One of our Advent/Christmas traditions that we've done for the past few years is to fill shoe boxes with toys, hygiene supplies and paper and pencils and take them to the local drop site for Operation Christmas Child.
Beth had a flight to San Francisco today, and the site happened to be near the airport, so we stopped after we dropped her off (we had planned to all go, but we didn't leave a birthday party early enough to get there in time, plus it started snowing so travel was slower).
I say this not to brag or toot my own horn, but to share something we do to bring home the meaning of Christmas a little more. The years that we've been doing this, we've haven't had a lot of money to spend on presents. Our boys get one present on St. Nicholas Day and another on Christmas morning (plus what's in their stockings). What we spend on gifts for all of us is far less than what the average family spends on one person. It's a struggle at times to fill a couple shoe boxes, but we also don't want to put much under our own tree...nor spend that much on gifts. We've got more than enough toys as it is.
We're trying to make Advent and Christmas more meaningful and less about commercialism and greed. So giving to others and not focusing on making lists of what we want has become important. So the boys helped pack a shoe box. We are grateful to have a drop off site for them in the metro area (we could just take them to a church or organization that is collecting them); we like to give the boys the experience of seeing what happens to the box and seeing the volunteers who help. They had a map showing that our box will either go to one of four cities in India or to a village in Zimbabwe. We usually get a follow up note later showing what happens to the boxes...the smiling faces of children who have never been given a gift before. And we hope at some point when the boys are older to do some volunteering somewhere as a family.
Above all, they are learning that Christmas isn't about Santa or presents or a tree, but about God giving us the greatest gift: baby Jesus. About God coming down in the midst of humanity and experiencing life as one of us. He knows what we go through; He loves us. They are also learning through Advent that we wait for His return. Simple as they are, these aren't always easy lessons to learn. Hopefully, the more we put them into practice, they more they'll stick.