Christmas Gift Anxiety

I woke up the other morning struggling to remember the words to the Serenity Prayer:

GOD, grant me the SERENITY
to accept the things I cannot change,
the COURAGE to change the things I can,
and the WISDOM to know the difference.

— Reinhold Niebuhr

It was the day after Black Friday (Small Business Saturday, they’ve now branded it, thanks to American Express) and I awoke feeling stressed about the “holiday shopping season” now underway. e 058

I was anxious about all the stuff my kids are inevitably going to receive, how stuffed their drawers and cluttered their shelves already are, how the “one in, one out” method wouldn’t even begin to address the excess. It feels like a constant battle to try to manage the influx of trinkets, toys, and clothes even at other times of year, but Christmas in particular can be overwhelming. We have some very generous people in our lives, and it’s such a delicate, difficult dance to appreciate the kindness of such bountiful gift-givers—while simultaneously trying to encourage them to dial it back a little without hurting their feelings. (I hope to one day write a post about that, but I confess I still don’t have a good strategy. Subscribe to this blog or follow on Facebook and eventually those tips will come! <wink>)

After a half hour or so of this anxiety, picturing tiny plastic junk that my kids obsess about and then quickly forget (LOLs—I’m looking at you here), and piles of stuff that can’t be put away because there’s just no place . . . I told myself to get a grip. I try hard not to let anxiety over what to get others for Christmas become a distraction to the real meaning of the season—so I shouldn’t let anxiety over what others are going to get for my family distract me either!

I prayed for the “wisdom to know the difference,” as dear Reinhold said. I can’t control what other people will do. I can only control myself.

I can control how much I buy this Christmas. I can plan on a certain, limited number of gifts per kid. (Some people do three, calling them “Wise Men presents;” some do four with a want/need/wear/read structure. Or you can keep things small even without a particular framework!)

I can control what I buy and where I buy it. I like to give experiences or fun consumables. I try to buy things that are fairly traded or from small businesses. Look on Etsy, visit a local holiday bazaar, or patronize an independent business in your town. (Full disclosure: I love Target as much as the next minivan-driving mom, and I’m sure I’ll visit that mesmerizing bullseye sometime this season. It won’t be my first stop, though.)

I can control what I ask for. If loved ones ask what I want (or what my kids want) I can suggest things we need, things that would really enrich our lives, or things that would truly delight. I told my husband something I would like and could use, but also (knowing he’s not going to go looking from store to store) a website where he could find a few options, ethically-made to boot!

Lastly, I can control what I teach my kids. I can model for them how to be content with what you have. I can remind them, through my actions as well as my words, that presents are not what Christmas is really about. (My go-to conversation-starter on the topic is, “It’s Jesus’ birthday, but we get the presents?! Isn’t that crazy?!”) I can plan activities that will orient us toward God and people in need, and keep the gift part of Christmas in perspective.

Keeping gifts in perspective is a challenge from many angles. I need to remember that material stuff can be a burden not just in its acquisition but in its avoidance too, if we let it. I need to remember that living lighter isn’t just about the stuff in my house, but the state of my spirit.


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