Traditions with a Twist

Posted by  | Thursday, August 14, 2008  at 9:39 AM  
Hi! This is Shannon Hazleton. Hollie asked me to share about our unique holiday traditions, and I am so excited to do so. Several months before Jeff and I were married we each felt the Lord leading us to do things differently, especially during the biggest celebration of the year - Christmas! Now, before I give you a peek at what holidays look like at our house, let me say this is a description of what God put on our hearts to do - not a prescription for everyone else to take. By all means, we don't think we're right and everyone else is wrong! :)

The Big Decision and Why
Jeff and I do not participate in gift-giving at Christmas. Not with each other, our kids, our family, or anyone else. I know this is a bit extreme, but I'll unpack it for you a bit as we go.

We both grew up celebrating Christmas with tons of presents. In fact, I can remember not being able to sleep the night before because I was so excited about all the gifts I was going to open the next morning. In my head, I knew the real reason for Christmas was the birth of Christ, and what that meant for our eternal salvation, but let's get real here. On Christmas morning, that was the last thing on my mind. We did not want our children to grow up with the same struggle of heart.

We also want to help our children have a worldview that is not self-focused, and this is one way to teach that principle.

How Did Our Family React?
Well, I think our parents and siblings didn't quite know what to think, or how to respond, but they were so respectful in trying to do things our way. I remember the first year, Jeff's dad and stepmom gave to a charity in our name. Since we've had children, it's been different, because it's so hard to resist giving presents to your grandchildren and nieces. So they've all gone back to giving presents to us. We usually try to make sure this happens before Christmas, so we can still keep our focus what we believe God wants it to be. And the idea is not to get legalistic - if our daughter's Sunday School teacher gives her a Christmas present, we're not going to make her give it back. :) I think we'll just have to take each year as it comes and keep our hearts and ears open to God's guidance.

What DO we do?
We HAVE incorporated some really nice traditions at Christmas. My mom used to leave a new book outside the bedroom door for my sister and me every year, and I've carried that tradition over to our kids as well. We also ALWAYS have cinnamon rolls, and we write a letter to each other every year and put it in our stocking. On Christmas morning, we wake up, help the girls read their new books, eat cinnamon rolls, get down our stockings and read our Christmas letters, and read the Christmas story and sing some songs. And Jeff's mom usually comes over for Christmas dinner; last year our neighbor ate with us too. We do put up a Christmas tree and I set up our nativity under the tree. Maggie loves playing with Baby Jesus, and Baby Jesus' Mommy and Daddy! :)

Any Regrets?
Let me tell you, since we've started doing this, I have the most stress-free holidays ever! I can't tell you what a relief it is not to feel the time burden and financial burden of remembering to get everyone you know a Christmas present! I LOVE gift-giving; it's one of my favorite things to do. But when you live on an extremely tight budget, and you can't give all that you want to everyone you want, it is so stressful. Now, when everyone is getting cranky during the holiday season, and wading through stressed out crowds of people, getting those last few gifts, and marking off their list - I can stay at home and enjoy our family time. No regrets at all.

Our Gift-Giving Alternatives
- We make birthdays a big deal
- We have a Family Spending Spree at Thanksgiving
It's not our goal to deprive ourselves or our kids, and we DO love giving gifts, so we started a NEW tradition at Thanksgiving every year, and it is so much fun. We have a family spending spree the day after Thanksgiving!! We spend the holiday with my aunts and uncles and cousins in Shreveport, Louisiana, and they live near some great shopping, so the day after thanksgiving, we take the money we've budgeted and go out to buy a few things for each other. It's so exciting.

Giving Beyond Ourselves
Often, when we do want to give gifts to our family and friends - at Thanksgiving or whenever - we have made it a point to give a gift that benefits others in the world. For instance, last year, we chose gifts from Gospel For Asia, which uses money we spend to help native missionaries an families overseas who are in need of the most basic necessities. Check out their site.

What About You?
So that's our holidays in a nutshell - thanks for letting me share. What do you think? What unique changes have you made in your holiday traditions throughout the year? Whatever you do, I pray you are blessed!


