A friend asked me today whether we give a lot of gifts at Christmas, and if not, what are some ways to prepare kids for a lean year. I wrote out my thoughts in a message and then decided this may be something useful for others....and it may not be, but I just felt compelled to share.
Christmas...well, we kind of do different things every year which I think actually has helped with our boys not having certain expectations of Christmas...not that we planned that...it just happened that things (resources, our location, etc) would be different each year, so it has always been different.
On the lean years, we have focused on giving. Strangely, Isaac will still say that his VERY favorite Christmas ever was the year we (meaning Tim and I) didn't buy them a single present. We took the money (not much, mind you) that we would have spent on them and used it to buy Christmas for an Angel Tree child. Of course, they still got presents from Grandmas and aunts and uncles, but we only filled their stockings and that was all. We thought Isaac (he was really the only one old enough to totally know the difference) would have HATED that, but he just said again the other day that it was his favorite Christmas. We did a TON of explaining and talking ahead of time, though...talking through the fact that they would still get presents from other people and the kids we were buying for would perhaps not get any presents at all if we weren't buying for them...talking about the fact that their parent was in prison and how sad that would be and that maybe we could bring them some joy, etc Now, that is an extreme you may not want to go for...but there have been other years when money just wasn't there and one thing we did was try to spend as little money as possible but get things that make Christmas day SUPER fun...dart guns, cheap(er) board games, craft-ish things we could do together, etc.
I have been shocked by our boys' grace and resilience in this area. It would seem that the more "stuff" on Christmas morning, the happier, but we have found the opposite to be the case. Now, that doesn't mean that we haven't had years where we've had LOTS of stuff. In fact, this year, we're spending a bit more than usual. BUT I am already praying that the "stuff" will not drown out the family and the reason for the day....which reminds me...as cliche as it may sound, one other thing that helps us focus is reminding ourselves and the boys that the reason for the day is Jesus' birthday. So, we have a birthday cake for Jesus which they look forward to and get pretty excited about. Although they typically get in a fight over which one of them gets to blow out the candles...so the effect doesn't last long...haha