Memorable Gifts Kids Won’t Forget

I’ll never forget the Christmas we gave too many gifts.

My kids were around 4 and 6 years old and it was like a marathon of toy-opening and we needed water breaks to get thru it.

I’m not even kidding.

Most of the gifts were sale or clearance items I’d bought all year and tucked away. It was the season of my life I refer to as “Quantity not Quality.” It was all about more–more for me, more for them. It left us with a lot of stuff, including emptiness.

As I encouraged my weary kids to continue unwrapping that day, I looked around the room with torn paper and too many toys and I felt guilty.

From that point on, I decided to do Christmas differently-to make it about more with less.  Since then, we’ve limited Christmas to a handful of gifts. This might not be right for all families-I know some who do no gifts and some who do twenty, some who give what’s needed, while other offer what’s wanted. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way, but I do think an intentional Christmas is a memorable one.

That’s why we try and include a non-toy or experience gift.

Experience gifts come in all shapes and sizes-like music lessons or a special date with dad or a membership of some kind.

In the past, we’ve given musical instruments, day trips and memberships.

My oldest daughter is a flute player, loves music and would rather be marching in a band than doing just about anything else. She’s getting tickets to see the best marching band in the country who will be touring our town this summer.

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My son loves archery and he’s getting a lesson from an Olympian along with a membership to Elite Access (that was given to us to review). Elite Access is a members-only online portal for athletes, coaches and parents featuring Olympians and World Champions who are sharing their secrets to success. This new resource was started by my friend Laura Wilkinson, gold medal Olympic diver and World Champion. (She let me wear her medal once). If you have an athlete, I highly recommend checking it out.

If you haven’t completed your shopping list, consider thinking outside of the box and instead of adding more stuff under the tree, give your kids something that will last a lot longer-an experience they will remember.

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Here are some great ideas:

60 gift ideas (that don’t add more stuff to your lives)

25 non-toy gift ideas

Don’t Make Me Take Away the Nativity and Other Things Moms Say In December

I met Cindy at Walgreens.

She recognized me from the back cover of my book, Rhinestone Jesus.

That happens all the time.

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We stood in front of the store and talked for 20 minutes. Two weeks later she showed up for our monthly Fair Trade Friday packing party.

Someone asked her how she met me. She said Amazon recommended my book to her. “I bought it because years before, I’d read Kristen’s first book, Don’t Make Me Come Up There!
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Dont Make Me Take Away The Nativity

Do you know what my favorite story was from your first book?” she asked me while she stuffed bags.

I was sure I had the answer: “The time our dental hygienist gave me good news and bad news: your daughter doesn’t have any cavities, but she does have head lice?” I asked. “That seems to be everyone’s favorite. We found a new dentist, by the way.”

“No,” she answered. “My favorite is the one about the black light spy toy your kids got for Christmas and you wanted to see if it really worked and you discovered pee all over the bathroom,” she laughed.

Y’all. This is called fame.

It comes at a price.

I still stand at the foot of our stairs and yell, “Don’t make me come up there.” Often.

Dont Make Me

And I’ve reached an all new low with some of things I’ve already said the first week of December.

“Don’t make me call Santa,” which gets an eye roll from all three of my kids and a reply of, “Why call Dad? He’s in the other room.” Backfire.

“I don’t care if your friend’s Elf on the Shelf poops peppermint candy, we still aren’t buying one.”

“Please don’t dip your fingers in the Advent candle wax.”

“What are you talking about? These break and bake sugar cookies are homemade.”

“I don’t care if you’re nearly grown, you’re taking a picture with Santa.” #holdme

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And the other day, I actually said, “Don’t make me take away the Nativity,” when I discovered my 7 year old dragging around the rope attached to the wisemen’s camel pretending it was a black mamba trying to eat baby Jesus.

Baby Jesus survived that attack. Unfortunately, one of the wisemen didn’t.

Motherhood is not a joke.

Especially at Christmas.

 

What are some things you’ve said so far this month?

The Beauty of Unwrapping Christmas Every Day (Even the Ugly Ones)

I had grand plans for the first night of Advent.

Just imagine the setting with me: Holy Christmas music in the background, my family breaking bread together over a lovely home cooked meal, while we politely asked about each other’s day and write down a long list of our blessings. We would listen intently to the daily reading, reflect quietly as we pondered the truth and then gather around our Jesse tree to place the first ornament on it together.

But somehow on the first night of Advent, we ended up eating overpriced sandwiches at Schlotzsky’s across from our church because our kids were running late for youth group. We had a lovely family fight (complete with teen eye rolls, tween grumbling and whining from the whole lot) for good measure.  By the time I remembered the new Advent book I tucked into my purse at the last minute, I felt like a failure.

I’m pretty sure everyone sighed loudly when they saw it, too. Because failure is good at convincing us it’s too late, even before we even start.

Terrell pushed through and read Ann’s words aloud in that sandwich shop: “There was this family-Jesse’s family. A family that was like yours…a family that loved each other and hurt each other and forgave each other and failed each other. A family that failed God….They failed and fell and were like a fallen tree.”

