of the number of gifts the Christ Child received.

He adds that he has noticed a positive change in his kids' thinking, saying, "They think in terms of 'do I really need this or is it just a want.' It has been interesting to see how hard it actually is for our children to come up with three items for their wish list. Many times they come up with one and are not sure what the other two should be." The family also packs shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child each year and looks for other ways to give back, including donating proceeds from his book to various charities.

The simple memories are the best ones

According to Maria Mora, mom of two boys ages 5 and 7, "My family isn't religious, so I really have to work to get the kids out of the mindset that Christmas is just an orgy of presents. One of the ways we focus on togetherness and love on Christmas is to have breakfast with my parents — their grandparents — early on Christmas morning. There are gifts involved, of course, but it's really a time to hang out in our pajamas and share a family meal and a lot of laughter. I hope this is what they remember as they get older."

Christmas memories relived

I also try to keep Christmas a time when we look beyond our own family and reach out to others.

Smithsonian Folkways artist Elizabeth Mitchell takes inspiration from her own childhood Christmas memories to create a less commercial Christmas for her daughter. She says, "My daughter Storey and I spend most of the month of December crafting. On our tree we hang all handmade ornaments — most of them we have made, some of them we have found on Etsy. Around Thanksgiving we start planning what our family gift theme will be that year — some years we knit scarves for everyone and once we made homemade granola with handmade fabric gift bags. I also try to keep Christmas a time when we look beyond our own family and reach out to others. In the past Storey has made holiday crafts and sold them at our merchandise table after shows to raise money to donate to charity."

More on Christmas

8 Easy Christmas crafts for kids
Non-religious Christmas lessons for kids
How to control your Christmas budget

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