Christmas is my least favorite of all the holidays. Before you stamp a big ‘bah-humbug’ across my forehead, let me explain.
Growing up, my family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. There were no baby-Jesus-in-a-manger displays in our house or Christmas Eve masses to attend. Instead, Christmas was a time for family to get together and share a good meal. (That part I love.) The second, equally as important, part of our Christmas celebration was the gift-giving. Oh my, the gift-giving. As a kid, I thought Christmas was the greatest holiday ever created. Using the word spoiled to describe my sister and me on Christmas morning would be a Herculean understatement. A toy store erupted in our living room every December 25th, and this continued well into our twenties.
The first time I remember thinking this kind of celebrating wasn’t simply a first-class ticket to everything I ever wanted was the year before Lexie was born. My sister and I had just received hundreds of dollars worth of clothing, DVDs, CDs, etc. I was surrounded by generous, well thought out gifts and all I could think about was that my mom had bought me the wrong kind of panties from Victoria’s Secret. I had fallen into the Consumer Christmas Trap.
I hated myself for not being more appreciative, and I’d like to tell you that the following year I had a better attitude, but it took me more than a couple years to really grasp and hold onto the desire to have a Christmas less about things and more about people. Once we determined as a family (meaning Cory, myself, and Lexie) that Christmas wasn’t going to be about the gifts, I started enjoying it more…until it came time to head back to spend Christmas with our extended family – our parents and grandparents – who had yet to jump on the less-is-more bandwagon. Thankfully, over the past five years, we’ve been able to gradually persuade our families into spending less on us. It’s been a difficult process, particularly with my mom and dad who have always used gift-giving as one way to show us love, but it’s coming along.
This year we hit a milestone. In lieu of buying gifts, we all agreed to donate to our charity of choice instead. This turned into a particularly fun experience for Lexie who also wanted to be included in our Charity Christmas celebration. For months before Christmas, Lexie and I scoured the internet for just the right organization to be the recipient of her Christmas money. We hadn’t found the perfect fit until one day when we were leaving her Sewing Club meeting and came across our town’s animal shelter by chance. We had some spare time the following weekend, so we headed back up there to check it out.
A whole building full of adorable, homeless cats and dogs? Lexie was in heaven! We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting with each of the puppies. She’d get into the kennels and play with the smaller ones, and if we particularly fell in love with one, we’d snap a leash on and take it for a walk through the outdoor play area. When it came time to leave and we were heading back to the car, I knew she’d found the place her Christmas money would be going to.
And so began the process of letting everyone who normally buys Lexie a gift know about our Operation: A Different Kind Of Christmas plan. Everyone was excited to hear what we were doing. Even people who don’t normally buy Lexie a gift sent in donations for her charity. After Christmas came and went, we counted up every dollar and check, and my little tender-hearted girl had raised a whopping $500 for P.A.W.S. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine she’d have that much to donate!
After visiting the shelter and grabbing a copy of their wish list, we hit Walmart for two hours buying nearly every item they’d asked for – 30 pounds of dog treats, 15 packages of cat treats, 204 cans of cat food, 196 pounds of dog food, 50 pounds of kitty litter, 33 cat toys, 26 dog toys, 12 quarts of bleach, 2 jumbo containers of soap, 60 blue ink pens, and a partridge in a pear tree.
When we brought our load back to the shelter, they were astonished at how much we were able to get. They insisted on taking a picture of Lexie with the shelter supervisor and all the supplies she bought to put on their main wall. It was an incredible experience for both Lexie and me. It didn’t feel like a burden or a waste of money – it was just fun.
This was not something we forced Lexie into; it’s something she wanted to do, out of the kindness of her own heart. And it’s what she wants to do next year, and the next year, and the next year. (Her words, of course!) For the three of us, Christmas isn’t about finding the perfect gift for each person on our list, or receiving that special item we’ve been eyeing all year. It’s a second Thanksgiving we’re given every year in December. A second opportunity to remember how blessed we are and to share those blessings with people (and animals!) who might not have it quite as good as we do. We keep this up long enough, and Christmas just might turn into my favorite holiday after all.