Christmas, Christensen-Style.
December 28, 2010

The thing about being a Grinch and not buying your kid any gifts for the holidays is that people look at you funny.  Real funny.  I think the proper scientific term is TOTAL BEWILDERMENT.

Let’s put it this way: I would raise fewer eyebrows if I were to run naked through a mall, stopping every so often to compliment passersby on their jeggings.  And that’s saying something, because have you seen someone in jeggings lately?  It’s like watching a normal-sized body walk around on Pick-Up Stix.  You don’t want to look, but you can’t help yourself.  It’s like watching a train wreck.

But I digress.

So over the past couple weeks, Santa-itis has infested the general public and people have spent an inordinate amount of time asking what the jolly old fart brought Charlotte.  And when we look at them and say, ERRR, NOTHING, the natural response is to have a seizure.

My family singlehandedly kept hospitals in business this past month.

The truth is, though, that we took our daughter to the beach on Christmas.  She fed the seagulls and she waded in the water and she held our hands as she squished sand between her toes.  And the more I think about it – about the serenity on her face while she watched the crashing waves, about the excitement in her smile as her father fed gulls from his hand, about the tiny footprints she left in the sand behind her – the more I wonder if we didn’t give her a wonderful gift after all.

How did you celebrate the winter holiday(s) this year?


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  1. By on December 28, 2010

    Although I will most likely buy my children presents (though they’ll probably be much more practical than toys, especially with no cable tv), I think what you did is absolutely perfect! And please, tell me you’re going to hang the largest picture in your house somewhere. It’s beautiful!

    I definitely think experiences are better than material items anyway. I bought my mom and I tickets to a play in the city for Christmas. We’ll remember that much more than the other little items we got one another!

  2. By on December 28, 2010

    What a doll, love that blond hair! I cant believe how big she is, she is nearly the same size as my 2.5 year old daughter!

  3. By Laura Bishop on December 28, 2010

    I think you rock! It’s good to think for yourself, live within your means and make your own traditions. WE live the same way. We spent $20 on two small toys for our son’s Christmas. It’s all we can afford since I stay home with him as well. Most of the population are like robots who dig themselves deeper and deeper into debt by trying to keep up with everyone else who buys their kids lots of things THEY can’t afford either. It’s dumb. We spent our Christmas up at our family’s cabin and did a lot of sledding. The memories of our son’s laughter as he sledded down hills and pictures are our greatest treasures. We live for those. :) Feel 100% confident in your decisions because you are an extraordinary parent. And I’m a tough judge :)

  4. By Sarah Christensen on December 28, 2010

    Rebecca - We probably will frame it; how could we not?!  It’s a shame that it was taken with the point-and-shoot because otherwise I would have loved to hang a very large copy of it.

    Tieraney - Charlotte is super tall for her age.  I blame that on her giant of a father!

    Laura - Thanks =)

  5. By on December 28, 2010

    Our Christmas was wonderful and it did involve some gifts, 3 to be exact.  We don’t go nuts but what we do buy is meaningful and educational in one way or another.  We didn’t do anything (no tree, no anything) for our daughter’s 1st Christmas since she was only a few months old and the 2nd (still no tree or anything since she was just 15 months old), we just gave her the gift of space to run.  We rearranged our front room and moved things in a way to allow her much more room to play and run.  It was a wonderful gift to her and us!  It wasn’t until last year when we had both kids old enough to understand it a bit more that we actually put up a tree and gave a gift.  And this year, in addition to them getting gifts, they were also able to understand giving gifts.  To family, to friends, to people unknown who are in need.  It was wonderful and I’m so glad you all had a wonderful Christmas as well.

  6. By Sarah Christensen on December 28, 2010

    Jeneva - First of all, I think I owe you an e-mail.  Sorry it’s late!!

    Secondly, we didn’t have a tree for Charlotte’s first or second Christmas either.  I love trees, but I don’t love the hassle or the space constraints - and since we weren’t giving gifts…well…

    We’ve been wondering what we’ll do next year, but I think we’ll probably keep relying on Grandma and Grandpa’s trees as long as we can get away with it lol.  Maybe we’ll just hand-make some ornaments and hang them on our orange trees in the front yard?  Would that be weird?

