I just LOVE how Christmas seems to linger in Pennsylvania. Lights on houses still glow, I was glad to see that my Christmas tree wasn’t the only one still up last week as I passed the mall and saw a huge tree on top of it still lit and shining brightly. While it lingers just a little longer, and as I slowly finish putting the last decorations away, I have to glance back once more at our Christmas this year. Looking back some moments shine out brighter than the rest now that the joyful busy-ness of the season has settled: Moments like talking to our son Isaac, in Argentina, via skype! And moments of family traditions, like giving what my kids call “Secret Santa” gifts to one another. I hope you enjoy these pics of those treasured moments and these details of a family tradition that has really added more magic than ever to our Christmas’s than ever!
It is always our challenge as parents to give our children the gift of GIVING!! Though we all know deep down inside learning to love to give is what will bring them the most happiness and fulfillment to our children’s lives, now and in the future. A few years ago I visited my friend, Susie Allen. As I looked around her home I was amazed by the beautiful handmade items of artwork, woodwork, afghans, quilts, photo albums and more. As I took interest in many of them she explained one of their family traditions. Each year for Christmas they draw names. They each get to MAKE a meaningful gift for the person they had chosen. I was in awe as she showed me an album full of the pictures of gifts they had created for each other over the years (the album itself had been one of those gifts). It was truly inspiring! I was so touched by the tradition I talked to my family about it and we decided we might like to put it into place in our home. This was a big step for me. We had always taken the children with their little bits of money to all-a-dollar and let them pick out little gifts for each other. One by one Dad would take them through the store to choose and purchase their gifts while I kept the other kids with me letting them look and plan. Though this sounds kind of lame now, the children were little so it worked, it was fun and they thought of each person in the family. I wondered if choosing one name would lesson our love for each other, or if everyone would really make a meaningful gift. I wondered how we could possibly make those homemade gifts happen through such a busy season! But as the children grew our need for a more meaningful giving-tradition grew also and soon we put everyone’s names in a dish and passed it around. The first year we did this, we decided we had each put enough effort into our gifts that we wanted to open them separately from joy-FULL Christmas morning! Later in the day, when it was quieter and we were all happily fed, we gathered in our small front room and decided we would simply go around the circle, saying who we had made for and giving our gift, one by one.
I was completely unprepared for the amazing experience this would be. It had been really exciting to discover whose name we had and try to keep it and the gift we made a secret ’til Christmas! It was soo neat to see the children’s minds churn with ideas of what to do for their sister or brother or mom or dad. Their excitement was palpable. It was really great to get to spend one on one time with my little ones, Dad and I being number one helpers of course when it came to crafts done by children age 10 and under! (But not just us! My son spent several hours helping my daughter Kate prepare a much needed tie rack for Dad last year!) It was hard to find the time during crazy December to get our projects done (of course distributing names sooner is a good idea) but I found it a blessing to have the children be thinking of one another and making sweet sacrifices for their siblings during this season of love! A couple of the kids even worked through the night on Christmas eve to finish their projects for each other! And there we were now, ready to GIVE. This first time started small and simple and adorably cute with little Clara giving a Santa sleigh made out of her sister’s favorite treats! We all giggled at it and enjoyed the clever design. It grew as we were wowwed by my son’s gift to Dad, a hefty, durable, wood bag for bringing in big loads of firewood for the fireplace! My son had sewn it himself!!! (My husband is still using this hefty, handsome wood carrier almost daily through this cold winter! It is especially meaningful to us as our son is away in Argentina!) We were all brought to tears as my daughter Katey gave her big sister Emily a hand-stitched saying about sisters, that we knew came straight from her heart! And we all cried harder, all of us, and hugged in a huge circle as Anna presented me with a painting of our family all together, holding hands, looking to the temple. It was an amazing experience and drew us closer to each other than anything else that Christmas. So that was the beginning of our new tradition and each year I am loving this tradition even more and the children look forward to it more.
I can’t even say how grateful I am to the Allen family for sharing it with us! As I sat with my little girls at lunch the other day we were lingering over our Christmas memories together. “So Girls,” I summed up, “looking back at ALLLLLL we did for the Christmas season this year, what was your VERY FAVORITE thing that we did?” (I am telling you there were a lot of awesome experiences!) Without a moment’s hesitation, my 3 daughter’s sitting around me, age 9, 7, and 5 ALL shouted out, “Giving our secret Santa gifts to each other!!!” There was such glee, such real joy in it, it was sooo sincere that it caught me off-guard. I hate to admit that I was actually surprised. They were rejoicing in GIVING!!! They quickly added the other favorite thing they did was wrapping and delivering secret surprise gifts with Grandma this year (but that’s another story). I could see in the beaming faces of my children “It [really] is more blessed to give than receive“! I had not given a lecture on the joys and blessings of giving or anything I PROMISE! It was unsolicited, joyful and true – straight from children’s mouths! I was surprised that out of all the amazing and wondrous parts of Christmas this year, out of all the gifts they had received, they were rejoicing in the gift of GIVING!! Giving gives JOY that lasts.
Much Love, and keep that Christmas Spirit lingering!
CaMarie and Crew
p.s. The pics here are of our Secret Santa gifts this year (the girls found ideas online or thought of their own; the work on their projects was their own though Mike and I helped by guiding them through the projects ‘know-how’s’) and talking to Elder Hoffman via skype!
Here is Esther giving Emily her crocheted clutch (SOOOOO EXCITED about it all season as she diligently worked on it!! SOOO FUN for me to teach her crochet and sit beside her sometimes while she did it as my Grandma had taught me! One gift I always cherished was a crocheted little wallet-purse from my sister Kari – she had made it at about the same age as Esther, with Grandma’s help).
There is also Zoie-Grace giving Esther the owl coin purse she had made her (it even happened to match the darling big owl purse Esther got for Christmas from Santa! Mom helped her get started and Dad helped her finish the sewing on this project! FU-UN!)
Then there is Emily giving Gracie her very own reading tent with matching pillowcase and name over the door! (means so much to Grace as she LOVES to find a corner to curl up and read!)
Then surprise of surprises, Daddy gave Mikela, our stylish diva, a stylin’ scarf with scrunchie to match!! Did you notice who’s smile is the biggest of all in each pic? I believe it is the Giver’s! GREAT memories for all!!
I hope you take a moment to relish the memories of giving this year and please, if you please, share them with us!