Tag Archives: Christmas

Tips for Celebrating Christmas in Survival Mode

Tips for a Simple Christmas Season

As I’ve shared over the past few days, we’ve had a pretty low-key December as I’ve been in the midst of significant morning sickness, and there are many things we did not do this holiday season.

And yet, we’ve truly had a lovely December, we enjoyed a super-simple Advent season with our kids, and we celebrated a pleasant Christmas holiday with our extended family.

In hindsight, I’ve been thinking through some things that helped us this month.

I did not plan ahead for this month, but if we were hoping to have another super-simple holiday season, particularly one where I knew it would be extra-crazy, here’s some things I’d consider.

I hope that if you are looking ahead to a “survival mode” Christmas – maybe you’re anticipating a move, have a job that means the holidays are extra-busy, face sickness, or are expecting a new baby – these tips might help you, too.

How to Enjoy a Simple Holiday Season (especially in survival mode)

1. Identify what is #1 most important to you and your family members/loved ones.

Sit down and ask each person what is truly the #1 only thing that is most important.

For me, it would be singing lots of Christmas carols. For my 3 year old, she wouldn’t have been able to articulate this, but it’s been “decorating” (in her own way) by placing ornaments on the tree and also “decorating” our presents with ribbons. For the baby, it’s having not-stressed out parents. 🙂

Whatever the case, figure out what’s most important, and put those at the top of your list.

2. Similarly, identify what is not important to you or what is a big stressor.

Is there a holiday event you always go to, and it never ends well? The kids stay up too late, or you feel stressed out, or you have to provide expensive gifts for an exchange, or whatever? Consider skipping it (or just sending the people who actually enjoy it!)

For us, it’s sending Christmas cards. Growing up, my parents wrote the most clever Christmas letters each year, and it was a highlight of our celebration. Likewise, I’ve always loved reading Christmas letters/cards.

However, we now work for an aid organization where we already send out a monthly email update to most of our loved ones, and it seems that each year, sending even a simple family photo ends up taking hours as we try to take a nice photo and then stuff and stamp envelopes.

So this year, we finally opted not to send them out, at least not until the new year when life calms down a bit.

3. Pray and ask God to direct your plans to honor Him.

I don’t think everything on your December calendar needs to be religious in nature, but we do want to honor Him with all that we do, particularly as we celebrate the birth of Christ.

Is there anything on your list to remove?

4. Set yourself up for success.

Remember that list of #1 most important things?

  • Put any specific dates  into the calendar (like, “attend church choir concert on December 10 at 2:00 pm”).
  • Make a list of other items that can happen anytime (like, “make cocoa and watch a Christmas movie”) and stick on your phone, refrigerator, or somewhere obvious, so that when you have a spare moment, you can make it happen.
  • Set a deadline for certain items, especially the “maybes.” Though we knew it’s stressful, we actually did intend to still send out some simple Christmas postcards… until, the week before Christmas, we crossed the threshold of “even if we do them now, they won’t arrive before Christmas” so I took it off my list. If you have something you might want to do, set a deadline for it: “If we haven’t made homemade gifts by December 15, we’ll just go buy storebought.”

5. Identify what is easy and set yourself up for impromptu fun.

This has been key in our family’s Christmas celebration. We already had a few Christmas craft kits and activity books, so I threw those in an empty drawer and my 3 year old has been doing a few over the past few weeks.

Because we’ve had a pretty open schedule (I’ve just felt horrible in the midst of it), we’ve had the freedom to turn on a Christmas movie on Netflix or bake super simple cookies. I gathered up a small basket of Christmas books from our bookshelves and the library, and we’ve been reading them periodically.

None of these activities were planned more than five minutes before we began doing them! But I’ve tried to stay open to a few simple activities.

Some other ideas for facilitating impromptu fun are:

  • make a list of holiday events in your community, and refer to it if you find yourself with a free evening/weekend.
  • if your kids are looking for something to do, glance at a Christmas Pinterest board for simple crafts or ideas.

6. Delegate and ask for help!!! 

So many of the things we did this Christmas happened as a result of other gracious people in our lives.