JoyinJesus said...

good for you!!!!!!!!
I'm on the "OTHER" side of being a mom now. i have 4 children and they are all grown now with one 17 year old left at home.

i ALWAYS struggled with christmas and the over abundant gift giving with the focus being on giving as well as receiving... but the focus NOT being on the birth of Jesus, no matter how hard we tried.

so, i say BRAVO to you for pursuing a new way to celebrate Christmas. i wish i had thought of it many years ago!!!!!

i pray that many young families read what you do and prayerfully consider adopting a similar approach to the holidays. thank you so much for sharing your God-honoring way of celebrating Christmas.
your blog is so full of grace !

:) i love your "twisted traditions!"


The Monier Family said...

Thank you so very much for sharing! What a GREAT way to celebrate Christmas! I just may share this entry with my husband:)
My family still gives gifts, however, we choose NOT to incorporate Santa in the gift giving aspect. Is it not better to know that a gift you receive is from a loved one rather than a fictional character? My husband's family has been respectful of our wish and actually, they would rather that my boys know that their gifts come from them! My mom and dad love the tale of Santa, hence, they have taken some issue with our choice, but I pray that they realize the positive benefit of our choice.
Again, thank you for sharing your wonderful tradition and I pray that your children are abundantly blessed by your decision:)

Leah said...

I have a question that I am afraid will come across as rude, but I don't mean it to be rude at all.

What is the difference between giving gifts at Christmas and buying gifts for each other at Thanksgiving? Is the point to not focus on gifts on Christmas morning because others do? Is it just to be different?

Again, I can't figure out how to ask these questions without them having a rude tone, but I TOTALLY don't mean them in a rude way. I'm just curious as to the reasoning.

Shannon said...

Don't worry; I am not easily offended, so I totally didn't think you were rude. Well, we didn't want the SEASON or the DAY of Christmas to be associated with gift-giving, so we give at Thanksgiving. And even when we give at thanksgiving, I'm talking about 1 or 2 gifts per person, and usually immediate family only.

But we've had to learn to compromise, as some of our family just can't help themselves, and "must" give to us (mainly our kids) around Christmas. We've also come to realize that this is the time that our family members also get bonuses at work, so where they may be limited throughout the year, they can give more freely around Christmas. And in our minds at least it's better to be a week or so BEFORE, and not Christmas DAY so that it doesn't build an anticipation or expectation within our kids that they're "getting" something on Christmas.

I have no idea if I've answered you question; if not, feel free to ask again! :)

And thanks everyone for the encouragement and affirmation!

Shannon said...

Oh, one more thing - I mentioned Gospel For Asia in this post. We recently decided to "support" a native missionary in India. In order to make prayer for his ministry a part of our regular routine, we have Indian food once a week. (I just found some very easy recipes on the internet.) This is a fun, weekly tradition I'm excited about.

ashleysmithmail98 said...

I, too, have a question that I don’t want to come across as rude. In your comment you said, “Well, we didn't want the SEASON or the DAY of Christmas to be associated with gift-giving.”

As a Christian, how can the “SEASON or the DAY of Christmas” NOT be associated with gift-giving, as that is when God gave us His most precious gift – His Son? While I understand and respect each family’s decision in regards to the whole Santa issue – (and I mean this in the most respectful way) I am having a little trouble wrapping my head around your aversion to gift-giving on this most special of days. Is there not a way to tie in giving gifts at Christmas to those you love just as God gave Christ to those He loves?

I don’t mean for that to sound rude at all - I am just trying to understand better your unique perspective on gift-giving, as I have not encountered it before.


Shannon said...

Hey Ashley,
Thanks for pointing out that indeed - Christmas IS all about God giving us the greatest gift of all - His Son Jesus Christ. Yeah, absolutely. I think you're probably right-on there, wanting to tie-in giving gifts to those we love, following the example of God's great gift.

