The Christmas We Were "Too Poor" for Presents
I grew up in a rather poor household. I didn't really realize this as a kid, because we didn't feel deprived: our family was very happy, and we somehow always had the essentials.
I remember one Christmas very distinctly. When I was around 7 or 8, my parents called a family conference and told us that there would be no Christmas presents that year. We were welcome to make gifts for each other, but there was not enough money for my parents to buy us anything.
I’m grateful to my parents for explaining to us that Christmas isn’t about receiving presents, but about celebrating the birth of Our Savior. And the joy of Christ’s birth could be ours, whether we found presents under the tree or not.
Christmas IS the gift.
I look back on that Christmas as a wonderful gift, because we were less worried about getting things, and more thoughtful about giving. In the joy of planning and creating small gifts with little monetary value, we prepared for the celebration of the Nativity in a lovely way. We learned to be less self-centered and more Christ-centered.
I want to give this gift to my children: to make of Advent an opportunity to think less about ourselves and more about others. To think less about getting gifts and more about the best Gift of all: our newborn Savior. At the end of this blog I’ve listed some of the ways we hope to stay “giving-focused” instead of “getting-focused” this year.
And P.S.: God provides.
And by the way, that Christmas when we ‘got no presents’ had an amusing outcome.
We entered into the season knowing that we had one another, and believing that there would be no gifts other than the small things we had made. But other people did not view things so philosophically.
My uncle found out and sent lavish presents. Someone at our church found out, and the parish also sent boxes upon boxes of gifts. My grandparents gave us bigger presents than they ever had before.
We ended up having more gifts that year than we ever did before OR after. God lavished gifts on us through the generosity of others! Now I want my family to be that sign of God’s generosity.
May we think more about Christ, and see Christ in our brethren. Happy Advent!
Rebecca O’Loughlin is a Byzantine Catholic mother with 5 children (newborn to tween). She enjoys running her shop (Brushes2Halos), writing, and adventuring with her children--whether on a flight with their airplane pilot dad, or through the pages of Narnia.
Rebecca’s Advent Giving Activities:
Prayers & Kid-Sized Offerings
My mother-in-law has a nativity set with a manger that comes separately from the Baby Jesus figurine. During Advent, for good deeds and prayers, children place a piece of straw into the crib, to make a soft bed for Baby Jesus when He comes on Christmas. This year we will ask each child to pick someone who especially needs prayers and to offer up little things for that person. To make things simpler, we may say an additional family Hail Mary so the little ones have an extra opportunity to pray for that one special person.
Fasting from Screen Time
In this time of digital craziness, I like to cut down on screen time. When isn't feasible, I plan to focus screen time more on Christ. For instance, instead of watching any old cartoon, we’ll put on a cartoon about the Nativity or a film with a Christian message. (Looking for family-friendly Christmas films? The USCCB has a list to start you off.) The point of fasting is to give up something to focus our hearts more on Christ, so we want to trade the thing we’re giving up for something that’s better.
Almsgiving & Charity
My kids love to put together bags of "goodies" for the homeless. I spoke to a woman in Denver who works with the homeless ministry, and she provided a list of things that the homeless need in the colder seasons. When we see someone asking for things on the side of the road, we have one of these bags handy.
Homeless Care Kit (Place items in a watertight plastic bag)
- Magic gloves (the $1 kind that fit everyone) in dark colors.
- Hot hand and toe warmers
- Tea lights and a lighter
- Socks (plain tube socks are fine)
- Granola/energy bar, tuna/crackers, applesauce cups
- Instant coffee
- Kleenex pack
- Small sanitizer, handy wipes, soap
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- Pack of gum
- A few bus tokens or a small fast food gift card
- A handmade card with a positive message or uplifting Bible verse
- Anything small and extra you can think of that someone might enjoy.
Different Churches often put up a giving tree, where one can buy presents for kids who have none (usually all they're asking for is clothes).
Call ahead, but many elderly care homes would love small gifts, Christmas carolers and visits from little ones.