Family members provided tickets to two holiday shows and arranged all of the food/activities for our Christmas celebrations.

My sister baked cookies, made icing, and invited us over to decorate them, with zero effort on my part (except enjoying the finished product!) 🙂

Even participating in Christmas Eve church was the result of the hard work of the pastors, choir members, and worship leaders! It’s been easier for us to attend events that others have arranged, rather than trying to put it together ourselves.

What We HAVE Done This Christmas Season – some simple ideas

Despite all that we’ve skipped, here are the things we have done, perfect for our current situation, that have resulted in a meaningful December nonetheless. You’ll notice that many of these happened as the result of delegation/other people helping us, or as the result of impromptu, spur-of-the-moment fun.

  • We have done evening Advent wreath devotions at the dinner table about half the nights in December. This has been the #1 most meaningful thing this year. It requires virtually no preparation, other than having an Advent wreath with four candles. Most nights, we turn off the lights, light the appropriate candle(s), read one Bible verse related to the Christmas story, and then sing a verse (a capella) of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Often since we already have the hymnal out, we sing a few more carols – usually just the first verse of each one. Then we blow out the candles. That’s it! It usually takes about 5 minutes, and to be honest, several nights I’ve just stayed on the couch and hollered the songs from across the living room to my family at the table. 🙂 But it’s been so special to hear our daughter start to learn these songs, and I love singing as a family. (We have no future as the Von Trapp Family Singers. We’re often off-key and I inevitably start “Away in a Manger” too low so halfway through I can’t get the notes out. But it’s still fun, and I hope worships the Lord.)
  • We spread out all our Christmas ornaments on a table and let my 3 year-old decorate and redecorate our little two-foot (fake) Christmas tree. So far we’ve only broken one ornament!
  • We dumped all our kid-friendly nativity scenes into one tub together so the kids could pull out pieces and play with them.
  • My mom purchased a chocolate-filled Peanuts countdown calendar, and most days, we’ve pulled out a chocolate for our daughter.
  • We went to see the Nutcracker and Disney Frozen on Ice, thanks to extended family members who got tickets and made all the arrangements.
  • We strolled around a Christmas tree festival (where they decorate trees in different themes and people purchase them for charity).
  • Whenever Christmas comes up in conversation, we try to tie in Jesus as much as possible. We talk about how Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, and how some of the characters on the Christmas shows we watch don’t know Jesus yet.
  • I threw our children’s Christmas books into a box and have read them sporadically.
  • We purchased and wrapped gifts for our extended family members (about 10 people) + a gift to my daughter’s eye specialist and our apartment complex managers. Those are the only people we gave anything to, but this still felt like the most time-consuming part of our holiday season, especially since we opted not to buy gift cards but instead do pretty personal gifts. (But it ended up being fun to do this and feel a little accomplished. 🙂
  • I read a biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which was not Christmasy, but did help me focus on Christ throughout this season.
  • We have watched pretty much every Christmas cartoon on Netflix. 🙂 (Seriously!) We’ve also enjoyed watching White Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  • My husband and daughter made super-simple chocolate chip cookies in Christmas shapes.
  • We attended church on Christmas Eve.
  • We went to my parents’ house for the entire week of Christmas, where we were spoiled with food, cable television, presents, and child care. My parents and sister planned and provided all the food/merriment for our actual Christmas celebrations.

In the end, we’ve ended up with a nice Christmas season, where we were able to spend time together and celebrate and remember Jesus’ birth.

And it’s not over yet! There are still a few more of the 12 Days of Christmas left… I’m hoping we still might get out to look at some lights or sing a few more carols before the season officially ends. 🙂

**Leave a comment below. What tips do you have for a simple Christmas season, especially when life is especially crazy?

Our Real-Life, Not-So-Pinterest-Worthy, Christmas Celebration

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It’s been a little quiet around Faith Passed Down lately. I published a guide to a meaningful Thanksgiving in mid-November, but since then, our house has been a little crazy.

We’re joyously expecting twins (!!!) and I’ve been dealing with your typical morning all-day sickness, a bit worse than in my previous pregnancies, which I hear is common for twins.

