While quite conservative and orthodox in their views, my parents were exceptionally experimental and willing to break with societal conventions and expectations in raising their children. It was only later in life that I realized how radical we sometimes were.
There was a time during my childhood when my mother and father became concerned that our Christmas was becoming too focused on materialism and receiving gifts and insufficiently focused on celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. They also recognized the social pressure often put on children that reinforced a materialistic approach to Christmas, even in otherwise religious contexts. For example, at church on the Sunday after Christmas day, the talk among the children in Sunday School would inevitably revolve around what they got for Christmas. And there was often an unfortunate element of pride as children compared the trendiness or expense of their gifts.
Many parents have faced and continue to face this same problem.
To counteract that materialism and pride and refocus Christmas on Jesus, my parents devised an unusual plan: they suspected that cutting back on gifts or abolishing Christmas gifts altogether would backfire and play into the existing dynamic, potentially reinforcing the materialism rather than undermining it. So instead they decided to undermine it by removing the novelty of getting gifts by making getting gifts common.
Instead of receiving gifts only at Christmas, they declared a monthly “Present Day”. They took the budget that they would have spent on Christmas and spread it throughout the year. On the “Present Day” of each month we would receive a gift and the gift we received in December would simply be the twelfth “Present Day”. Christmas would be conceptually divorced from “Present Day” and left to focus on Jesus.
Mom explained the plan to us and the reasons for it and for the next 12 months we had “Present Day” every month. Christmas was the last “Present Day” of the year.
In the end the “Present Day” experiment was discontinued and we returned to a more normal approach to Christmas. The plan didn’t seem to accomplish what my parents had hoped and they moved on.
However, even though in the short term the plan seemed to have failed, in the long run it managed to accomplish its ultimate objective anyway.
The effort itself taught us that Christmas should be about Jesus Christ and not getting gifts. Because the issue concerned my parents enough that they were willing to try such an unconventional approach, the very act of trying to do something about it, and telling us why, communicated to us that it was important.
Our experience also taught us to look at society, culture, and the world around us and analyze their effects on us. It taught us that we were in control of how we lived and could choose other approaches when necessary. It taught us to be willing to do things differently in order to uphold principles and truths that mattered, even if it was completely different from what everyone else was doing and made us seem weird. It taught us to experiment. It taught us that our parents loved us.
I don’t think I remember a single gift I received for even one “Present Day”. But these lessons of the “Present Day” experiment have stayed with me throughout my life. It is one of the best gifts I received from my parents.
Jesus is the Gift. Christmas is about Him and his love for all of us. And the gifts we give to each other are reflections of his love.
Have a very Merry Christmas!