Our first year as parents was the year that my husband had been laid off. He had yet to find another engineering job, and was working through a temp agency to make ends meet. (Well, get closer to meeting!) We had cut EVERYTHING out of our budget, except house payment, car insurance, and utilities. We cut our food budget to under $100/month. And those were our expenses. There was absolutely nothing left over for anything else. In fact, we had to utilize some of our savings during that time to cover even those monthly expenses. So, what did we do for Christmas?
Nothing. No one got any presents. We told family that we usually bought for not to expect anything. Our son was a mere nine months old, so he wasn't expecting anything, either. We did purchase a small tree and had a hand full of ornaments that we had stored from the previous year. That year, Christmas was all about being together, without the expectation of buying gifts for anyone, without the greed that comes from a pile of presents with your name on it.
The following year, we had two young sons (ages 20 mos and 3 mos). We knew it was time to start developing our own family traditions, and we wanted to include gifts in that, but money was still tight. We decided to only do stockings as a family. Mostly filled with items from the dollar store. For our relatives, we had a minimal budget, and told them not to expect much. Again, Christmas was about being together as a family, reading about the birth of Christ, and the joy of having a couple of small items to pull out of a stocking.
Fast forward a few years to the present Christmas. Now, we aren't wealthy by any means, but we have the money to do as much or as little as we choose. And we choose to continue in our tradition of minimal gifts at Christmas. We still primarily focus on the stockings. It's fun to take the kids to the dollar store to pick out items for each other. Play dough, small plastic toys, hair accessories, water colors, activity books...so many things to choose from! We have also added one present under the tree for each child. We have a budget for these items, and the gifts we buy for friends and family, and we stick to it. (We use an envelope method for our Christmas purchases, that I talked about in a previous post.)
On Christmas Eve, we gather near the tree and read the story of Jesus' birth from Luke 2. We have something hands-on to help the kids visualize the story- small items representing different aspects of the story or a nativity set that they can manipulate. We thank God for the birth of his Son, and what He did for us on the cross when He grew up. We do gifts then, but because there's only one present, it's not consuming our evening. The time is centered around the Lord and being together as a family.
Last year we started a tradition of having a family Advent wreath. Each Sunday we light one new candle and talk about what that candle represents. On Christmas Eve, all five candles are lit and we celebrate the birth of our Savior. At times, we have also had a birthday cake for Jesus with the decorations representing different aspects of the Gospel.
I highly recommend "the ADVENTure of Christmas" by Lisa Whelchel as a way of bringing Christ into the things that you do this holiday season. Everything from the Christmas tree, to writing cards, to wrapping the presents is given a significance and can strengthen our faith in the Lord.
What do you do during Advent or Christmas to center the time around Christ's birth? How do you handle all the hype around presents? For other ideas on a budget, check out Frugal Fridays.