I am trying so hard not to complain, because I personally know several women (plus Princess Kate, who I feel like I know!) who have suffered from truly debilitating, hospitalizing pregnancy sickness… and that certainly hasn’t been the case for me!

But, it’s still been an adjustment to our typical life, and I have felt pretty stretched thin.

My definition of “tidying up” has changed to “maybe if I’m lucky I pick up a few of the Cheerios off the carpet before the baby eats them.”

Rather than checking items off my to-do list each day, I’ve been glancing at my calendar about once a week, only to notice that I’ve missed things like “library books due” and “Ava’s Baptism Birthday.”

All that to say, this Advent/Christmas season has not been “Pinterest-perfect” in our home. In fact, until I went to take some pictures for this series, I don’t think I had photographed a single part of our house so far this month, because there hasn’t been much to share!

There has been no daily holiday activity, no homeschool Christmas crafts, and certainly no wandering elf!

Though Christmas is over, I wanted to spend some time reflecting on this year’s Christmas in “survival mode,” in the hopes that it might encourage some of you whose Christmas seasons looked similar.

Celebrating Christmas when Life Is Harder than Usual

Even if you’re not dealing with morning sickness, perhaps you’re in a similar situation – maybe an extra-busy season at work, a child with special needs, a period of colds or flu in your home, a newborn, a parent or grandparent with a terminal illness, a home remodel – has made your holiday season busier, or more overwhelming, or has resulted in a pile of unmet expectations.

Over the next couple days I’d like to share some of the specifics behind our Advent/Christmas season in less than ideal circumstances.

I hope this might offer you:

  • comfort and encouragement (maybe you’ll be reassured to think, “Hey, at least we’re doing more than she is!”)
  • ideas for thinking outside the box regarding how to celebrate Christmas.
  • permission to cut back your holiday expectations for future years.

low key Christmas

It can be so easy to pile up a list of expectations and hopes for the holidays.

We might think of our own childhood traditions and want to do every single one.

Then we look at our community’s fun calendar of events, or write down all the activities for our church/school/work/club. (Am I the only one who always thinks the local rec center/library activities sound like so much fun? I am so lured by the promise of “refreshments!”)

After that, of course, a quick internet perusal gives us ten more ideas to add to our mental (or written!) Christmastime to-do list!

This year, however, I’ve just been trying to do enough laundry that I have relatively clean clothes pajamas to wear each day, along with keeping my one-year-old from putting choking hazards in her mouth.

With those kind of lofty expectations, there has been little room for elaborate Christmas goals.

Things We Have Not Done This Christmas Season

I’m not saying I’m super proud of all these things – we would have loved to attend midweek church services or participated in a service project, and I wish we would have sent Christmas cards. But, here’s the reality!

  • We never took family photos.
  • We never sent Christmas cards.
  • We attended only one holiday party, skipping several others, including a MOPS craft day and a fun event at our vision therapist’s office.  We even sadly missed my husband’s work party (though instead we went to the doctor and found out we were having twins!)
  • We made just one homemade gift total, though I originally planned to have my girls make something for each family member.
  • We did not decorate gingerbread houses.
  • We did not attend any midweek church Advent services.
  • We did not make homemade wrapping paper even though I knew my 3-year-old would love painting it (and we have all the supplies!!)
  • We did not purchase or make any gifts for our own kids. (We did wrap up a few gifts from our own childhood plus a few toys I had bought on sale long ago).
  • My husband and I did not purchase/make/give any gifts to each other.
  • Despite all the darling ideas online, we did not purchase or make any Christmas countdowns (Advent calendars). We did use a simple chocolate countdown my mom got for us.
  • We did not put up any outdoor Christmas decorations/lights, even though I would love for us to proclaim Christ to our neighbors.
  • We did not decorate a real Christmas tree – just a tiny two-foot one my daughter decorated.
  • We did not put up much Christmas decor inside our home. We stuck stockings on the wall with 3M hooks (we’re talking high class here!) and hung a couple ornaments/wooden wreaths on the wall. We have an Advent wreath on our kitchen table.
  • There are several doctors and helpers in our lives (for example, the library storytime leaders and some babysitters we use at MOPS) that I would have loved to give gifts to.  It just never happened.
  • We did not do any service projects (beyond Operation Christmas Child, which was completed in November). In fact, we were even initially signed up to provide several dozen homemade cookies to a veterans’ dinner, and I was so relieved when someone else offered to provide pumpkin pies instead, so we were off the hook until another dinner in the spring.
  • We have not made hot cocoa or eaten candy canes.
  • We have hardly listened to any Christmas music.
  • I had hoped to read a personal daily Advent devotional, but I never got started.
  • I just love the wonderful Advent resources Truth in the Tinsel and Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, but we never did either one.
  • We never intentionally viewed Christmas lights.
  • We never did our family Christmas program, a time when we typically sing carols and act out the Christmas story.
  • We never had a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” party (beyond singing the “Happy Birthday” song on Christmas Day.)

