Ho, Ho, Ho—oh, no!  It’s almost Christmas. If you are like many American families, this has not been the best of years, financially speaking. If you have done well and saved, you’ve probably seen those savings plummet. If you’re more the norm, and really don’t have much (if anything) in savings, the pain is even worse. Many families this Christmas are struggling with job losses, car payments, and in too many cases credit card bills from last Christmas.

If you identify with any of these scenarios then what do you say we do a little “check up from the neck up, ”okay?

I recently heard someone ask, “Should I go into deeper debt on my credit cards so my kids can have a good Christmas?”  In my opinion, the emphatic answer to this question is NO! 

The question itself needs to be rethought. First, what is a “good" Christmas? I’ll revisit this at the end of the article but suffice it to say, I think it's a huge mistake to communicate to our children that a “good" Christmas equates to the number of dollars we spend. 

In many cases, whatever short term fun that might come spending money we don’t have for Christmas will be lost in the pain that follows. By pain, I’m thinking about the arguments the kids will overhear when those plastic bills start to arrive. And in more dire cases, critical things may be lost or curtailed long after the “must-have” Christmas toys are lying under the bed collecting dust. What will be lost? Maybe the money needed to pay tuition or for new shoes or even to keep the mortgage current.

Now here's something positive: a lean Christmas can be a long term blessing for our children. 

What would be wrong with simply telling our kids the truth? You don’t have to go into all the gory details. But what if you sat down and said something like this:

“Children, this Christmas is going to be special -- but not in the way you might expect. This year Mom and I have to make some really tough decisions. We would like to have enough money to buy lots of gifts. But we don’t. We do have plenty of money to pay for what we need: the house, our food and clothes. But not if we spend that money buying lots of expensive gifts. So this year we’re going to have a special Christmas. We are going to find neat ways to remember Jesus.”

With that as your Yuletide intro, turn it into a game. Ask your children (depending on their ages) to do “Jesus things” this Christmas. Why not decorate the house with hand-drawn pictures of the Nativity? Why not write and share poems or short stories about how Jesus’ birth changed the world? Why not focus on how poor Jesus was—and how comparatively wealthy we are?  On that point, why not discuss the poverty that most of the world’s citizens experience their entire lives?

Then, let’s put our words into action. Let’s do Christmas differently this year. Why not turn off the TV and spend evenings preparing for a refreshingly different Christmas? Following are some ideas you might want to consider:

1. Make home-made gifts. If you crochet why not make ornaments and starch them for your friends’ trees? Or can your favorite foods.  (These don’t have to be expensive fruits and nuts. One of our friends at church gives us a small jar of homemade pickles every Christmas. They probably cost her less than a dollar, but I love those pickles!) There are a million ways get creative and make gifts of your own. Just find one or two ways that work for you and get the family busy.

2. Limit your presents to one store-bought gift per child. Tell each child that this year they will get one “special gift” (and, give them an idea of your budget for that gift). Then, stick to your guns. Go into the store with a list, and don’t fall into the trap of buying “just one more little thing.”