When I was growing up, Christmas was a big deal.
None of that unwrapping one gift at a time nonsense, while everybody else watches. Oooooo what a pretty sweater! That will look lovely with your new Jordache jeans! You can wear that to school on your first day back! Okay, now it’s Bobby’s turn to open a gift!
Christmas morning was a tornado of wrapping paper, tissue paper, gift tags, gift bags and bows. When the dust settled, not a patch of carpet was visible.
I loved it.
My parents were generous, so Christmas was always like hitting the jackpot. From a totally rad compact stereo system to an ATV parked in our family room Christmas morning, my mom and dad always splurged on the gifts. As a young kid, I really had no idea that Christmas was any different for other people.
Of course, I grew up and discovered that our family’s traditions weren’t shared by everyone. In fact, as our family expanded through marriage and in-laws, I learned that not everybody felt comfortable with such indulgence. There were even a few times I started to feel shallow and guilty.
But I got over it.
My dad’s love of giving was definitely passed down to me. Sadly, he passed away 10 years ago and Christmas has never been the same since. We don’t have the income my dad did, so we’ve never been able to reach the “wow” factor he brought to the holiday.
And that’s okay. Each year that goes by, I’m more accepting of our modest giving. In fact, by January I’m usually regretting spending as much as I did, because my kids didn’t really want all that stuff anyway.
I still struggle with not wanting to go overboard, though. I feel this weird obligation to get my kids at least 10 gifts each, and they all have to be useful and special and perfect. Really makes gift giving more of a chore than a blessing.
And I’ll probably fall into the same trap this year, even though I’m telling myself I won’t. But maybe I could make some small adjustments, like
- be content with gifting less
- don’t equate the cost of the gift with its value
- release seeking perfection and instead embrace the joy of giving
- stop trying to attain what I think others expect of me
- make Christmas less about gifts, and more about giving
Okay, maybe these aren’t so small. Some are pretty significant mindset shifts. But I think it’s the direction I want to go.
If you struggle with trying to meet expectations that probably aren’t even there, then these 5 shifts may help you, too.
Be content with gifting less
This is a tough one for me. My dad showed his love through giving, so he liked to give big. Now I feel like I’m not loving my kids enough if I don’t give big to them.
Obviously this is the farthest thing from the truth, and my kids don’t equate my love for them with how many gifts they get. And yet, this false thinking has led me to overspend every Christmas since they were very little.
It’s gotten me in a lot of debt.
It’s wasted a lot of money.
It’s kept me from putting our financial health first.
But worst of all, it’s led me to make gifts the focus of the season. Which is not what I ever intended.
Changing our mindset is partially about adopting new thought patterns and perceptions so we can make better decisions. But sometimes we have to act before we believe.
Gifting less would be that action that my brain doesn’t yet trust, but would be a productive step toward a mindset that would serve me better. And not for the sake of saving money, but for letting go of meeting some unjustified expectations.
It’s time for a new focus. And as uncomfortable as it may feel at first, I’ll go on faith that, in the end, my family will be better for it.
Cost does not equal value
My dad was not so much into the meaning of a gift as he was into how happy it would make me.
In other words, a new laptop equals more “happy” than a framed picture of us.
As I grew up, I learned that more expensive, more “generous” gifting created happiness. And if my kids were happy, then I did something right. I gained Mom points. I felt good about myself. And I was happy they were happy.
What mom doesn’t want to see their kids happy on Christmas day?
But inevitably, happiness doesn’t last. Especially when it’s attached to a price tag. It’s not supposed to.
I need to focus less on cost, and more on value. Less on happiness, and more on meaning.
This requires a deeper intent and more purposeful choice. Which means being more creative and thoughtful, which takes more planning, which takes more time and energy than just adding a basketball to my Amazon cart.
Choosing value over cost can be inconvenient at times. It doesn’t always have the “wow” factor. It’s so much easier to go for the quick win.
But it’s what my kids will remember.
Gifting can’t just be about the moment of receiving. I want the gifts I give to go beyond today, to bring joy and smiles years from now.