I think the reason we're pulling away from that, as a family, is because though we both grew up in strong Christian families, that in fact was not the lasting impression we came away with at the end of the day. While we knew the "reason" for the season, we still were very focused on "getting." I think the getting - and the GIVING - can get out of hand at times. But certainly, I feel that God can even use gift-giving during the Christmas season as witness and a means of opening the door to talk about Christ.

But just for us, I know this is what we're supposed to be doing - maybe His plan for us as a family was/is to become very un-focused on material things. (Or maybe He just knew we'd have no money at this season of our lives - haha!)

Either way, we trust Him, and we by no means think everyone should do it this way. Thank you for asking; it helps us make sure people aren't getting a wrong message. Have a blessed day!

Christy said...

You know I have been contemplating this. Not so much the no gifts from other family members side of things but not doing the big gifts thing at home. Our family has an assortment of gatherings around holiday time. We have our annual church banquet hosted by our ladies group a few weeks before Christmas, then we have Christmas at home, with my parents and then with my dad's family all on Christmas day, then the Sunday afternoon following Christmas is our gathering with my husband's side of the family (but this is if Christmas is not on Friday or Saturday, in that case it is two Sundays following Christmas.) This actually allows us to take advantage of the after Christmas sales. So I typically spend half as much as I would if we got together sooner. I have been wanting to shift our focus of Christmas in our home. I bought the book "Christ-Centered Christmas" so I could get some ideas. Hoping to put some into practice this year. I know my family is young, my boys are 21months and 9months, so I have time to establish these traditions. My boys birthdays are the end of October and beginning of November so I was thinking of shifting the gift giving to their birthdays. I know that this is something that will take time and is something that I am continually praying about for the Lord to give me guidance as I discuss my heart with my husband and we make these decisions together.

April said...

Hey Shannon,
This is April from church. This was a great post and a great idea! We will have to give some thought about incorporating something like this for ourselves. Thanks!
God Bless,

marymstraits said...


This is quite interesting to me, and I have some thoughts. By no means do I want to come across as judgmental--I'm a huge proponent for moms supporting other moms' in their convictions/choices even if they are different from my own!

My first question relates to down the road. I teach school and see very few kids who are able to be OK with being drastically different. I wonder what your thoughts are about your children feeling left out or strange in conversations with peers about what they want/got for Christmas. Do you worry or wonder if that will make them resentful of Christmas?

I guess the flip side of the issue would be them having a legalistic/self-righteous attitude about it. You totally don't have that tone at all, but I could see how it could happen with kids.

I also think back to my childhood and how much fun it was to give! I loved picking out presents for my siblings and seeing them open them! I also see that joy with my students when they give me a Christmas gift and proudly tell me that they helped make it or they picked it out. I personally think Christmas is a great way to show kids how much fun giving is! When you're supporting people far way, it seems like the lesson would be not as poignant because they don't get to see the reactions of others . . . in my opinion, anyway.

I also think about how Jesus himself received gifts. I know the whole wisemen gift-giving didn't happen until Jesus was older, but the story is often attributed to Christmas. What do you think about that aspect of things?

I really do respect your decision to avoid materialism. I do, however, try to avoid the "all-or-nothing" approach to things. We, for example, have decided that our child(ren) will know that they get ONE "big" gift from us and 3-4 other small ones. Our extended family, thankfully, is not into flooding our son with "stuff," and they usually buy him things he needs as gifts (clothes).

That's my two cents! Thanks for sharing what your family does!

Shannon said...

Hey Mary,
Thanks for sharing, and you do bring up some great points. I will try to answer your questions as best I can.

First, we have put some thought into our children being drastically different than their (even Christian) peers. This is something we know they will face not only when it comes to family traditions, but in many other things as well. At this point, we plan to home school our children and that is a whole other topic, but from the start, our kids will be different. Having spent time on the mission field before, we hope to go abroad again, and even before we were married hoped to raise our kids on the mission field. So being different from their peers is something they will be used to. We pray that they will find their confidence and identity in Christ as they learn to find ways they CAN relate to others. Jesus can certainly relate to being different from everyone else. And He did it with such grace.

