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My spouse and I are on the opposite sides of Christmas. He's kind of an Ebenezer Scrooge, doesn't want to spend any money and thinks most decorating is a waste of time and resources, but I love the excitement of the season, and gift giving is a way I like to show my affection. Every year, we end up having huge disagreements over how to celebrate the holiday. He is a Christian, and so we both share an appreciation of Christmas as a celebration of Jesus' birth, but we are not on the same page at all on what that looks like ... or how much money to spend. Can you help us?
Tired of Christmas Conflict
Dear Tired of Conflict,
If it makes you feel any better, you're not the first person to ask me that question. Just because you and your husband share an appreciation of Christmas doesn't mean that you naturally agree on how to mark this occasion (or other celebrations for that matter). My wife, Ann, and I have had to work through our own differences over the years as to how we prefer to mark this joyous occasion.
Interestingly, regarding your reference to Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Dickens' infamous character, is a great word picture for conflict over Christmas ... in part because Dickens makes a real point that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Christ and not frenzied consumerism (even as he encourages Scrooge to spend a bit more to enrich people). He wrote in his beloved story A Christmas Carol: "For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself."
In fact, Dickens laid out a beautiful sentiment about this holiday in a conversation Scrooge has with his estranged nephew, Fred, who is trying to bring some Christmas cheer to his bitter uncle who argues that celebrating Christmas is worthless:
"'There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,' returned the nephew. 'Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!'"
Ok, now to your dilemma about money and the budget. You and your husband can find some peace in Christmas, during which we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, by first sitting down together and agreeing that your goal is to put Christ first in your celebration and by agreeing that a tug of war over how big a celebration is not where you want to go. It is, by the way, the greatest birthday celebration the world has ever known and should be focused on worshipping and adoring the Christ child. That is a good place to start to find your common ground.
The reality is that in most marriages one person is a spender and one is a saver. Consider that God's design for checks and balances, ensuring that the family benefits from both perspectives.
As with all financial decisions made as a team, agree that you will listen respectfully ... and then do it!
A good place to begin is to talk about what your childhood Christmases were like and what you would you like to replicate or never experience again in your own home. In counseling hundreds of couples around the world, I've learned that people are often reacting to their life experiences when they make financial decisions — trying to recreate good memories or avoid bad ones. So seek to understand your spouse's point of view, hopes, dreams and fears.
In our case, I liked the overblown decorations and treasure trove of gifts under the tree because that was the way I grew up. Ann appreciates simplicity, fewer gifts with more meaning and a focus on worship. We have migrated her direction and it has been a blessing on many levels.
Second, decide together on one thing you both really want to enjoy as a family. Perhaps one of the problems in your Christmas celebration is that too much of your conflict comes from fighting over individual goals and not the shared goals of a man and woman becoming one at Christmas. This does not need to be about money. Low cost options could be enjoying free Christmas concerts, going caroling or ice-skating. Agree together on memories you want to create and make that your first priority. This year Ann and I have decided to enjoy Christmas Day serving food at a homeless shelter with our two youngest sons. This will be a first for our family and we are all looking forward to it.
Third, make a plan for what you want to spend. Some people truly have the gift of giving, but that still requires a budget. Crown has a wonderful free resource for making a Christmas plan, because no matter how much you want to give the perfect gift, that still requires resources. The spouse who does not want to tax a family's resources provides an important point of view at a time of year when we are all encouraged to go into credit card debt in every television advertisement for things we don't really need or want. I think it is wise to agree to a debt-free Christmas budget and work from there.
Fourth, given your husband's desire to spend less, consider your gift giving in creative ways, with baked treats, or a homemade treasure, or a family heirloom that can be passed along, or with your time. The goal is to show your love, not your checkbook.
Finally, when it gets stressful, take a break and find something to laugh about.
As Dickens wrote, "It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour."
Remember, "joy to the world, the Lord has come!"
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