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing what we did do for Christmas, because, despite all that we didn’t do, we ended up having a lovely holiday celebration. I’ll also share a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

“But I Like To Go ‘All Out’ for Christmas!”

If you are someone who did do a lot of these things, good for you! Truly – I am excited that you were able to have a joyous holiday season, and please don’t let this post make you feel otherwise!

I have friends and family members with beautifully decorated trees, delightful Christmas countdowns, and all kinds of fun enjoying the season and delighting in our Savior and King. I’ve been able to enjoy viewing these beautiful trees and eating delicious cookies at their homes, and I’m so grateful!

I’m not overly sentimental about Christmas, so things like a beautifully decorated tree, baking traditional cookies, or observing many traditions are not important to me (or my husband. Nor were they practical to us in this particular phase of life.

Just please know that I’m not intending to cast judgment on what you have done… rather, reassure you in case you haven’t done these things!

**Leave a comment below: What are some things you did not do this Christmas season? Are you sad? Relieved?


A Fair Trade Holiday Gift Guide

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

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“A present? For me?”

These are some of my daughter’s favorite words, and I would imagine that’s true for the children in your life, too.

As I consider what presents I’d like to give my children for birthdays or holidays, and what gifts I’d like to purchase with them for our other friends and family, I’d love to try to give fair trade gifts as much as possible.

While I’m not sure that buying fair trade qualifies as actual “global mission work,” as I envision children participating in loving God’s whole world, buying and receiving fair trade gifts seems to fit in hand-in-hand. It’s hard to love His world when our purchases our causing people to work in terrible conditions.


lots of fair trade gift ideas for this holiday season

Why Fair Trade?

My heart breaks when I realize that the cheap toy or inexpensive t-shirt I buy for my daughters might have a dark past.

Unfortunately, the reality is that many of the products we purchase, particularly those sold at a low price (my favorite!), are produced in horrible working conditions where workers, sometimes children, are treated poorly and paid extremely low wages for very long hours.

So while the product may have a low financial cost for me as the consumer, the workers who produced the item paid a high cost by suffering through its production.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of fair trade, you can visit some of these helpful posts to learn more:

Companies that produce fair-trade products have committed to avoiding these horrible working conditions by providing fair wages, offering an acceptable working environment, and caring for their employees.

Many of the companies I’ll share today have gone a step further to provide not just acceptable but wonderful working environments, intentionally partnering with their workers.

A Caution: How to Avoid Burnout

I’m excited to share some fair trade gift ideas with you, along with some ways to talk about fair-trade with your children. But, here’s my caution: don’t go crazy trying to buy fair-trade everything all at once… especially if you are new to “fair-trade.”

A few years ago, I heard about fair-trade products for the first time. I learned the reasons why they’re necessary, and I was crushed to realize the horrible working conditions some people experience.

I went ALL out. I started buying only fair-trade clothing. I took my copy of The Better World Shopping Guide with us on vacation, and my husband and I tried to only do fair-trade sanctioned things… like eating copious amounts of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. (But only if the carton was labeled fair-trade, of course!) We bought all our Christmas gifts that year from Ten Thousand Villages.

Then I got burnt out. After our daughter was born, I quit working outside the home, so our budget decreased. It was trickier to spend money on slightly more expensive fair trade items.

