When people say it is hard to focus on the real reason for Christmas, it makes me sad. It doesn't have to be that way.
52 Christmases at Temple Square
52 Christmases at Temple Square
When I was around ten years old my entire family was in a Christmas Play at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. We performed two or three times a day for the entire month of December, except Sundays, to a full house every time. My role was a Christmas Caroler. In the play my part was to listen backstage as the stage-father read the Christmas Story to his adopted family and then, just as he got to the part about the baby Jesus, come to the door singing “Away in a Manger”. Hearing the Christmas story and singing this carol was without a doubt, heart-warming. I noticed that even though we repeated it approximately 52 times that month, it never got old. The Christmas Story and Away in a Manger always brought the spirit, the Holy Ghost, to testify of our Savior Jesus Christ and I loved that feeling.
Backstage, as the oldest caroler, my job was to re-wrap the Christmas presents for every performance. It was perhaps a mundane chore, but it was a festive chore and I loved hearing the excitement and gratitude in the orphan children’s voices on stage as they opened their gifts again and again. I felt the spirit as they said thank you for their gifts even though it was just a play. I realized with power, that the presents didn’t matter. Wrapping them pretty makes them special just like dressing up fancy makes church or other events more special. The children in the play were orphans and they were so grateful for their gifts! I learned a lot about presents that year. They are beautiful and a fun tradition and it doesn’t matter too much what is in them. The giftwrap is half the magic. If you don’t say thank you for every present, you are missing out on the spirit testifying of gratitude and the warm feeling it can bring.
Being on Temple Square every day of December meant I saw the Christus and the life-sized nativity every day. There could be no doubt about what Christmas was all about. Those two things brought the spirit powerfully into my heart every time I saw them. That is how the spirit works, it testifies of what is true and good. So to have the Christmas spirit, seek what is true and good.
Uncommercializing Christmas for Kids
Anyway, when I became a parent, I quickly learned to shield my children from toy advertising. We turned off TV after thanksgiving and watched commercial free videos. We didn’t take them to the store if at all possible. I tossed the toy adds in the mail as quickly as I could. We never, ever mentioned Santa. It wasn’t necessary, other people did it for us, including aunts and uncles and grandparents. I didn’t mind if other people taught about Santa, they got the fun tradition in the right proportion that way. If we went to a party or a store with a Santa, I always whispered to our children that Santa was a very nice man that liked to give presents to kids and when you sat on his lap he would ask what you wanted for Christmas. I told them the trick was to ask for a candy cane and if they did he would give them one. This helped reduce the amount of time they spent thinking about themselves and things they wanted but didn't need, an activity which chases the spirit away. They didn’t know asking Santa for toys was an option until they got into school. They always asked for a candy cane and were never disappointed, he always gave them one on the spot, sometimes he even gave them bags with coloring books and other treats for which they were truly grateful. So they “believed”. These were fun times, but not spiritual. Sometimes my kids chose Santa books at the library and I remember always changing the words so that Santa said things like how much he wanted to make the celebration for Jesus special and how his gifts were little compared to what Jesus did for us. That brought the spirit because Santa was testifying of Christ.
I didn't listen to the radio much, because of the commercials. I played my own Christmas music with songs that almost never mentioned Santa or Christmas Lists.
When I talked about Santa with my kids, I usually called him that nice man in the red suit and I praised him for being so Christlike. My kids would ask me if Santa was real and I would say yes, all of them are real. Anyone who loves children and gives them toys for Christmas is Santa. To me Santa is a Good Samaritan in a red suit. (I love the painting of Santa worshipping baby Jesus in the manger.) I would tell my kids if we were lucky we would meet a Santa during December. We always hung up stockings, but I never said "Santa is coming", I just promised that they would fill up with candy and oranges by morning. They didn’t want oranges and I told them oranges were a must because they represented what used to be candy to my grandpa and generations before us. The orange is the Christmas spirit in our stocking because it turns our hearts to those before us and makes us grateful. Each year we left a big red Santa Bag under the Christmas tree for toys and it always got magically filled up Christmas Eve. We didn’t say who filled it and my kids always thanked Mom and Dad even though we admitted nothing. I was glad though, that my kids got to thank us for their "Santa" gifts since thanking is one of the most important parts of Christmas.
In the place of talking about Santa during the Christmas season, I spent much time talking about the birthday celebration of Jesus and how we ought to be thankful for Him. I talk about how we ought to be good because He is watching and it is our gift to him. I get to testify of Him over and over throughout the month and that certainly brings the spirit. We write down gifts to Him and put them in a white stocking by our stockings. We play with the manger scene and act out the Christmas story.
As far as Christmas shopping goes, I really, really, really, really hate it. I’d rather clean toilets. I am pretty minimalist about it. When the kids are old enough to be toy-advertising proof, I like to take them shopping for their own gifts as another family activity. My husband and I always buy our own gifts. After all, I learned when I was ten years old that as long as you wrap it up pretty and give thanks, the spirit of Christmas is there. The element of surprise isn’t completely necessary. I do surprise my family as much as I can with stocking stuffers and stuff in the Santa bag, but it is definitely not a requirement I live by.
My recipe for an uncommercial Christmas
Anyway, as I have listened to yet another year of people regretting the insanity of Christmas, I tried to think of why mine has never felt that way, and this is what I came up with. It minimizes things that are fun, but don't bring the spirit and emphasizes things that do.
1-Minimize the gifts, they don’t even have to be a surprise. I know giving is a good thing to do, especially to those in need, so that is where we should focus. However, the spirit in our home comes more strongly from music worshipping the savior, expressions of gratitude, study of the birth and life of Christ, and family activities.
2-Minimize how much time you allow yourself to talk about, sing about, watch movies about, or even mention Santa. You'll still get enough and it will still be fun.
3-Talk about Jesus and the nativity often, sing about him, watch movies about him.
4-Be choosy about what music you listen too, it is very powerful, but the spirit of Christmas comes primarily when the songs testify of Christ.
5-Make the holiday beautiful with lights, colors, smells, and tastes talk often of how each of these things testifies of Christ (this gives the spirit a chance to testify.)
6-Persuade your family to spend happy time together (even if it takes gingerbread and piles of candy or they need to be seatbelted into place).
Then, I promise the spirit will be there in abundance and you will have a Merry Christmas!