The disappointment and delight of Christmas

We got David a bed for Christmas last year and it was a huge flop. For weeks leading up to Christmas I tried to build excitement (A new bed! A BIG BOY bed! Just for you!) but he was still disappointed.

“Where are all the other presents?” he asked.

When all is said and done, a bed is a pretty expensive gift. We already had the frame, but we had to buy a mattress, sheets, a comforter, and a Lightning Mcqueen pillow (and he did get other gifts, too). That adds up.

But kids don’t care about that stuff. He had expectations for Christmas and he was disappointed.

This year I planned their gifts for a long time and I was really excited. Then on Christmas Eve when everything was wrapped and around the tree it didn’t seem like much.

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David’s big gift was a basketball hoop, but he hadn’t asked for it. We got it because Tom wants to play basketball with him, so I thought it’d be perfect. Something fun to do with Daddy, and another reason to play outside. But since he hadn’t specifically asked for it, I worried.

Did we get enough? What is enough? (Our kids already have so much.)

I want Christmas for my kids to be completely magical, wonderful, amazing. I don’t want slumped shoulders and disappointment.

I stared at the tree, circled with the gifts I picked and planned for months, wrapped and arranged, and I worried. Christmas Eve is too late to go out and buy a bunch of giant plastic toys, so my only option was to worry.

That dimly-lit tree was illuminating a lot.

I’d worked to create a meaningful Christmas for my kids, buying gifts, baking treats, and telling them Christmas is about Jesus. And then I worried that the gifts wouldn’t be enough.

This is when being a mom is hard work. When you realize that the lessons you’ve been trying to teach your kids are ones you have to learn. When you realize that Christmas will always be disappointing unless it’s about Jesus. Even the most perfect, thoughtful, handmade, wonderful, most expensive, well-wrapped Christmas will be disappointing. It just will. Unless the celebration is overflowing with the truth that Christ really did come on Christmas Day

There is wonder in the shine and shimmer of Christmas, but the beauty and the truth — the reality of Christmas comes because Jesus came on Christmas day.

I’m learning this anew now that I’m a parent and I feel pressure to curate a perfect holiday. Even though my kids might not believe it, when they’re disappointed, I’m devastated. 

But that means we’re both missing it, right? If my children are disappointed, that doesn’t mean that Christmas is ruined, it means that I have an opportunity to point them to Jesus, to remind them of Emmanuel, God with us. To remind them that the longing they feel is met in the person of Jesus.

Advent is all about waiting, anticipation, expectation. And we are fickle people, right? It’s so evident at Christmas time. We wait and we want and wait and want and the whole time our affections change. Just a few days before Christmas Mary Virginia added a primo gift to her list. A week ago she didn’t even know about it, and then it catapulted to the top spot. It was all she talked about. So I texted my mom and said, “Can you please save Christmas and get this for Mary Virginia?”

Her expectations changed at the last minute, and if there had been more minutes they would change again and again.

Sometimes I forget that my job as a parent isn’t to insulate my children from the curse, which at Christmas time often comes wrapped in the packages of disappointment, jealousy, discouragement, selfishness, pride, and so on. My role isn’t to shield them or create heaven on earth; it’s to shepherd them through the curse and guide them straight to Jesus.

David was thrilled with Christmas this year, and so was Mary Virginia. David ran into the living room and said, “A basketball! It’s what I always wanted!

They both got maybe five gifts, and they loved everything. We had the Christmas I always imagined — delight and joy and elation in our cozy living room. Even Brigham loved his gift.

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This year Tom wanted to start the tradition of reading the Christmas story with the kids before opening presents. I resisted. Are you KIDDING!?! We cannot place anything between the children and their presents! We are creating MEMORIES!

Tom wanted to at least try it, so we did. First thing Christmas morning we all piled on David’s bed and listened as Tom read from Luke 2. The kids listened. They actually listened. It might not happen that way every year, but it did this year. And I was blessed.

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” – Luke 2:7
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8 Comments

  1. Carie December 26, 2015

    That is so very beautifully put. I worried about Christmas this year because the things that Kitty asked Father Christmas for were things she wasn’t going to be getting so we talked about the true meaning of Christmas and what we’re really celebrating and when the moment came she opened her first gift from us and then one from her sister and fell completely in love with them and hasn’t put them down since!! Phew!

    Reply
  2. Carley December 27, 2015

    Yes!!! This is exactly what I’ve come to realize this month as well. I will be disappointed by Christmas when I place my hope in anything that isn’t Jesus!

    Also, we gave our girls beds this year, and they were crazy excited. Probably because they thought a”big girl bed ” was a mattress on the floor up until yesterday. We blew their minds.

    Reply
    • Amanda K. December 27, 2015

      That’s awesome! We actually got the bed idea from a friend who did the same thing! They gave their daughter a bed and it was a HIT, so we decided to do the same thing. Our son wasn’t fooled!

      Reply
  3. Liz Grissom December 27, 2015

    Amen, sister.

    Reply
  4. Forever Joyful December 28, 2015

    Isn’t it fun when our kids love our gifts? We have a tradition of giving each child three primary gifts plus a stocking on Christmas morning. We do that in remembrance of the gold, frankincense and myrrh Jesus received. The bonus is our kids know exactly what to expect and we aren’t tempted to go overboard. It’s plenty of presents considering what they receive from grandparents, etc.

    Reply
  5. You are right. Disappointments point us to the fulfillment we have in Christ. Great thought for the morning! I hope you will continue to read the Christmas story every year, Our children are teens, and they look forward to it. It’s a special family moment. Now, they are old enough to take part in the reading, too. Presents will come and go, but traditions like that will last in their hearts. I hope you will stop by and read about our Christmas, too. Have a wonderful week!

    Reply
  6. Cara December 28, 2015

    This is such a beautiful post and great reminder. We didn’t purchase much for our children this year (They are 3 and 5) because a. they have so much already and b. because I don’t want the presents/buying to be the focus of Christmas for our family because that is not what it is about. It can be so easy to get caught up in the materialistic aspect when that’s what the rest of the world does, but it is so important to teach our children the real meaning of Christmas. And we all still had an absolutely wonderful Christmas. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  7. alisa December 28, 2015

    Dear Amanda,
    I wish I knew you when my children were little. I share your same concerns and worries. Truly, it was too much pressure to “try” and make my children happy on any given holiday. Have you read the advent book by Anne Voskamp? It is one of my all time favorites because it brings me back to Jesus . Thank you for expressing so clearly how I felt as a mom ! I sometimes still struggle as a grandmother. When I am in the Word, when I can focus my thoughts in prayer, and when I am “fixing my eyes on Jesus” as in Hebrews 12…I am at peace. …I truly enjoyed seeing you and your precious family! Thanks again for what you share in your writings…always encourages me!
    Love always,
    alisa

    Reply

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