But even more than that, I just got tired of it. I like going to Target and picking up random items off the shelf without worrying about whether it’s fair trade or not. I like the taste of the non-fair-trade coffee available at the coffee shop around the corner.

So I quit hunting for fair-trade items, and returned to my old spending habits.

Rather than going “all out” with passion for shopping fair trade, I encourage you to find a middle ground and gradually ease your way into fair trade shopping.

Eventually, I began shopping fair trade again, this time, a little bit at a time. We have some local coffee shops we like to frequent that support fair trade coffee. This year, our Christmas gifts will be about half fair-trade items. I’ve found some favorite beauty products that are fair-trade, and try to select these ones when I need to make a new purchase.

Plus, I’ve also tried to incorporate some other ideas for avoiding “sweatshop” items, but without having to shop for truly fair-trade stuff… you can see these ideas below. This has made it easier to shop ethically and in a way that supports a love for all nations… without burning out.

Fair Trade Christmas Gift Ideas

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase after clicking one of the links, I may receive a small commission to help support this site, at no additional cost to you.

As Christmas approaches, I wanted to provide a resource for some fair-trade gift ideas.

Some of these are gifts to give to your children, and some are gifts you and your children could select for your loved ones (like grandparents or other adults).

The Mercy House and Fair Trade Friday

The Mercy House Shop offers lovely jewelry and household items that support women’s maternity homes in Kenya. They also have a program called Fair Trade Friday which is “a monthly membership club that delivers high quality fair traded items to your door. The items in the box are fairly traded and provide employment to women all over the world. Plus, they are really cute! … “100% of the proceeds from each product go toward the empowerment of impoverished women as an avenue to introduce them to the Gospel.” (from Fair Trade Friday web site). They have a new box for kids, and young women might especially enjoy the earring of the month club.

hats from Krochet Kids

Krochet Kids offers stylish, trendy hats, bags, and other accessories made in Uganda and Peru. I love these animal hats for kids. I’ve long followed the story of a family who served with Krochet Kids in Peru, and I love their business model and how they’re partnering with women there to create cute hats and provide jobs, education, and community for their workers.

subscription boxes and yummy treats from Trade as One

lots of delicious edible treats from Trade As One. If you are looking for a healthy, clutter-free gift, these are pricey but practical, as everything would be consumed. Every time I look at the Trade as One site, I get hungry 🙂

comfortable “punjammies” pants

Comfy pants and cute tee shirts for kids and adults from Punjammies. 

Ten Thousand Villages

Ten Thousand Villages has a wide assortment of fair trade items from all over the world. I’ve purchased Christmas gifts from them in the past and have been pleased by their unique, well-priced items. They also have some physical storefronts.

If you’ve found some of the other Fair Trade companies listed here to be too expensive, Ten Thousand Villages is a good option, as some of their products are just a few dollars each, like Christmas ornaments, small toys.

I also like that Ten Thousand Villages carries a large variety of different items… so if you’re trying to do all your Christmas shopping in one place, this is your best bet to find something for everyone on your list.

NoonDay Collection

Jewelry from Noonday Collection. They have stylish, beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and other accessories.

Fair Indigo

Toys and Clothes from Fair Indigo. I purchased clothes from them a few years ago, and they were very good quality and reasonably priced. I don’t recommend drying in the dryer – my clothes did shrink.

Timbali Crafts

Cute handbags, doll clothes, girls’ aprons, home decor, and apparel from Timbali crafts

I was impressed by the good prices and unique items available from Timbali!

Equal Exchange chocolates

chocolate and sweets from Equal Exchange or the Christmas treats from Sjaaks Chocolate. The organic dark chocolate caramel crunch with sea salt from Equal Exchange sounds delicious!!

Gadanke Christmas card journal set

handmade journals from Gadanke. I love the Christmas card holder journal! Gadanke’s journals are all customizable, as you can see in the photo above, so you can add or remove pages as desired.

She has such creative ideas, like a mother-daughter journal, lots of baby book ideas, and guides for recording family recipes. (These aren’t specifically “fair trade,” but are handmade in Montana by a lovely lady.)

