Something special this Christmas

December 1, 2016 - 12:00am -- Living City

Something special this Christmas

Helping our children appreciate their abundant gifts

I grew up in a different time and a different place, and I am happy to see that my children and grandchildren have more possibilities than I ever had. However, my husband Tom and I sometimes get concerned by the enormous number of gifts that children nowadays receive for Christmas. We often wonder whether they can really appreciate fully the gifts they receive.

As in most families, our birthdays and Christmases were really special when we raised our children. Perhaps because there were 10 of them, we tried very much to counteract the tendency to accumulate things, and we consciously made choices in terms of what toys were wholesome to have in the house.

There were times when our children came home after playing at their friend’s house and would ask that we buy them certain toys that their friend had. Very often our response to this request would be, “Great, you can enjoy them there!” We encouraged them to see it as an opportunity to share and to build relationships, and their friends enjoyed the toys our children had when it was their turn to play in our home.

Last year, while visiting with our family in Ohio a few weeks before Christmas, our then 11-year-old granddaughter Cecilia came home from school with a bag full of gifts. Her mom had given her some money so she could buy gifts at the Christmas boutique at her school. She was so excited as she showed her mom and me what she had gotten for a couple of her friends, her uncle and some of her siblings. We were excited with her, and I marveled at how well she chose those gifts!

At a certain point, I started sharing what Christmas was like for me as a kid growing up in the Philippines. We were quite poor, but that didn’t diminish our excitement over preparing for Christmas.

We had a star made out of bamboo sticks and translucent paper with a small light inside that hung in our window. We turned it on as soon as it got dark. It reminded us to follow the star like the three kings did, in search of Jesus.

We all attended midnight Mass, then we headed to the home of one of our neighbors, who was a little well off, to have a meal together. Each of us received one red delicious apple as a Christmas gift, along with the joy-filled moments together with friends and family. It was something really special!

Cecilia asked me with her eyes wide, “Really? One red delicious apple?” “Yes,” I said, “one red delicious apple!”

And as soon as her Dad came home, she told him, “Do you know what grandma got for Christmas? One red delicious apple!”

On Christmas Day, we were celebrating Christmas in our home in New York with some of our children and their families. My daughter-in-law brought a basket that said “Happy Holidays” with a dozen apples in it, saying, “Cecilia called me and asked, ‘Would you buy 12 apples for grandma so that she doesn’t have only one but 12 for Christmas?’”

What a Christmas gift!

We have almost 24 grandchildren, so every year we face the challenge of what to do for Christmas. We want them to feel that Christmas is a special time, and the tradition of giving gifts is wonderful, but we don’t want to add just another present because that’s what’s expected. For many years now, we’ve been doing “Kris Kringle” (Secret Santa) with our children and their spouses.

Typically, on Thanksgiving Day, we put all the names in a little bag and everyone draws a name — their Kris Kringle. Last year, we started this practice among the grandchildren as well, with a five-dollar limit.

On Christmas Day, each of them comes with their present or sends a package via mail which I keep for them. Then the fun begins of guessing who your Kris Kringle is — but not before we remind each other that we celebrate “because it’s Jesus’ birthday.”

For our part, we also give our children and grandchildren Christmas gifts, but ones that the families can enjoy together, for example, money for a dinner out or for a show they can watch together. We encourage them to be creative.

We’ve discovered over and over again that we don’t need many gifts to love God and each other at Christmas. Sometimes, one red delicious apple is enough.

— Mary Hartmann

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