Christmas without Presents

“We chose to cry on Christmas morning” - that’s how my 15-year old described our decision to forego Christmas Presents this year.

But it isn’t what you might think. Earlier in the month I had asked him what he wanted for Christmas and he replied, “Well, I really have everything I need.” And he couldn’t produce a list. He then expressed how excited he was to see his siblings that were planning to travel to the Kingdom to visit us.

We spent the month of December doing random acts of service, mostly taking cookies or treats to people. Our son offered free baby-sitting to the teachers at our school. The week of Christmas, the day after the scheduled arrival of our college-aged children, we gathered with friends for a celebration of the birth of Christ by reading from the scriptures and singing songs and eating Christmas cookies by candle-light. Love and light filled the room.

As we faced the countdown before Christmas day, it became apparent that none of us needed or really wanted anything that could be placed under the Christmas tree. The college-aged kids have a few needs but, seriously, how fun is it to get jumper cables for Christmas, much less drag them in luggage from Saudi Arabia back to the USA? Truthfully, through out the college years our college-aged kiddos benefit from receiving items as they come up: extra bedsheets, a hot water kettle, an electric toothbrush, help with expenses. Those things don’t need to go under the tree nor should they wait until Christmas rolls around.

So, we decided to have an exchange of personal thoughts/appreciation/memories of each other instead of a gift exchange.  We left it open as to the content and the format. In between afternoons at the pool and family games, we worked throughout the week on our “Sharings”. Then we dedicated some time right before Christmas where we all concentrated our efforts on our work. I had no idea what to expect.

We gathered on Christmas morning for our breakfast of crepes. There was an unexpected air of anticipation. “So when are we going to share?” came the first excited question. Everyone couldn’t wait to give his/her “gift” - it was like we all had presents hidden in our pockets. After breakfast everyone bounced to the living room as though there was a stack of gifts waiting to be opened!

Youngest went first. That meant we all shared our thoughts on him. Then, we all shared our thoughts on the next youngest. And that’s when the tears began to flow as “the baby” expressed appreciation for his older sister and then an older brother and couldn’t understand why he was “so choked up”.  The older brother became choked up and remarked, “Now that doesn’t happen very often!”. And on it went as each person shared insights in the forms of poetry, rap songs (complete with music on garage band), stories, and free writing. Lots of hugging and gratitude followed. Personally, I was touched by the sincerity offered up by everyone on my behalf. Daring to speak for the others, I think they felt as I did regarding all the words shared about each one of them.

Our Home-made tree made from pallets and bed slats found in a gutted building on our compound.

Our Home-made tree made from pallets and bed slats found in a gutted building on our compound.

We then went diving together as a family and enjoyed God’s beautiful creation of life beneath the surface of the sea. While discussing the sights, we realized we were hungry. Someone expressed a desire for a burger so, since we’re in Saudi Arabia, where Christmas is not part of life here, we went out for burgers! No slaving in the kitchen for me. Our simple pleasure continued as we ‘built’ our burgers, sharing preferences and imagining combinations. Later, upon returning to the glow of our homemade tree, we sampled my homemade Christmas cookies and continued enjoying each other’s company into the evening. 

A beautiful Christmas without Presents is possible.

Diving as a family ending up being a wonderful way to spend Christmas Afternoon together.

Diving as a family ending up being a wonderful way to spend Christmas Afternoon together.