Big Christmas, Small Pricetag

Our un-orthodox Christmas is on the 12th day of Christmas because we have so much extended family in the area. After many years of having three celebrations in 24 hours, we started celebrating ours on, or near, January 6. There are many reasons we liked it, so we are keeping it there. You’ve probably already celebrated, but you might like some of our ideas for next year.
The more the merrier, right? That was my feeling as I added more and more adorable children to my own small village. You might wonder, how do you make Christmas merry for ten children? How can you afford it?
I want my kids to remember growing up in our house as a secure, happy time. New stuff makes us happy for a short time, sometimes really short. You might not even have paid off the credit card before the toy has stopped giving out happiness vibes. How long will the happiness last? It could be just minutes. The joy on my kid’s face in a photo enjoying the fun thing lasts almost as long as the happiness of them choosing, getting and owning the toy. Because inevitably reality sets in with storing, cleaning, maintaining and watching it age. Here are a couple shots of my kids enjoying things I didn’t buy them.
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Since the happiness diminishes so rapidly, I found a way to lower the cost of toys, books and clothes for my kids. I love giving them what they want, but don’t want it to hurt our finances. So I sometimes buy used instead of new. The difference is packaging and condition. I find used items in good shape and save lots of money. What’s the shrink wrap worth anyway? It’s just annoying. Sara Groves is a wonderful singer/ song writer, a mom who has been there trying to open new toys. I got to hear her in concert last week. I give you “Toy Packaging” for your late night wrapping session pleasure.
It’s better to get toys without the mummifying packaging.  I get quality gifts second hand at yard sales, consignment events, and thrift stores. I start thinking about Christmas gifts right after Christmas, and I stash away good gifts I find throughout the year.
Keep the gift list small: 3 per child is reasonable. If you are still shopping for your kids this year, maybe you could just stop and give them a better gift. Time spent reading to them, cooking  or playing  a game with them.
Or give an artfully presented coupon to attend an event later in the dark quiet days of winter.
The lasting happiness of needs met is better than the flash of elation from opening a new toy. My kids tell me they want all kinds of things. As the parent, I know that what they want more than stuff is security and love, so I pay for necessities like heat, housing and dental work instead of toys.
So, no fun at all? Yes, lots of fun! I often buy a board game as a Christmas gift for the family. This year it’s Ticket to Ride. If you give puzzles, books, board games and card games, you have group entertainment. Hiking, museums, community theater, movies, story time at the library, and classes at the rec center are all fun things to do together that aren’t too expensive. Keep what you would have spent on toys, and spend it throughout the year on family activities. You’ll get so much more out of it. The gift of family time is worth so much more than stuff.
What Christmas looks like at our house:
Cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Homemade if that works, otherwise I use Pillsbury or store brand from a can because traditions shouldn’t be a heavy load for mom, they should be bright threads that run through your family history as fond memories.
Read, act out and record Luke 2:1-20 from the Bible before opening gifts.
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Stocking bags. Because we scoff at tiny, useless stockings we pin our stockings to brown paper grocery sacks to be filled with:
  • Cereal: here’s where we go crazy. All year we eat sensible, low-sugar cereals, but for Christmas…the kids get their very own box of their choice, even if the first ingredient is sugar!
  • Candy bar or savory treat like chips, jerky or nuts
  • Small gifts: candy, soaps, hand warmers, tea, hot chocolate, candles, deck of cards
  • travel size toiletries
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
Everyone who wants to puts little gifts into the stocking bags. For a long time we have drawn names for a bigger gift because, do the math. Twelve people giving gifts gets to be a mountain of presents even with just a few gifts per child from my husband and I and only small gifts from one sibling to another.
We cap off the gift opening with a wrapping paper snowball fight. I started it one year as we sat there looking at each other with all that paper at our feet. Irresistible. We spend the rest of our holiday playing board games and rolling out a stream of hot appetizers throughout the afternoon.
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The more, the merrier is true if we enjoy each other on the holidays and make it about celebrating God’s love and enjoying our favorite people.