Now, you also brought up the point about trying to avoid being legalistic/self-righteous. This is a big one!! And I'm glad you pointed this out. It is definitely our prayer that our girls have a gentle, humble spirit, and be gracious to others. And honestly we have to daily strive to guard against this in ourselves as well. Our goal is not to teach our kids that this is THE WAY to do it, but rather that we must be obedient to live the way God has called US to live. I'm honestly glad to run across people who may not share my point of view, b/c it is a constant reminder that our way isn't the only way.

And finally, about the fun of giving gifts - YES! We are definitely a giving family, and my husband is an especially good example in this. We love to give presents all throughout the year - there are many opportunities to do this - not just Christmas.

Thank you for asking about all these things; I'm happy to try to answer any questions.

Have a blessed day!

Keith said...

We tried a similar approach last Christmas, and it was VERY well received by family. We gave gifts to a charity in honor of people, and sent cards letting them know this. Specifically, we sent shoe-boxes through Samaritan's Purse. We asked our parents to donate somewhere in our honor, and they gave to the missions offering. You could tailor this idea to give to charities that interest each person. It was such a relief and a joy to shop (and I'm not a shopper) for people who really needed things, instead of out of obligation for people who need nothing. Even the shopping trip was a learning experience for our daughter (then 2 years old), since we got to talk about giving things to poor children, and trying to decide what they might like. We let her help assemble and pack the boxes.

One other fun tradition that we started last year was to set up a chair for King Jesus at our kitchen table. For the whole month of Dec, the chair at the head of the table was draped with sashes of cream and purple, with a crown hooked over the chair. At His place we set 3 pretty box/bottle/etc. to represent the wise men's presents. Our daughter loved looking at these things and deciding which container was for which gift.

Thanks for all the other ideas, especially those about how to give to children but keep Christmas focused on Jesus.

sarahannepotter said...

It is obvious from your post that you are wanting your children to grow up with an appreciation of what Christmas is REALLY about – the birth of the best Gift ever! That is a very admiral goal, and one that I hope you achieve. I am humbly and respectfully submitting my opinion on an alternate way to help you achieve this goal.

I think you are correct that Christmas a lot of times (especially with young children) becomes more about what you are “getting”- as you and your husband’s own experiences from childhood suggest. I am wondering if allowing your children to participate in the “giving” side of Christmas only, is not a better way to show them the unselfish love God showed us on this day, than not allowing them to participate in Christmas at all.

Helping them pick out special gifts to family members and close friends and reminding them we do this in observance of what God did for us that day long ago, in my opinion, would not foster the “getting” attitude towards Christmas you are concerned about.

I realize that in the simple act of giving to other people, the recipients of your gifts will want to reciprocate and give to you and your family – which opens you up to the “getting” side again. If you are uncomfortable with this, perhaps you could donate the received gifts to the less fortunate – another lesson in giving you could share with your children.

This alternative method allows your children to experience the true joys of Christmas without any confusion to the true meaning of Christmas. I think it also prevents you and your family from sounding self-righteous or legalistic (which I know is not your intent, and I am not saying you appear that way) when you are able to accept gifts from those who love and appreciate you. It allows you and your family to then give away any gifts you may receive to the less fortunate behind closed doors.

If you feel God calling you to keep Christmas holy by not concentrating on the “getting” side of Christmas, by all means, follow what He is calling you to do. I am just wondering if you feel He has also called you to not participate in the “giving” side, which is what the true meaning of Christmas is about anyway.


Robin Baker said...

Wow, what a response. It really bothers people, just like when you talk about drug free childbirth! Ha ha. It's right up there with politics... I don't see what the big deal is, Jehovah's Witnesses do it their whole life and don't seem to mind. December is so stressful for me in so many ways, I would love to do as you have done - BUT my husband already thinks I'm crazy for not doing Santa and handing out gospel tracts and toothbrushes on Halloween (LOL!). You really need not feel pressured b/c the Birth of Christ was NOT in the winter anyway - it was most likely in the spring during the census of the people. Anyway, I love the Lord and giving presents, but loathe the month of December... good for you!

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