  7. By on December 28, 2010

    Lots of people don’t celebrate Christmas. Those who don’t acknowledge the whole point of Christmas (the birth of Christ) can go about their business completely uninvolved. So don’t feel like you’re the only ones. There are many, many people for whom Christmas means ZIP.

  8. By on December 29, 2010

    sorry but BWAHAHAHAHA jeggings. really. A-GREED !

  9. By Alicia S. on December 29, 2010

    Half the fun of having a family of your own on the holidays is being able to make your very own traditions - whether they’re weird or quirky or completely traditional. My mom and I were talking the other day about how it’s becoming kind of trendy to not make a big deal about Christmas anymore. It seems like everyone knows at least someone now who doesn’t buy gifts for their children. I’ve had a lot of fun getting more into Christmas traditions in the past few years since I’ve become a mom than I ever have as a child - but I think it’s cool when people come up with their own out-of-the-ordinary way of doing things too. Although, if I lived in California at Christmas time, I think the beach is the first place I’d go too! And the orange tree idea sounds so cool. It reminds me of the movie Away We Go.

  10. By Catherine on December 29, 2010

    I also took my kids to the beach on Christmas!  :)  We did buy our children a nice gift, a wooden Waldorf dollhouse, and when people asked what we gave our children, we were met with looks of shock!  “What!?  No lights?  No batteries?!“  It was weird… Anyway, my husband had to work over the day, so it was just me and my little ones, but that was nice.  We picnicked on the beach and played at the park and took naps, then I made a nice dinner.  It was fine.  My three year old, however, DOES know a lot about Christmas this year.  He was getting into it from about November 15th… My 19 month old, however, hasn’t a clue - and she was just fine with our day at the beach.  The struggle will be as they keep getting older and managing what they see and hear about the holidays outside of our home.  We do the tree, and decorations, but not tons of gifts, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep the minimalist material vibe throughout their childhood and deflect the questions and possible disappointment they may likely feel when they start to have more friends whose parents go buck wild with ‘things’...
    Anyway, I say, good for you, you need to listen to what you think is right.  Too many of us fall to the pressures of what other people think we should be doing, and have long stopped listening to our own instincts.  (sorry so rambly)

  11. By on December 29, 2010

    Sue Riley, my children’s preschool teacher would always ask children “what did you do during vacation?“, not “what did you get for Christmas?“.
    The school had children who were on scholarships as well as children who lived in McMansions so in “getting stuff” there was a huge discrepancy. But in “doing stuff” everyone could participate.

  12. By Christy on December 29, 2010

    It sounds like you all had a wonderful holiday.  We tried to keep our Christmas simple but since we live in the same town as most of our family Lily had a ton of gifts to open.  Thankfully it was mostly clothes and some toys that we approved of beforehand.  We only got her 3 gifts and none for each other.  It was so refreshing to not spend a lot of money on Christmas.  I made cookies as gifts to give out and people loved them.

  13. By Cori on December 29, 2010

    I know many people who would probably fall over backwards to hear there wasn’t gift giving on Christmas. WHAT?! Inconceivable! But it looks to me like you guys had a great time and that’s all that matters.

  14. By beyond on December 29, 2010

    we gave close family exactly one gift during the christmas gathering. and no gifts to each other. the commercialism during the holiday season makes me nauseous, that is not what xmas is supposed to be about. as a kid my parents would take us on a long walk through the woods on christmas. love the idea of a walk on the beach. gorgeous photos, as usual.

  15. By Sarah Christensen on December 29, 2010

    Beyond - I love the idea of a long walk through the woods!

    Mitzie - That’s a great way to put things.  Words make such a big difference.  People have already started asking Charlotte if she’s excited about Santa and what Santa brought her and what she got for Christmas and it’s not a big deal now because she doesn’t understand, but I have no idea how I’m going to handle it in a year or two when she realizes that people are asking her about things that might not happen in our family.

