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For the past few Christmases, my family and I have joined our church in Advent Conspiracy, “a movement designed to help us all slow down and experience a Christmas worth remembering.” Fellow “conspirators” are encouraged to:

  • worship fully
  • spend less
  • give more
  • love all

Movement leaders point out that to in order to accomplish this, we have to do things “a little differently. A little creatively. It means turning Christmas upside down.”

We’ve been working on this for a while, and we’ve tried to cut back on holiday spending. But that can be pretty tough to manage when you have a large gift-loving family. (Particularly when four of them are at the age when they live and die by their electronics!) As much as we embrace the “spend less/give more” philosophy, it takes some serious ingenuity to do BOTH.

If there’s anything I love more than Christmas, though, it’s a chance to get creative! Wanting to get fully into the spirit of the thing, I started looking for inventive ways to spend less AND give more—to my own family, as well as strangers in need. So I slapped on my elf-shaped thinking cap and pretty soon ideas were jingling away. One surefire way I found to turn Christmas upside down is by adding a new twist to old traditions:

Christmas Cards

Christmas card

I love Christmas cards. Really. I love everything about them. I love finding envelopes in the mailbox that I actually look forward to opening. I love the beautiful images, the touching sentiments, the precious photos of children growing up much too fast. I even love the outrageous propaganda and parental PR cleverly disguised as “celebrating milestones.” (Be advised that our family missive will contain generous doses of same—it’s been a banner year for the Watts!)

On our end, I like discovering new photo ops to show off my own kids. I treasure reading each name on our address list and affixing a silent blessing along with each holiday stamp. However—speaking of stamps—have you checked out the price of postage these days? Holy Mail Fraud, Batman! We’ve reached the point where it costs us about as much to mail our cards as buy them. One rather obvious way for us to spend less at Christmas is to find a more wallet-friendly way to exchange Season’s Greetings.

Since we really do love the cards and want to participate in the whole glorious endeavor, we have worked out what we hope will be a successful compromise—to cycle, every other year, between electronic messages and the “recyclable” paper kind. (By the way, if you have some more affordable options for sending out Christmas cards, please post in the comments section!)

Meanwhile, our personal decision is in NO WAY intended to imply that we think sending Christmas cards is somehow wasteful, decadent or sinful. We DON’T! We LOVE seeing all the news from loved ones all over—we’re just trying something new!

Christmas Pajamas

Christmas 2006

Christmas 2006

This was a tradition that started as an homage to mom’s passion for scrap-booking. If there’s anything cuter than four little kids in holiday pajamas on Christmas morning, it’s the pages one can make with photos of same in color-coordinated outfits! Before long I had created a Christmas Eve ritual—each child opened one present at bedtime, and predictably that gift contained matching pjs.

However, with two girls, two boys and eight years between them, this tradition only got harder every year—my teenagers like wearing matching clothes even less than they like wearing pajamas! Still, I was determined to stretch the ritual until it snapped. Come December, I would embark on some Jingle-all-the-way frantic search for the Holy Grail of sleepwear that would somehow manage to suit my kids’ ages, sizes, genders and tastes, along with my budget. (And YES, I did try Old Navy. I advise you not to mention “Jingle Jammies” in my presence lest I’m tempted to flick a candy cane at your head!) Inevitably I would only spend precious time and money on something only I wanted. Talk about the gift that keeps on taking away!

Clearly, it was time for a change–but all I had to do was reinvent the tradition, not abandon it altogether! I realized we could celebrate the Spirit of Christmas pjs Past with ANY gift that brings our family together for some holiday fun. (And hey, if it lends itself to some cute photo ops, so much the better!) Here are a few alternatives I came up with:

  • MAKE IT! Gift: Ingredients (one or two per person, as needed) for a favorite Christmas treat. Every year my kids look forward to traditional holiday goodies like homemade, oven-roasted Chex party mix and reindeer food (aka puppy chow). Pick your own favorite recipe to prepare and enjoy as family; make enough to share! For the truly ambitious, how about an old-fashioned candy pull to make your own candy canes? There are some photos I would LOVE to see!
  • PLAY IT! Gift: Playing cards or board game pieces and a holiday date for Family Game Night.
  • READ IT! Gift: Bedtime reading of any holiday classic that’s sure to leave “visions of sugar plums” dancing in their heads! My personal recommendation would be The Twelve Days of Christmas, a beautifully illustrated explanation of the Christian symbolism in the classic Christmas carol. Another favorite is The ADVENTure of Christmas, which explores the original meanings of Christmas traditions and shows how hanging lights on the house, wrapping gifts, and decorating the tree are beautiful opportunities to learn more about Jesus as we celebrate his birth. Option II—depending on the ages/reading levels of your household, try copies of the same book (library versions are fine!) for each family member; agree to read and discuss together.
  • WATCH IT! Gift: Popcorn, candy and favorite film for Family Movie Night.