Wild Dill

Wild Dill offers a variety of fair trade children’s products, especially cute dolls. I just stumbled upon their site this week, and they seem like cute options for kids! The little donuts pictured above are baby rattles! So cute.

Still looking for more? Here are a few compilations of other fair-trade companies:

Fair Trade Alternatives

Want to avoid supporting harmful working conditions, but can’t find a reasonable fair trade option? Here are some other Ideas:

  • Shop second-hand. When you purchase items at a thrift store, garage sale, or on Craigslist, you are not perpetuation any poor labor conditions – this item was created long ago and your purchase isn’t stimulating any new production of items. You can even buy online through a second-hand shop like ThredUp or through ebay or Etsy.
  • Make something. Consider creating a craft or baking a food item as a gift. (Though, of course, you’ll still want to consider your materials. You could use repurposed goods, or purchase organic/fair trade ingredients, as possible.)
  • Buy organic. If you can’t find a food item with a fair-trade label, try to buy organic, if possible. Fair trade and organic certification are two different things, but they are usually mutually beneficial – fair trade practices help the environment, and organic conditions usually help the workers (since they’re not breathing in pesticides and work conditions are more strictly regulated).
  • Give an experience. Tickets to a baseball game, a theater production, or a children’s museum would be fun, clutter-free, and “fair trade.”
  • Shop locally. Often, independent/local shops will have first-hand control of their own products. For example, we frequent several coffee shops where they know the growers of their coffee beans and roast their own beans. Generally speaking, working conditions in the U.S. are better than overseas (though of course, there are exceptions, and sometimes materials are coming from overseas.)
  • Give an intangible gift by donating in honor of the recipient. Organizations like Compassion and Samaritan’s Purse offer the chance to select an item to donate to someone in need, on behalf of your loved one. They will usually provide a decorative card to wrap up explaining the impact of the donations. In the past we’ve given pigs, malaria nets, and beekeeping kits as a gift. Ann Voskamp has a lovely post here with links to non-profit organizations that offer Christmas gift catalogs.

How to Talk about Fair-Trade with Your Children

  • Show photos of people who produce fair trade items. You can check out @Fair_Trade_Friday on instagram or visit the “Meet the Ladies” page on the Krochet Kids web site. Talk about these people: what is her name? where does she live? what does she do? what is her life like?
  • Get two examples of the same product – one that is fair trade, and one that isn’t. A chocolate bar is a pretty inexpensive (and fun!) example. Show them to your kids, and talk about how they may taste the same (go ahead, offer a sample of each!), but they were produced very differently.
  • Personally, I don’t recommend showing photos or videos of sweatshops and poor working conditions until your children are 10 or older. Instead, I would focus on talking about good practices from companies that are doing the right thing, like some of the ones listed above.

Other Resources:

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**What other fair trade companies do you recommend? How do you talk about fair trade with your kids? Leave a comment below.

Pack a Shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! Click here to check out all the posts in the series.

Click here to subscribe to emails!

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase after clicking one of the links, I may receive a small commission to help support this site, at no additional cost to you.

So far in the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series, we’ve set a foundation, and we’ve covered some basic ways to begin developing a love for God’s whole world within our children. For the remainder of the series, we’ll be talking about several different ideas for action steps for global missions you can take with the children and teenagers in your life.

As you read these posts in the days to come, please do not try to tackle all these ideas! Instead, prayerfully consider which one or two areas of global missions you are being called to. Click here for a free printable to guide you through this process.

Pack a Shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

One of the easiest, simplest, most hands-on ways you can be involved in Global Missions with Kids is putting together Operation Christmas Child boxes… and now is the perfect time to do it, since shoebox collection week happens in mid-November!!

photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, demonstrates God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, shares the Good News of Jesus Christ. They collect and send simple shoebox gifts filled with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items to children affected by war, poverty, disaster, famine, and disease. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to over 124 million children in more than 150 countries and territories.

One thing I love about Operation Christmas Child is that many children who receive boxes participate in a 12 week discipleship course through a local church called The Greatest Journey. So, they’re not just receiving a lovely gift in a box but are also receiving the gift of a closer walk with Jesus!

photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

Why pack a shoe box?

