The presents are opened. The living room is a wreck. The new trike is on its side in the hall. The tree dropped pine needles on the wrapping that hasn’t been picked up. Two toys are already broken. Dad’s sweater is too scratchy. You’ve come to grips with the fact that your MasterCard bill totals four house payments. Your oldest daughter likes none of her new clothes. The whole family is exhausted and depressed and seemingly there’s no reason to be happy for another 363 days.
But we can change that. Right now. Here’s how we’re going to make December 26 as wonderful a day as December 25.
1. Don’t focus on the importance of your kids getting stuff for Christmas. I’m not advocating that we kill off Santa Claus or exchange presents. However, we now live in a culture where on Black Friday 247,000,000 of us raced to the stores and malls – sometimes just to stand line or go online at 2 a.m. to buy stuff. That’s more people than actually celebrate Christmas. This emphasis on getting stuff means in many households, parents are just order takers presented with a checklist of stuff kids want. There’s no room for surprises. The importance of Christmas is measured in the getting, not in the mystery of God coming to earth as a baby. Rather than a “Buy me this” list, we need to focus the family’s attention on a “What we can do” list for each other – and not for one day, but for a whole year. Dad could focus on cooking dinner for two days a week, so mom can take those nights off. A big brother might focus on teaching his little brother how to hit a baseball. A daughter might focus on teaching her dad how to dance. By focusing on what we can do for each other as Christmas presents, then Christmas can come and go, and we’ll still be as happy in July as we were on Christmas Day.
2. Wake up on December 26 owing nothing. Seriously, either pay cash for gifts or buy something cheaper. Even if your kids can’t live without a certain toy, even if your spouse has his heart set on fancy German speakers – no matter, if you have to charge it to buy it, leave it on the shelf. We’ve created an economy that depends on people buying stuff they can’t afford, mainly at Christmas. Most people in the country wake up December 26 in bad moods knowing how screwed they are. And because they make the minimum monthly payment, they can go on the same ridiculous buying spree the following year, never mind that nobody will remember what you’re still paying for.
3. Wake up on December 26 to a day-after-Christmas tradition. I don’t mean showing up at 2 am for the half-price sales at the mall with the same crazies that went berserk the day after Thanksgiving. That’s not a tradition but a reason to up your medication. I’m talking about fun activities that can become a tradition. Make day-after-Christmas French toast for breakfast when diets are tossed aside. Ski a particular mountain as a family every year. Play a family flag-football game. Give the family a reason to look forward to the day after Christmas and they will.
4. Wake up on December 26 to return unwanted stuff to homeless shelters, not stores. There’s a lot more satisfaction putting a sweater that doesn’t fit, a coat that’s the wrong color, jeans that are the wrong label in the hands of people who need them rather than racing to the mall and standing in line to trade stuff for other stuff. If giving to the shelters every December 26 becomes a family tradition, trust me, it will be a more loved tradition than opening presents Christmas Day.
5. Wake up on December 26 and go on a long family walk that’s four to six miles long. Get out of the house with the entire family. Ignore the tree that needs packing up, presents piled up in the room, and food clogging up the fridge. It’s a terrific way to burn off frustration, calories and bad moods all at the same time. The only rule is the whole family must go. Set a goal of four to six miles, so the walk takes over two hours. Stop along the way and rest, if needed. If it’s cold, stop somewhere for coffee, tea, or cocoa. Let your kids play in the snow at the park. Let your teenager listen to her iPod or text friends for five miles. It doesn’t matter. Everybody goes; everybody walks; everybody returns home happy and too tired to complain.
The main thing to remember is this:
Christmas is just another 24-hour day to which people usually attach too much importance for the wrong reasons. But we can love each other, be kind to one another, and laugh together as a family the whole yearlong. And that is just about the greatest Christmas gift you can give.
What are your family’s day-after-Christmas traditions? Share with us below!