A different kind of Christmas: presence over presents


By Abbey Kyhl The Blueprint Founder, Time Wise Teacher, Faith Encourager

I’m just here to take care of the people God has assigned to me. Blessed with what I need. Working hard for what I want.

In August, my family and I started the Pray.Seek.Serve.Repeat. 100-Day Service Challenge to bring more service into our lives. After two years of struggling and being in the midst of a faith-crisis, service was what saved me and healed my heart. Service changed who I was and I will be forever grateful for how it changed me in the midst of that trial and all the people and the blessings it brought to me. About halfway through the service challenge, I had the idea of talking our children into giving up their Christmas presents this year and giving them to a family who otherwise wouldn’t have gifts.

Now before I tell you how we are filling the season without gifts, I want to tell you a little bit of how we brought this to life and made it happen.

First off, my husband and I talked about it for a few weeks beforehand and really weighed all the different aspects of doing this. Would they feel sad Christmas morning with no gifts? How would we handle the Santa element? What would the grandparents do? How would we still make it special and meaningful? How could we make the service and the sacrifice the key element and memory, not the missing out? Once we decided that we thought it would be good for us, we started to “prime the pump” with the kids and prepare them for our idea. Weeks ago we told them to start making their Christmas lists and started asking them for ideas. If you have ever read the 5 Love Languages, my kids love language is not receiving gifts, which I already knew because we just aren’t “stuff” people and in all reality my kid have plenty. They want for nothing. So I knew that they wouldn’t have much on their lists that they really had their hearts set on. We continued to prod them about what they wanted and continued to give them opportunities to add to their lists. Then one night we sat them down to ask them what was on their lists. They each had one main thing and then throughout a bunch of other things that they didn’t really want but they couldn’t think of anything else so they just put it on the list. When we saw their lists and knew we were good to go, we then proposed to them our idea of adopting a family.

My favorite part of the entire experience was when my eight year old said, “You can really do that! That’s awesome.” My momma heart burst.

When we talked about the families who may not have gifts otherwise they really got on board. Service has been a central theme to our family this year, so I feel like their hearts have already become more service-oriented and they are learning to love to serve.

So once everyone was on board we started looking for the family we could adopt. We posted about it online, contacted our local Sub-For-Santa and we ultimately decided to adopt a refugee family from Change Lives Globally. One of the main reasons that we went with this organization is because I wanted to be able to deliver the gifts to the family. With our kids still being quite young, I wanted them to be able to see their service in action.

Now that we have our adopted family, our kids have been busy making lists and coming up with ideas for them. It has truly made me so proud of them to see how they are filling lists of things they want these other children to have because they see those blessings in their own lives and want another child to have that joy. Legos, bubbles, winter coats, books, soccer balls, dolls, the ideas have been endless. My little 4-year old even said she wants to get the little girl she is gifting the same doll that she has because she loves it so much.

For me and my husband, the goal now becomes how to fill our Christmas season up with experiences and service that will make it unforgettable to our kids.

We have spent a lot of time scouring the internet and looking for ideas and have had people ask us to share. Here are the things we plan to do as we fill this Christmas season with presence and not presents. One thing too that we are really trying to do is not spend hundreds of dollars on experiences because we want to dedicate as much money as we can to the family we have adopted. Many of these ideas are free or nearly free.

  1. Each of the children are making a Christmas list for the child they are adopting (we are lucky because we were given kids close to our kids ages) and then we are going to spend one day shopping for them.
  2. We will also have the day where we get to deliver the gifts and meet the family.
  3. We plan to “Elf” someone in our neighborhood. We have even thought about one evening starting the “Elf” in multiple neighborhoods to really get the spirit going in our city. You can get a free Elf printable here.
  4. We are going to let our boys have a white elephant party with their friends. Everyone will bring a $10 gift and a plate of treats that they can all exchange the gifts and take home the treats and the cost is low for us.
  5. I have collected Christmas books for years and so we wrapped them all up and will read a different Christmas story each night. This way we still have the excitement of opening gifts throughout the month.
  6. Our elementary school is having a Christmas concert we plan to attend.
  7. We are volunteering at The Burrito Project SLC (they have these in other cities too). This was a great alternative to a soup kitchen that our little four year old could easily participate in.
  8. One day we will go see Santa. Santa is still coming to our home and so we want the kids to be able to ask for the one thing they really want.
  9. *this is the idea I am most excited about* We belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and this year we are switching to two-hour church and they are introducing a new Come Follow Me home curriculum for individuals and families. Because we live in a ward that has a lot of widows and senior couples we plan to make them cookies and include invitations for them to join us as we have our family lessons. There are about 50+ people we are going to invite so this will give us a chance to get to know our neighbors and spend time with them all year long.
  10. We also plan to participate in the Light The World Campaign
  11. We will make gingerbread houses, one of my favorite yearly traditions.
  12. We will spend time visiting my grandma at the care center she lives at and my mothers grave.
  13. We will go to Temple Square and see the Christmas Lights.
  14. We are also going to find a time to see the new Nativity movie at Legacy Theater.
  15. We will have our annual Harry Potter movie marathon.
  16. We are a big movie family and so we also plan to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Dr. Suess and the Grinch, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Instant Family, Ralph Breaks The Internet, Mary Poppins Returns, and Aquaman. Seriously, we love movies and there are so many good ones this season. We might even have a double-feature day.
  17. We want to go to Top Golf.
  18. We hope to see the Hogle Zoo Lights.
  19. We also want to have an Option A/Option B Day. We love these days. Basically what you do is you have a series of envelopes for the day and with each different point in the day the kids get to choose option A or option B. Throughout the day they will choose from the envelopes on things like what we eat for breakfast, a morning activity, where we eat lunch, an afternoon activity, where we go to dinner, and a movie for the night. Our kids love this and its a super simple activity.
  20. Start a family Christmas puzzle and work on it all throughout the holiday season.
  21. See the Holiday Window Stroll at The Grand America.
  22. Find neighborhoods to drive through to see Christmas Lights
  23. Go to the Layton City Lights In The Park
  24. See Christmas in the Wizarding World at the Southtowne Mall
  25. See the Christmas Creche Festival in Midway, Utah
  26. See the Ogden Christmas Village
  27. Have a family movie night and slumber party…my kids love this!
  28. Make pantry packs and deliver to our local food shelter.
  29. Cut out snowflakes for our windows and write our blessings on them.
  30. Invite some of our favorite families over for dinner and a game night.
  31. Go Ice Skating at our local rec center.
  32. Try to make our own Christmas caramels. My husband’s grandma made the most amazing caramels at Christmas and we want to try and learn to do it to carry on the tradition.
  33. Make DIY Christmas plates
  34. Have a “no technology” day where we just hang out all day together playing games, working on that puzzle, playing in the snow, etc.

So there you go. Who knows if we will actually be able to accomplish all of these things, but I am excited to try. I can’t wait to see how this holiday season unfolds and how we are able to invite the true spirit of Christmas into our home. If you have any other great ideas for us, please post them in the comments!