It’s a mindset shift for me for sure, but I think it will be worth it.
Joy over perfection
Someone wise once said that perfection is the thief of joy.
At least, someone wise should have said that. Because it’s true.
I know, because my joy has been stolen too many times.
I spend so much time on the searching and the shopping and the wrapping so everything is “perfect” on Christmas day. I usually get stressed because I’m worried I won’t get everything done in time. And I’m constantly anxious we’re spending too much money.
But then after all that effort, I miss half the gifts being opened, and almost feel relieved when it’s all over. That’s not what I would call taking joy in giving.
I need to let go of this idea of perfection that I have for Christmas. Like it’s a project to complete, and I want to get a good grade.
Instead, I should slow down and breathe. Look around me. Take in all I’ve been blessed with. Thoroughly experience the joy that comes with giving and receiving and being together.
I don’t want Christmas to just be the culmination of efforts to make everyone happy. To build some illusion of perfection.
I want my giving to instill joy in both me and the one I’m giving to. I want the joy and the love shared between us to be the memory, not the gift.
Because that’s the true spirit of Christmas.
Stop striving to meet expectations
Why do I fight the crowds and spend too much money and stress out over finding the perfect gifts?
Because I think my family is expecting Christmas morning to be awesome and amazing.
And that’s okay, because awesome and amazing can still be achieved with the simplest of efforts.
The problem is how I interpret what awesome and amazing is:
- loads of gifts under the tree
- spending a lot of money
- making sure the stockings are full
- giving cash as well as presents
- finding gifts they weren’t expecting but are ecstatic they did!
These are the expectations I believe my family has of every Christmas. And I do what I have to do to meet them.
Of course, nobody’s ever voiced these expectations. The only pressure I feel comes from inside my own head. My dad set the bar high, and ever since I’ve had a family of my own, I’ve felt like I have to meet or exceed it.
But I don’t. And I shouldn’t. Especially when our financial health is at risk.
We all have unique holiday family traditions. There is no “right” or “better” way. There isn’t a gift quota to reach or a minimum amount to spend.
Christmas is about spending time with the people you love. Celebrating the birth of Christ. And giving out of the generosity of our hearts.
I want to work my way towards what is truly important this time of year. Letting go of expectations, and holding tightly to the true meaning of Christmas.
Less about gifts, more about giving
I admit, I have totally fallen for the slick and ubiquitous marketing that has turned Christmas into a retail frenzy.
My mailbox is stuffed with advertisements for Black Friday sales, holiday coupons, and store catalogs filled with shiny images and slashed prices.
Everywhere we turn, we’re told by marketers that Christmas is primarily about spending money on gifts.
And I agree that gifting is one of my favorite parts about this season. But I don’t want to continue making it the biggest part.
Instead, I want to be more intentional about giving – my time, my attention, my affection, my compassion.
There are so many gifts I’ve given in the past that didn’t even last until the next year, and most have been long forgotten. I’m tired of wasting so much effort and money on stuff that has no meaning.
I’m going to be more purposeful about slowing down and being present. Being open to the needs all around me – a listening ear, a helping hand, a compassionate word.
This is what people remember long after the moment has passed.
The older I get, the more meaning I want to squeeze out of life. Deeper relationships, stronger connections, intentional moments. This means being more open and available to the giving opportunities all around me.
In other words, I want my heart to be more invested than my wallet.
Progress is what counts
I’ve been doing Christmas the same way all my life, so I know it’s going to take time to change. Like, years.
But the important thing is to start. Little by little, pausing in the gap between stimulus and response, I can begin to make better choices.
Eventually, I hope this new approach will be second nature. But even more so, I want to influence my kids to view Christmas differently for themselves. After all, someday they’ll have families of their own.
Some people may think you should have done this from the beginning.
But. I didn’t. I wasn’t raised that way, and the mindset is strong with the force.
And that’s okay. We are all capable of changing the way we think, no matter where we’re at in life.
For me, now is the time.
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