People are often surprised when I tell them that our family chooses not to give or receive any Christmas presents. This was a decision we made when our children were very small, as we knew there would be no turning back once we began the tradition of giving our children presents for Christmas.
With each year that passes, I’m more convinced that our decision was right for us, and I find it freeing. By saying “no” to commercialism and materialism, I am free to focus on faith and family. By saying “no” to obligatory giving, I am free to give my children more of myself; I am able to be more present for them and not distracted by holiday to-do lists.
Talking to friends and relatives about our choice takes some forethought, and I always make sure to remind them beforehand that we’d like them to refrain from giving us gifts. When I explain our reasoning, most of our family members are understanding, and sometimes, even relieved.
Ultimately, we find that our holidays are less exhausting and that our children are better able to understand that they are blessed and that they have so very much to be thankful for, without excessive focus on their own needs and wants. That said, it can be a struggle to create meaningful holiday traditions without gift giving.
Since we live on a beautiful farm, and our milking schedule prohibits holiday travel, the farm is naturally the center of our Christmas festivities. We begin a week or two before Christmas with a family hike to find a Christmas tree, which we bring home and decorate, often with pinecones, acorns and other curiosities we find in the woods.
Last Christmas morning, Joe and I pulled the boys on sleds to the outdoor shelter where our heifers spent the winter. We checked their hay and water and rolled out a fresh bale of bedding hay, while the boys warmed up their voices with some Christmas carols for the cows. We then enjoyed a church service, followed by a farm-fresh meal at home with some close friends and family.
Afterwards, we rounded up all the guests and went out to the barn to wish the cows a merry Christmas, and we all treated them to a sing-along. After the evening milking, our family enjoyed some communal prayer near the fire, and our kids went peacefully off to bed. That’s all—a very simple Christmas, and I hesitate to make it more complicated.
However, Joe and I have been dreaming up a new tradition that we plan to implement as soon as the boys get a little older: a sleepover in the barn, with the cows, on Christmas Eve! I can’t think of a better way to pay homage to the first Christmas than to spend a night curled up on a pile of hay and drifting off to sleep to the gentle sounds of cows chewing.
Wishing you all a simple and peaceful holiday.