I often enter and exit the holidays with mixed emotions. There is no doubt: I am a a big fan of Christmas everything, savoring the season start to finish. I probably shouldn’t admit this but, my boys and I even start dabbling in Christmas music right around … hmm, mid-September!  Yes, I love everything about Christmas—the lights, the food, the spiritual lessons, the music, the decorations. Everything!

Except the commercialized/materialistic side of the holiday.

And it’s not so much that I reject the material side of Christmas. It’s more that I tend to embrace it. And that bothers me.

Like a lot of moms, I always intend to simplify the holiday, and keep our focus on Jesus at Christmastime. But year after year, I find myself falling into the trap of over-stressing, over-cooking, over-shopping, and in general getting way too into the part of Christmas that really has nothing to do with Christmas.

It just happens.

So though I haven’t figured out a solution to the problem, I have learned to turn our focus to something I feel really good at about at the holidays. And it’s made a wonderful difference.

Last year, my boys and I did something that shifted our focus. We created our own little secret mission. It had two-parts, and both were equally satisfying.

First, we went shopping for one particular family we know had a lot of needs that year. With each member of their family in mind (it’s a big family,) we filled a shopping cart with everything from practical goods (soap, toothbrushes, cleaning supplies) to some extras (costume jewelry, books, or a t-shirt.) We picked out enough food that if they didnt have a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day meal planned, they could easily make one with what we brought them. We even threw in a couple packages of pre-made cinnamon rolls, since my boys think every Christmas should begin that way.

We wrapped it all up in big bags and two days before Christmas, we left it with someone who promised to anonymously deliver it to the family. And then our own spirits soared. Our Christmas felt truly complete already!

The second part of our mission was similar, but instead of shopping for a family we knew, we shopped for homeless people who we knew nothing about. We prayed as we shopped and came up with four or five age-ranges to get gifts for. Levi picked out things for a boy about his age, and the other boys did the same. We added a few bags of practical goods that any family could use (with toiletries and simple foods). and we took them all to the part of the city where the homeless are all around living in tents. We prayed as we drove around the homeless part of town then just kept our eye out for kids about the age of the gifts we had selected. We were nervous but this was our “secret mission” and that made it exciting!

Soon we would spot a family, and agree “this is the one!” Then we’d jump out of the car, wishing people a Merry Christmas as we handed over gift bags full of goodies. There was a variety of reactions, but we felt great knowing families were being blessed.

Before the gift-giving missions had begun, we agreed that this project would mean our boys would each get fewer gifts than they might have in the past. And interestingly, as our gift-giving adventure wrapped up, my boys’ wish-lists seemed to be less of a thing. They weren’t talking about “I want” and “I hope I get” the way I remember them doing in previous years. Instead we recalled that cute boy we had given a bag to, or wondered what it was like when the family received their surprise packages on Christmas Eve.

We hadn’t travelled to a third world country, but we had certainly stepped into another world … right here on our island.

I hope to continue this tradition with my boys. Because as much as I love this wonderful holiday, I think our view of Christmas has changed for the better.

We know that the sweetest gift is found in giving gifts to those who really needed them.

In addition to the ways Monica mentioned, our boys moms also love to support the following non-profits: