The simple tradition that changed this Latter-day Saint family’s Christmas forever

Matt and his family

In this episode of  This Is the Gospel, Matt finds himself in the thick of Christmas shopping and the hustle and bustle of the holidays. But after realizing neither he nor his children really remember the presents of Christmas past, Matt determines to create a simple tradition that changes his family's Christmastime practices forever. 

An adapted excerpt from the story is below. Listen to the full episode here or read the full transcript here. Note: This excerpt has been edited for clarity.

I don't remember exactly what year it was or how it started. It was a while ago, the kids were teenagers. I remember, though, that we were kind of getting to that point where you're in the arms race of Christmas. As your kids get older, you kind of have to up it each year to try and make sure that they're excited as they get older because the things that they need kind of get more and more expensive.

We're going around fighting the battle to try and get presents and I asked the kids about what they had gotten the previous year. They didn't even remember. And so I was sitting here in the middle of this battle—trying to get all the presents and go into the different stores and they don't have what you want and whatnot—and then to hear that they didn't really remember what they got the year before. It kind of hit me like, “Well, then what's the point? What are we doing this for?”

This is nothing on the kids. They're great kids. But I had, even myself, tried to think back to what gifts I had got the year before. And you just you don't really remember those things, you remember experiences. And so I thought, “Well, maybe this is something that that needs to change.”

And to understand, I'm not a very empathetic person. I try and understand people's feelings, but I'm not very good at it. I'm especially not good at expressing any feelings. My wife is very good at pointing that out to me as something that I need to improve on and she had mentioned before, that—I don't know if it was for a birthday or anniversary but—she said, “You know, you don't need to get me a present, I just want a letter. I just want to know how you feel.”

So with that background, in the midst of this Christmastime and the hectic-ness and not remembering the presents and my wife saying that, I thought maybe this is a good thing that we can do, cut back on the presents—the monetary, actual physical gifts—and we can give letters about how we feel for each other.

There was no pushback from the kids and we didn't cut out presents at all, because it was kind of fun. So there's five of us—the parents and three kids—and we said, “You know, give each other a gift but keep it less than $20.” So we still went and found something, but because we set that $20 limit, you kind of had to think a little bit about, “I don't want to just give him some junk.” So I actually got some really thoughtful gifts. And so Christmas was still kind of fun because we had things to open, but the focus was the letters.

So I'd like to say that I prepared the whole year and took notes and wrote in my journal about all the wonderful things they did, but I wasn't that good. So it would kind of come down to December. And I knew as it was looming, then you start thinking about, OK, what are some of the things that have maybe gone on this year that I can talk about in that letter? And what are some things that I can say that are meaningful that maybe I didn't say last year? So that it doesn't become repetitive saying the same thing each year. And truly, what is it about them that I love and appreciate?

As I started to think about my family, it took that focus off of me and onto them, and I start to feel maybe even just a teeny little bit, that true meaning of Christmas, which is the gift that our Savior gave us. And it allowed me to then focus on giving a little bit of myself, to them.

For the rest of Matt's story, listen to the full episode here or read the full transcript here. 

Lead image courtesy of Matt
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