I have been involved in Operation Christmas Child for many years, packing my first box when I was a high school student. Since then, I have packed dozens of shoeboxes, hosted a collection at our church, and volunteered at the OCC processing center. Currently, my family works for an organization that helps fly the boxes to their destinations around the world, so we have met coworkers who have been involved in the distribution of boxes firsthand.

In all my interactions with Operation Christmas Child, they have been top-notch, doing valuable ministry and coordinating the distribution of shoeboxes in a way that benefits and encourages everyone involved.

I have volunteered twice at a OCC box processing center and I want to make sure you know that: the items you pack in your box will stay in your box (as long as they meet the rules.)

Before I volunteered, I wasn’t sure about this. As I painstakingly selected the perfect items to place in my shoebox, I wondered if at the processing center, they just got dumped into a pile or if boxes with more items were shared with boxes with less items. This is not the case!

The packing center emphasizes maintaining “the integrity of the box.”

Your box is opened and inspected for any items not permitted (like chocolate, army figurines, etc.) Those items are removed, along with any money placed in the box as a donation to Samaritan’s Purse. Then the box is sealed up securely with tape, placed on a wooden pallet, and shipped overseas.

So, if you selected a Barbie doll with a matching tee shirt for the girl who opens it… she’ll receive that gift. As you pray and pack, your box is being prepared for a child somewhere around the world who will open it soon!

How to Pack an Operation Christmas Child Box

how to pack a shoebox for OCC

1. Choose a gender and age range for your box(es). This year, we chose to do four boxes, each corresponding to the age/gender of a member of our family. So, my husband put together a box for a 10-14 year old boy, I did one for a 10-14 year old girl, and then our two young daughters did two boxes for 2-4 year old girls.

2. Get a box. A cardboard shoebox works! Your local Chick Fil A or Family Christian Stores may have some special red and green OCC boxes. My personal favorite is the plastic shoeboxes made by Sterilite that are available for about $1 at Target or Wal Mart. This way the child can use the plastic box for awhile.

3. Choose one big toy.

Something new this year is that Operation Christmas Child is emphasizing packing a bigger, fun gift in each box: a beautiful doll, plush stuffed animal, deflated soccer ball + pump, etc.

I am speculating that perhaps too many of us were being practical “fuddy-duddies” in our gift-giving, including lots of little helpful things without including a fun toy… the “Grandma gives us underwear every year for Christmas” syndrome.

4. Add in smaller toys, school supplies, and hygiene items.

Here’s a guide to what kind of items to pack.

5. Include a personal note and family photo.

You can just write a normal letter or card. I like this printable coloring page as a guide for what to say.

Occasionally you will hear back from the person who receives your box, if you include your address.

Typically, we haven’t heard anything, but one year we did, and we’ve actually formed a nice friendship with a young man in the Philippines, and have been able to help him with his education and correspond over the years.

6. Donate $7 for box to cover shipping.

Operation Christmas Child asks that you donate $7 to help cover the costs of getting your box into the hands of its recipient. If you make this donation online, you can “follow your box” by printing out a label with a special scanner code on it and sticking it to your box.

In a couple months, you’ll get an email letting you know where your box was sent! Pretty cool! Last year, we learned that ours went to Mexico, a place near and dear to our hearts.

7. Drop off your box. Your church may collect OCC boxes. If not, click here to find a drop-off location near you.

how to pack four operation Christmas child boxes for under 50 dollars

Packing an Operation Christmas Child Box on a Budget

Packing shoe boxes can be expensive. There have been years when I had the money to easily pack a dozen boxes, filling them with lovely things.

This year, we didn’t set aside that kind of money in our budget, so I aimed to pack four boxes for about $50 (not including the $7 per box donation or a few items I purchased earlier this summer).

You can see the contents of our four boxes in the photo above… I think I did pretty well for $12.50 a box!