I smiled at him as he read on about the miraculous shoot springing up from that hopeless family stump…”out of the stump came one tender branch that would grow right into a crown of thorns, right into a rugged cross, right into a ladder back to God….”

I swallowed down my frustration and in the first few sentences of this book, I didn’t remember my failure.

I remembered what God can do with it.

When we got home, I asked my baby to place the first Jesse tree ornament on the tree. There was no music and it was far from holy. And she reminded me twice she wasn’t a baby.

But even without the perfect setting, it was still important.

We can’t quit, even on the ugly days.

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Because it’s not the gifts under the tree our children will remember–the must-have electronics, the hottest toys–it’s the traditions.

This week, she wanted the stockings hung in order, just so. She asked for loud Christmas music while we decorated the tree and she arranged and rearranged  Baby Jesus as the Star of Season- just like last year and the one before.

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Traditions are more than hot chocolate while looking at Christmas lights or opening new matching pajamas on Christmas Eve while listening to Dad read The Night Before Christmas.

And that’s why we push through our failed plans and our own failures. Because traditions are the act of passing down what we believe to our children.

It’s not just a great idea; it’s a gift we give our kids. We practice and retell truth and it works it’s way into their hearts.

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And there is no better opportunity to teach these important truths this time of year.

Because the Gift has come.

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Christmas is for The Unwrapping.

More than anything, I long to slow down the rush of the Season, to linger, to focus on the meaning behind the traditions. I want to remember why we remember and I want to pass the Truth to my children.

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Counting down the days to Christmas isn’t just a fun family activity. It’s not just another thing to add to our list. Celebrating Advent makes us reflect on the meaning behind the grand tree and gifts we give to each other. It makes us pause in the craziness of the season and remember the reason for it.

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Advent is the best tradition to unwrap Christmas with our family because it’s the best way to pass down Truth.

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It’s the retelling of the Greatest Story. And it’s not just for the first 24 days of December.

It’s the intentional, meaningful, day-by-day unwrapping of the Greatest Gift ever given.

Even on the ugly days.

Especially then.

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The book: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas
The ornaments pictured above. Or download ornaments.

[This post is sponsored by Tyndale Publishers. All opinions and ideas are mine.]

An Advent Roundup

I’ll never forget eight December’s ago when I had my youngest child seven weeks early.

Gifts weren’t bought or wrapped, stockings weren’t hung with care.

I wasn’t prepared.

That year changed Christmas for me.  Most of my adult life, I had overdone Christmas-bought too many gifts, spent too much money, focused on the temporal and not the eternal. But that year, I had to let so much go and focus all my energy and strength on what really mattered.

Christmas has never been the same. It’s the year we prayed for a miracle and got it. It’s the year we gave and received the Greatest Gift. It’s the year we finally understood Advent.

Advent is a special time in December. With all the commercialism, busy activities and full calendars, it’s the best way to keep Christ in Christmas. Advent is preparing our hearts for Christmas.

There are so many way to celebrate this time with your family. We’ve done it well, we’ve done it hurried. We’ve skipped days and some years, we haven’t missed one. And some years, we’ve laughed, cried and fought our way to Dec. 25.  The point is we try.

There’s still plenty of time to prepare for a memorable Advent season with your family. Here are some of our favorite resources (there are a couple of affiliate links in this post):

1. Cradle to Cross Wooden Countdown Wreath: Activity

Every year no matter how else we count down to Christmas, we always set out our beautiful wooden wreath and light our candles and move the small wooden Holy family through the layers of the wreath until they are home. I love this tradition (even though my kids usually fight over who gets to light the candles or I catch them dipping their fingers in the wax.) It’s a beautiful tradition. It also comes with an extra wooden ring and a wooden Jesus carrying the cross to countdown the Lenten season to Easter.

2. Truth in the Tinsel: For Little Hands

I’m a big fan of this little ebook for preschool to elementary-aged kids. It’s affordable, easy to download and fun to complete with your kids. You get 24 days of Scripture reading, ornament crafts, talking points and extension activities. Plus fun printables and templates!

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3. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas

Christmas is about tradition. I can’t wait to walk through Ann’s newest book with my family. This book is a gorgeous heirloom to pass down with vivid, full-color illustrations, downloadable ornaments, questions and answers to engage your family and moving scenes from the Bible, this book is a gift your whole family can unwrap each day leading up to Christmas.

4. Advent Tabletop Devotional: A Simple Daily Reflection

For years, I have kept one of Dayspring’s tabletop Advent devotionals on the table. Because let’s face it: the best laid plans during a busy Christmas season can get lost in the hustle and bustle. Each day has a short Scripture and thoughtful reminder to keep Jesus in the season.  And if you order it soon, you can get it FREE with any $50 purchase at Dayspring with code: PREPARE50 (P.S. Dayspring just added 8 more favorite items to their rock bottom Early Black Friday Markdown Items).

