Two years ago, I announced to my family that I no longer wanted them to buy Christmas presents for me.
Honestly, I didn't think it'd be that big a deal.
Just for the record, I LOVE Christmas. From selecting a tree - still growing - from the field of a local farm, to carol singing, to the switching on of the lights in our little village pub. I love it all. I love the magic of the advent season and how the glow of twinkling Christmas tree lights transforms those still-dark early mornings when I sit down with my Bible and grab a quiet moment before the day begins. And I love the whirlwind of parties and celebrations and having a house packed to the rafters with family and food and laughter.
But a couple of years ago, I started to realise that there was something about Christmas that I really didn't love. It crept up on me slow. A gentle discontent and faint unease with the growing pile of presents around the tree. And in the panting aftermath of frenzied present unwrapping one year, something settled upon me. An empty, hollow feeling of.. disappointment. Something was missing.
It took me a while to struggle with it. Perhaps it was having children of my own that focussed my mind. They were bombarded with activities at school and adverts on the TV and Santa appearing here, there, and in more places than were conceivable possible for one man and his elves. It suddenly felt like an uphill battle to remind them - and ourselves - what was actually important at Christmas. Was it Christ or was it Santa? Was it the presents or the birth of our Saviour? Did I want Christmas to revolve around present lists and I want, I want, I want?
I began to feel less and less comfortable with the noisy clanging materialism that often surrounds Christmas here in the Western world and drowns out - for me anyway - the quiet whisper of God's grace that was the Messiah's birth. So I made a decision. My gift to God at Christmas would be to not receive gifts myself. After all, it isn't my birthday we're celebrating, its Christ's. It allows me to focus on God more during this special season. To hear him better. To remember the real miracle and majesty of what he did for us when He came to earth as a tiny, helpless baby. It's a discipline of putting Him first and me second. Not out of piety or guilt, but as a small gift from me to Him. And if it helps to set an example for our children, that Christmas isn't all about us and what we receive, then that's great too.
Responses have ranged wildly. Some have embraced it with open arms. It's been a great opportunity to get out of the rut of exchanging gifts with some people out of courtesy or habit. And lessening the exchange of unneeded - and often unwanted - gifts that we then feel an obligation to reciprocate, can only be a good thing for our wallets and the environment, right?
But it's been harder with those that I am close to, and that I didn't expect. With two young children and a wider family whose love language is definitely present-buying, this has been a tricky journey that has sometimes made me feel like an out-and-out social pariah.
I have found navigating that sticky path between staying true to what we feel to be right - teaching our children that Christmas is not all about Santa and gifts and how much we get - and not becoming so much of a bah-humbug that we spoil it for those around us, can be hard. And here I have learnt not to be so rigid as to offend. My girls can't bear the thought of Mummy not having anything to open and so I usually put a few books on my Amazon wishlist for them to choose one from. From others, if I have to, I try to think of one small thing I'd really like, or an experience they could pay for rather than more stuff. One year, my lovely husband gave me a little box with a roll of money in it, beautifully tied with a ribbon and a note that said "For you to give away". He gets it.
But the best present? I have re-discovered the true joy of the Advent season. And that? That's Priceless.