Here are some tips for being able to afford to donate:

look at what you already have for OCC boxes

  • Look around your home for any new items you can include in a box. Do you have a stash of spare toothbrushes or a box of markers leftover from school supply shopping? These would all be excellent items to include… just make sure they are new. The photo above shows a bunch of stuff I found just by looking around our house… extra toiletry items, stickers and postcards, even a 3T shirt with tags still attached that my daughter never wore!
  • Check consignment shops or thrift shops for new items. Please do not include used items! But, if you find a brand-new item, tags still attached, at one of these shops? Go for it!
  • Ask for donations. Would your dentist be willing to donate some toothbrushes? Would a friend from church like to offer some art supplies? Perhaps a friend doesn’t have time to shop for items, but would be happy to provide $10 for the cause. At the very least, shoe stores are usually happy to give a spare shoebox or two so you don’t have to purchase a plastic box.
  • If you want to do multiple boxes, consider dividing up packages in half. For example, tubes of toothpaste may be cheaper if bought in a pack of two, or a large box of crayons can be divided into two smaller ones.
  • Consider making items for your OCC box. Operation Christmas Child has a well-maintained Pinterest account with lots of ideas for crafts to include in your box.
  • As time permits, purchase items ahead of time. I bought school supplies in August when they were on sale and set them aside for our shoeboxes. Not only were the items cheaper, but I was able to split up the cost over a few months. (I did not include these school supplies in the $50 total, since I had purchased them two months ago).
  • Devote a chunk of money to one “big” gift. As I mentioned above, this year OCC is encouraging packers to include a bigger gift like a stuffed animal, soccer ball and pump, or a beautiful doll. I chose to spend $7ish each on a stuffed animal for each of our boxes, then supplementing with more economical items for everything else. Even if you purchase all your other items at the dollar store, you may want to purchase a nicer “big” gift for each box.

Here are some additional ideas for OCC boxes on a budget.

photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

How to Involve Your Children and Make It Meaningful

  • Talk about Operation Christmas Child before you begin shopping or packing boxes. Explain that you’ll be putting boxes together to send around the world. Pull out a globe or world map and point out some possible places. You could get out a little toy airplane or a wooden block (to symbolize a shoebox) and “fly” it from your home to another continent.
  • View videos or read stories on the Operation Christmas Child web site. This morning my little girl snuggled up with me while we watched this “God Made Me Walk” video about an impressive young lady who donated many shoeboxes. Here’s a lengthier video overview of Operation Christmas Child, and here’s a whole channel of videos so you can choose one that you want to watch.
  • Take your child shopping with you. As you select items, talk about how you’re putting them in a shoebox to send to other kids.
  • Invite your child to purchase an item for the shoeboxes with his own money. My daughter is still at the innocent age where she was thrilled to take some of her allowance money to buy a puzzle at Target’s Dollar Spot. I expect in a few years she might not be quite so eager, once she understands money better! 🙂 In any case, offer your child the chance to purchase something. Alternatively, you could give your child a designated sum of money (perhaps $5 or $10?) and have them select and purchase an item for the box using that money.
  • Print out this coloring page and have your child color it to include in a box. It’s so cute and has a place to share info about your child, even drawing a picture of where you live and what your home looks like.
  • Include your child in packing the items into the box and dropping off at a drop-off site. Collection week is November 16 – 23, 2015.
  • Find out where your box goes. Operation Christmas Child asks that you donate $7 to help cover the costs of getting your box into the hands of its recipient. If you make this donation online, you can “follow your box” by printing out a label with a special scanner code on it and sticking it to your box. In a couple months, you’ll get an email letting you know where your box was sent! Pretty cool! Last year, we learned that ours went to Mexico, a place near and dear to our hearts.
  • Consider hosting (or attending) an Operation Christmas Child packing party. This is a fun, memorable way to pack boxes. Each person brings different items to pack (say, toothbrushes) and then together, you set up an assembly line and fill boxes. It’s also a chance to get out Christmas decor, movies, and treats and have a fun time together. Here are all sorts of resources from the OCC web site, and also  some ideas from Oh Amanda for a packing party.
  • Take your older children/teenagers to volunteer at an OCC processing center. Volunteer slots fill up fast, so I’m sure they’re already full this year, but mark it on your calendar for the future! I’ve gone to the Southern California center a few times, and it’s always a memorable experience and a fun way to serve.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Have you ever packed an Operation Christmas Child box? What tips do you have? Leave a comment below.