Ok, so I have talked a bit about our family's plan for siblings and friends. Perhaps not surprisingly, the conversations with my fellow adults were neither contentious nor traumatic. The conversation with the kids, however, can be another story. I started talking with the kids about this months ago. In some sense they knew it was coming. They read the paper and/or listen to the news on the radio. They are smart boys and know that times are hard. Why wouldn't we be "downsizing"? Everyone else is. In addition, as preacher's kids and regular denizens of the church school they have a pretty good grasp on the fact that Christmas is not their birthday.
The relatively sustainable, inexpensive, and very local entertainment of Craft Sunday, Pageant Sunday, and Christmas Eve services create a narrative and a mood that beats the biggest tree, the flashiest lights, and the largest of presents. Still, they want some presents (and a tree) and--as I have mentioned before--I do too. In the end it was still rather difficult to hash out a series of present "rules" that the kids felt was fair and respectful toward their sense of what the holiday means. We did come up with a plan, however, that I thought I would share with you.
First, we developed a theme for our gifts to each other. Most of our presents must be things that bring us together as a family. Sorry, no "DS" upgrade this year. Also, it should be something that in some way broadens our horizons as a family. So we made a list that included travel options (Vermont, Quebec City, even a "hotel vacation" in Boston) and specific items like snowshoes and camping gear. We are now in the process of working together to create our "package". Today we all went over to our local downtown sporting goods store to price out snowshoes, tents, and other such gear. The kids understand that there will be sacrifices and tradeoffs in our final plan, but they will be a big part of the decision making process.
Incidentally, we had a great time at the store. Our primary target was the snow shoes (a popular family past time last year, so we should ultimately save a bit by not renting) and we recieved a great deal of no-pressure advice and information from the person helping us. They are local, we are local. They know we will be back.
Of course, it should be noted that some of the "surprise" will be left out of the present openning ritual, but I am not sure that there is really all that much suspense left for kids in the "circle stuff in the catalogue" technique. This way we get a chance to anticipate the holiday together and reflect on its meaning. Anticipation and reflection sound a lot like Advent to me...