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Balancing The Two Tensions of Christmas

During Christmas, I find myself wanting to figuratively "spell check" my kids' sense of what the season is all about.

"You know," I begin, "Christmas is all about Jesus and not presents."

"Of course," the kids say.

"Good," I reply. "Now, freely talk about the loot you want so I can get it on sale."

Last year my oldest son took this "loot" part to heart when the Christmas ads arrived in my house. He grabbed them and started going through them.

By "going through them," I mean that he took a marker and circled what he wanted on each page of the ad.


By "circling what he wanted on each page of the ad," I mean that he literally circled entire pages to let us know what he wanted.


By "letting us know what he wanted," I mean that he plastered the ads all over the kitchen.


By "all over the kitchen," I mean all over the kitchen.


It was all a gag. (At least, I hoped it was!)

Balancing The Two Tensions of Christmas

As a dad, I really do want my kids to remember that Christmas is a day we've set aside to remember that Christ came near. And I'm sensitive to focusing too much on gifts and not enough on Jesus. As comedian Chris Rock pointed out, "Jesus is the least materialistic person to ever walk the earth. No bling on Jesus. Jesus kept a low profile, and we turned His birthday into the most materialistic day of the year."

On the other hand, I personally know what it's like to want stuff for Christmas. As a kid, I used to similarly circle pages of the toy section from the JCPenney catalog just like my son. My parents went in crazy-debt buying ninety-five percent of it for me... and then I'd whine about the five percent I didn't get. It's embarrassing to admit, and yet absolutely true.

More than being able to relate to wanting stuff, though, I also want to give to my kids at Christmas. But I want to do it in a way that doesn't make gifts the center of the holiday. Finding a balance between these two tensions isn't always easy (this list of gift ideas has helped), but it's worth attempting, even if we don't get it perfect.

Looking back, my thirteen-year old really did have fun that day, knowing full well that as a family we'll err on the side of simplicity and meaning more than excess and extravagance. I sense it was his way of feeling like a younger kid at Christmas even while he's becoming a teen.

20141101_121003On my end, I genuinely wanted him to have fun (even though he did pull his siblings into the random circling and clipping).

"Hey, how come he gets to have all this stuff for Christmas?" his younger brother asked.

"Allow me to go on record that none of this has been guaranteed for anyone this year," I assured everyone within earshot. "In fact, we just might skip Christmas this year and do Kwanzaa."

"Do you get gifts for Kwanzaa?" he asked.

(Ahem--apparently there's a third tension I didn't account for.)

When it comes to navigating Christmas, how do you lead your kids toward the holiday's true meaning while still having fun?
Share your comments below.

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