Any day now, you will find all 11 of us at our local dollar store for the evening. Everyone will have their own baskets and will probably be using their coats to keep their precious purchases secret. There will be covert maneuvers and whispered plans between siblings. As the all-knowing mom, I will become the keeper of my children's secret wishes, which I dispense conspiratorially to their siblings as needed.
We will eventually head home, each of us with a bag hidden inside our jacket to prevent prying eyes. Eight rolls of Scotch tape later, there will be 90 poorly wrapped gifts under our tree. It's magnificent. We can rarely wait until Christmas Eve. Every minute ticking by increases the odds that secrets will be spilled or gifts secretly given early. So, we often cave to the pressure and gather beside the tree that very night.
Dollar Store Christmas has become one of my favorite family traditions, and it all began by accident.
Years ago, when our Christmas traditions were just taking shape and we had only two little ones, we faced a conundrum. We wanted our children to be givers and to learn the process of thinking about the likes and dislikes of their siblings, but we also felt the constraints of a tight Christmas budget. The dollar store was the perfect solution for our little family of four. I honestly thought dollar store gifts would quickly lose their glamour—surely by the time the kids were teenagers. Instead, year after year, the dollar store tradition has strengthened its hold over our family and is one of the first things our kids want on the calendar.
My 19- and 20-year-old sons often get their favorite snack or a manly-looking tool from their little sisters. Last year, our five-year-old had three siblings replace her recently broken toy princess crown. Our smiles matched her eyes, growing wider and wider with each present she opened. The sisters love to buy each other makeup, frames, notebooks or air fresheners for smelly gym bags.
There seems to be something for everyone at the dollar store—even for an extra kid or two. The first year one of our kids asked to add some friends to our gift exchange whose Christmas might be sparse, the answer came easily. Even as our family has grown through birth, adoption and engagement, we've never run out of the dollar store budget. There is always room for more.
I'm not sure which part is more fun, the shopping shenanigans or the great gift reveal. If there is a fight over who gets to go first, it is over the giving rather than the receiving. Stories burst from the giver's mouth as the gift is unwrapped, about the deliberation between two perfect choices or how the intended recipient happened down the aisle at just the wrong moment.
Big smiles and belly laughs happen under our tree.
The kids laugh, but I always choke up. How can I not, when a solemn boy puts a carved panther rock in my hand and tells me it would go nicely with my decorating? Bright green nail polish is presented by the daughter who wants Mommy to give her a manicure. A spy novel comes from the teenage boy who knows his mom likes to read. Bubble bath says a grateful child has noticed that Mom works hard and deserves a break. Their gifts speak precious sentiments that their lips aren't yet ready to say.
The first year, Dollar Store Christmas was just a cheap way to help our little people learn how to give gifts. We hoped to upgrade to "real" gifts as the kids grew. But as all the best traditions do, our dollar gifts took on a power of their own and became a treasured holiday tradition.
As the years went by, the real gifts became clear.
Love and care for each other has become brightly visible in my children's hearts.
So, keep your eyes open: You might happen upon a big family acting a little crazy in the local dollar store this month. If you do, the bunch of kids on the hunt for something "just right" will be obvious. But keep looking and you'll also see a misty-eyed momma who knows she has stumbled upon the most priceless gifts possible, there at the dollar store.
Written by Lori Florida, whose life is all about her people. She's convinced that being Mrs. to one and Mommy to eight will be her most significant way to serve Jesus. She wants to use her life to cheer on and coach the women coming behind her. Lori blogs at loriflorida.com.