9 Ideas to Dematerialize Christmas


Christmas: it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Right? Wellllll, maybe it used to be. Lately it feels like “Christmas spirit” is losing the battle to materialism and consumerism. Somewhere along the line, the celebration of Jesus’s birth and giving to others turned into “want lists” from every child (and many adults!), shopping extravaganzas, and acquiring the latest, coolest technology gadgets.

According to the American Research Group, Inc., American families plan to spend an average of $983 for Christmas gifts this year (up from $929 in 2016). Most of those shoppers will go into debt to do so, pull from their retirement savings, or drain their emergency funds. Even the act of shopping has become quite intense—did you know there’s a website that tracks deaths and injuries occurring just on Black Friday?

“I truly believe that it is time for us to reclaim the holiday spirit and reexamine why we celebrate Christmas at all,” Kamya Sud said in TheOdysseyOnline.com article titled, Christmas V. Consumerism. “It’s time to put an end to the era of mindless consumerism, either by eliminating the custom of prodigal gift-giving entirely or by trying to adopt modest, sustainable holiday consumption habits.”

With a growing toddler and a baby on the way, you can bet that the topic of a Christ-centered Christmas has come up for me and my wife. We don’t want to set an unhealthy bar for our family that continues to escalate year after year, regardless of mainstream opinions of the culture surrounding us. Don’t get me wrong, we both have fond memories of Christmas mornings growing up and both experienced joy in receiving gifts—I’ll never forget the Christmas I received a Nintendo Gameboy! (You know, the original one that was the size and weight of a brick with no color?) But we don’t want our children to grow up focused on the temporary contentment of material items or the race to keep up with the Joneses, Smiths and Jacksons. We want them to have fun at Christmas, but also to find joy in giving to others, serving others, celebrating Jesus’s birth and sharing memorable experiences with their family.

We’ve been researching the Internet high and low for some alternative options for family traditions and gift-giving at Christmastime. I’d love to share some of our findings in case you’ve been looking for a few of your own. We haven’t quite decided what we’ll do yet—do you have any additional ideas to add?

  1. Christmas lists are not encouraged: Kids shouldn’t hold the power to tell you what they want and then be disappointed if they don’t get it. Instead, observe their tendencies, passions and hobbies and choose to give them something personal and thoughtful that they will be grateful for.
  2. The three gift approach: We saw this modified a few different ways by people. Some take the symbolism of the gifts to Jesus from the Three Wise Men and purchase one gift for Gold (something the child will treasure or a toy that is really wanted), one for Frankincense (something spiritual like a Bible or Nativity set), and one for Myrrh (something for the body like clothes or lotions). Others use the symbolism to simply limit to three gifts of any kind. Others yet use the categories of “something they want, something they need, and something to read.”
  3. Non-toy or non-material gifts: Instead of things, maybe give gifts of time or experience together such as a simple family trip, tickets to some type of event (like a movie, musical, or sporting event), DIY projects to create, educational boxes, subscriptions to magazines, family excursions (like camping, hiking, zoo trip), memberships to museums, or board games to be played together.
  4. Draw names: Once the kids are old enough to understand, have each save their own allowance (or use a certain amount given by you) to select and purchase a special gift for the person they have drawn and wrap it themselves. This will increase their joy for giving when they get to watch the person open it.
  5. Teach kids to question marketing messages: It will be impossible to avoid endless commercials and advertisements, but if you teach them how to break them down, it may help. Explain that commercials and other ads are designed to make people want things they don't necessarily need and are often meant to make us think these products will make us happier somehow. Ask thought-provoking questions, such as "Do you think that product really looks, tastes, or works the same way as it seems to in the ad?" or “How long do you think that thing will really make you happy?”
  6. Build some fun traditions: Rally your family around something year after year that could easily overshadow the importance of gifts in their memories. Try activities like a bowling outing, cookie decorating contest, ice skating, or board game tournament.
  7. Serve together: Whether serving at a local soup kitchen or ministry, visiting with the elderly, or selecting a special gift or meal to deliver to another family, learning volunteerism at a young age is so important. Not only will you feel more united as a family in shared experience, but you’ll be instilling kindness, sacrifice and gratefulness in your kids (and yourself).
  8. Make homemade gifts together for extended family: The prices of gifts can add up when you consider the list you’d like to give to. You don’t have to spend loads of money for meaningful, memorable gifts. Ideas include scrapbooks, customized stationery, paintings or drawings that can be framed, customized wreaths, or family videos.
  9. Vote on the receiver of a family gift: Choose an amount to give as a family (whether provided by you or donated from each child as well) and then spend some time selecting a different cause, ministry, family, or organization to receive that financial gift each year. This can be a thoughtful approach, teaching your kids to notice needs of others and give to charitable causes. If this is made a tradition, your kids will get into pitching their ideas for the receiver of your family gift and excitement will build for giving it.
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