Redeemed Christmas - The Heart of Jesus - Advent Tabletop Devotional

5. Kindness Elf:  Daily Countdown in Action

I’m excited to introduce this idea to my youngest this year. We’ve never done the Elf on the Shelf, but I like this twist that suggests a daily practical reminder to be kind to others. Our Kindness Elf (I just got a little stuffed one) will show up at the door on Dec. 1 with a letter to remember that Christmas is about Jesus and for others. Each day the elf (I’ve roped my two older kids into managing this) will have a kindness suggestion like “Make cookies for the postman” or “Write your sponsored child a letter.” I think it will be fun and will keep the focus on what matters.

How to Have a Stable Home This Christmas

It’s strange to return from November on the Equator to December in full swing in the Lone Star. To an unlit house, undecorated tree, unwrapped gifts. And six days of unturned Advent pages.

Motherhood and Christmas go together. It’s mostly up to Mom to hang the stockings over the mantle with care, to make the house happy and bright, to play Santa if she so chooses, to handle the wrapping and coordinate the baking and to keep Christ in Christmas…. It’s a pleasure and pressure pot, all this merry-making.

And throw in hectic calendars, three school band concerts this week, a 6 year old turning 7, a basketball game and the emotional ups and downs that sometimes accompany the holidays… oh, and jury duty on a Monday.

It’s enough for an undoing.

“Mom, we are so behind on Christmas,” my 6 year old said as I stood over an intimidating pile of unwashed laundry and unpacked suitcases.

She wanted to do the things of Christmas. And I was about to come unraveled.

Her words matched my own holiday To Do list, the one that reminded me that if we were really going to capture the magic, we would have to chase it down, and fill our days with pin-worthy recipes and memory-making and house-decorating, shopping and crafting, parties and handmade gifts in recycled jars.

She precariously carried a box of ornaments from upstairs where they’d been sitting since November-something. Itching to catch up, I opened the plastic lid and held a red glass Santa, a favorite from my childhood. And it slipped right thru my fingers and shattered.

Into a thousand bright pieces against the unforgiving tile.

Broken.

It left me feeling shaky.

It left me looking around for something stable.

how to have a stable christmas

My oldest rushed into the room frantically looking for her winter scarf that matched the cozy sweater that went with the tall brown boots. She turned the house and the atmosphere upside down as only a teen girl can do and before I could say ho ho ho, it was a winter storm of attitude and anger.

Peace, it’s what I crave. Not just in my home, but in my heart this Christmas.

Peace that says Rest.

Stop.

Don’t Do.

Be. Still.

Because this year, I’ve decided we won’t catch up. We won’t mark it all off our list. We won’t get the best cyber deals or go ice skating at the mall (thankfully). We won’t make homemade ornaments or trim our tree to be magazine worthy. There won’t be an Elf on our Shelf.

We will be behind this Christmas.

But isn’t that was followers do…stay behind? They are led. By a Leader. The One searchers found swaddled in a barn, born to die. To be the gift we unwrap this Christmas.

And He is saying Peace, be still. Not as the world gives, but as I give.

I swept up the glass on the floor and asked this Savior born in a messy stable and a broken world to give me a stable home this Christmas.

To fill me with peace, not more pieces, to quiet the raging, waiting list and help me focus on the unending gift of His presence. The Present.

How to Have a Stable Home This Christmas With Your Children:

1. Do less Stuff: Resist the urge to do it all. You don’t have to make all your gifts, compete with the neighbors, be Mom of the Year this season. It’s easy to get so tangled in the festivities that we are left exhausted and undone. I remember having a meltdown one year because I missed a couple of devotions on the Advent Calendar with my children. Oh, y’all. Christmas is not about doing and I’ve learned that the hard way.

2. Be the Gift: Want to bless those in your life? Want to give your kids the most memorable gift ever? Be the gift. Give your love and time. Turn off the distractions and live.

2. Stop Keeping Up: I’m not visiting Pinterest these days. Once I decided I can’t keep up with all the perfection of matching Christmas pajamas and hand stamped gift wrapping, the desire to keep up left me. We can get so wrapped up in doing Christmas, we miss the true meaning altogether.

3. Seek Peace: If you long for peace this season-in your home and heart- find Jesus. If you’re kids need peace, your marriage, He’s there. That’s where we will find peace.  Jesus is Peace.

4. Be Still: I love Ann’s new Advent Devotional, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. If I could recommend one resource, this is it:  It’s short, daily, doable chunks of inspiration (even if we are days behind). It’s a moment for our family to connect around the table, add an ornament to our simple Jesse Tree and pause our busy lives. I especially love the fill in the blank spaces for reflection.

5.  Be Led: Instead of following our culture down a sparkly-lighted path that demands more is more, be a follower. Be a disciple of Jesus, our leader. The great thing about our children is they will generally follow where we lead. He will guide us if we let Him.

Sometimes life can feel precarious and uncertain this time of year.

The only way to remain unshaken is to start at the stable.