In place of Christmas cards, I send photocopied letters, personalizing each with a brief note. Sometimes they're sent late, and one year I didn't send any at all. No one has disowned us yet. I'm even considering emailing this year's batch. Is that allowed?

Our large local extended family always shares Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, rotating between homes. The hostess prepares the entrée and develops a menu of options for the guests to bring. This way no one ends up making the whole meal, and the foods still coordinate with each other.

Christmas gift-giving began as a way to remember both the gifts of the Wise Men and the greatest gift of all--Jesus. Unfortunately, we often allow buying and wrapping presents to become the focal point of the Christmas celebration, depleting our budgets and ourselves in the process.

Gratitude is a powerful antidote to greed. Our family learned to open gifts one at a time, stopping to thank the giver (if present) with a hug or kiss. We made a point of sitting down together to write thank-you notes. Little ones can dictate theirs for you to write. A picture of the gift with the child brings a smile to a distant relative who couldn't attend your celebration.

What to do with Christmas gifts after you receive them? That's a tough one. If you're really ruthless, you can decree that nothing comes into the house unless another item goes out. We all seem to have the "I might need this someday" attitude. It's as if we think God can't provide for our future as well as He has provided for our past. Work with each family member to find a home for new items. If it has an assigned place, it is more likely to be put away each time. Consider rotating old toys into storage for awhile.

We did several things to keep the focus on Jesus' birth. Each evening during Advent, we opened a new little door in our Advent calendar, reading a stanza of the poem until Christmas Eve when we finally opened every door. Hearing the poem every night, the boys had much of it memorized by Christmas, and they still recall it as adults.

In the early years, the boys acted out the Christmas story on Christmas Eve, each doing several parts. I played the part of Mary, and whichever baby was youngest got to be Baby Jesus. Visiting grandparents enjoyed the boys' creativity as they wore makeshift costumes and made a donkey from cardboard and a wagon. The play was followed by a birthday cake for Jesus (not shaped!).

Consider the ages of your children when decorating. After our firstborn pulled the Christmas tree on top of himself, I decided to make unbreakable ornaments--quilted hearts to remind us of the Love that came down at Christmas. We used those for many years. When the children were older, we changed to more fragile ornaments. We wanted the tree to reflect the meaning of the season, a silent witness not only to our family, but to my many piano students and other guests.

Ultimately, we ended up with two trees: one in the music room and a second in the sunroom where students wait for lessons. The music room tree is more formal. We call it the Creator Tree because everything on it reminds us of the Lord or one of His names. Each ornament is either gold (His kingship), crystal (His purity), or pearl (He is the Pearl of Great Price). It is topped with a golden crown. Gold and pearl beaded garland is arranged on the boughs. I purchased the decorations at half price for about the same amount I would have spent on a new dress.

The Creation Tree in the sunroom has lots of birds, moose, bears, and other ornaments, reflecting some of the things we enjoy as gifts from the Creator. We hang a replica of the crown of thorns at the top as a reminder to us that men used items from the creation in their rebellion against the Creator and that the story of Christmas culminates at Easter.

Don't feel that you have to try every new idea you hear about for your family celebrations. Ask God to help you center your celebrations on Him, keeping it simple, yet meaningful. Your family needs a refreshed and joyful you, not a cranky, perfectionist Super Mom.

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©2007 by Marcia K. Washburn, who writes from her nineteen years of experience homeschooling five sons. Adapted with permission from an article first published in The CHEC Update, 4th Qtr. 2005. For information about her workshops, articles, or books, please contact her at marcia@chec.org or 970-842-4776.

This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com