  16. By Heidi on December 29, 2010

    My husband is a glutton for gift-giving. It’s ridic. I could care less about gifts. When it’s time to unwrap presents I swear he counts the ones for him and the ones for me. It’s very unbecoming.

    HOWEVER ... there’s this:

    Every year for Christmas he makes me a stack of homemade coupons cut from “The Bank of Joe.“ He decorates them with dog stickers and marks them “In Cub We Trust.“ (That’s the pug.) The coupons can be redeemed for a variety of things including household chores, dog-walking, bike-riding, take-out dinner and massages. The most coveted coupons are the massage ones. I CHERISH them and drag them out all year.

    This Christmas, rather than make me a bajillion massage coupons (because let’s face it, I’ll be birthing his child this spring and thus deserve a bajillion massages) he made me a massage PUNCH CARD, laminated in packing tape.

    This gift costs him nothing and is so thoughtful and adorable, I can’t imagine ever receiving a material thing that would make me so happy for so long.

    Of course he gives me the coupons in addition to various store-bought THINGS, but it’s the coupons take the cake.

    Anyway. Your Christmas sounded PERFECT. Your priorities are enviable and your daughter is beautiful. One question: do they make Charlotte’s hooded heart sweater in my size?

  17. By on December 30, 2010

    Sarah, Sue was such a wise woman and I learned so much from her.

    Heidi - A laminated massage punch card has got to be the most inventive gift idea ever. You are a lucky woman.

  18. By Stephanie on December 30, 2010

    LOVE it.  There are many gifts that money can’t buy.  At such a crazy, hectic time of year, it’s so refreshing to step back…enjoy…and appreciate..all the gifts we already have in our lives.

  19. By on January 02, 2011

    Sorry you took your kid to beach after the rain.. Hope she didn’t catch anything from the filth. I hope you don’t call Santa that Jolly old fart infront of her..

  20. By on January 14, 2011

    Sarah, did you catch this article on MSN today?  I couldn’t help but think of you (and your no-present posts) as I read it. The author sums it up perfectly at the end… not giving gifts may be the best gift you ever give your child :)

    http://moms.today.com/_news/2011/01/14/5834113-one-mom-reflects-on-her-familys-no-present-christmas

  21. By Sarah Christensen on January 15, 2011

    Laura - AWESOME ARTICLE!  Thanks for the link!

    Joyce - Traditionally, my family goes to the beach and participates in a beach clean-up wherein we actually touch some of the ‘filth’.  When we are done, we wash up and go home.  None of us has ever become sick as a result.

    I feel confident that by bringing my daughter to the beach, letting her play, and introducing her to a family tradition, she is benefitting.  I would repeat the decision given another chance, rain or shine.

    For the record, I do not call Santa a ‘jolly old fart’ to her.  I do not, in fact, refer to Santa at all except to explain that what other people are referring to and what decorations she sees about her are all related to a fantasy.  We tell Charlotte the truth: that Santa is a fictional representation of holiday spirit.  We tell her that some people, especially young children, believe in one of any number of myths about Santa Claus/Father Christmas/St. Nick, but that as they grow older they learn that Santa is a story.  A beautiful story, a story possibly rooted in a truthful tale of generosity, but a story nonetheless.  We do not encourage her to believe in flying reindeer, in workshops at the North Pole, in magical elves, in Black Pete, or any other Christmas myth, but we do tell her that these are the stories people have told for centuries.  We do not feel like we are stealing anything from her by doing this.  We are a secular family with relatives firmly rooted in three different spiritual traditions.  It is important to remember that we teach her about those traditions as well, about the beliefs of religions practiced in our family that do not include Christmas at all.  We do not favor Christmas or Santa myths, and we never will.

  22. By Matt on January 27, 2011

    No matter what anyone thinks or says, it looks to me like a very happy child. Everyone is different and many people cannot make things happen, so as long as you know what your family is all about then you shouldn’t worry about what others think. It seems to me that your family is very proud and happy!


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