Unplug the Christmas Machine

From November 2017

Janette Plunkett hosted a  discussion about one families journey with “Unplugging the Christmas Machine”. 

The notes below and the attached materials may be helpful if you’re seeking a Christ focused Christmas with less stress and more “God family” time.  The focus is on younger families but the references can be helpful at different stages and transition in life.

The Plunkett family story as told by Janette:

Many years ago, we had a distressing Christmas.  We missed church, lugged our baby and toddler, and meal contributions to three family get-togethers that had zero mention of Jesus but were gift giving extravaganza’s.  Each culminated in meltdown tantrums by the affected young children.   We did not want this to be our future pattern.

Glynn Deveraux introduced us to the book “Unplug the Christmas Machine” with it’s helpful guidance for having a Christ focused Christmas that was evenly paced with very clear expectations for our youngsters.   And extra encouragement to make relaxed family time a priority.   We sat down and make some big counter-cultural changes in how we celebrated Christmas.  It became much more Christ focused, meaningful and enjoyable for Mark and I.    Gifts were still important to the kids but we wanted to integrate them in vs have them dominate.

At the time our kids were too young for input and some people questioned whether they would resent us in the future.  My daughter, Natty, is now a family therapist and part of her training included extensive analysis of her childhood.   I asked her if she’d be willing to reflect on and share her adult views of our Christmas traditions.  Below are the traditions and then her reflections.


Traditions:  Advent devotionals, with a special one on Sundays.

First week

  • Read St Nick’s story and had a potluck party with all Uncles/Aunts, cousins (A gift from family to each child).  Mary and Joseph started their trek through the house.  The Nativity set came out at play level and was often joined by the favorite toys that year.

 Second week

  • Home group party, Tree.
  • A service project.

Third Week

  • Sibling gift (usually something they’d made).

Christmas Eve

  • Exchange with parents, (we had interesting discussions helping them determine their top wants and we tried honor their top choice).
  • Had a traditional Norwegian dinner that I enjoyed making.
  • Church service (participatory -programs),
  • Spent some time thinking about the moment Jesus left heaven, how happy and confident the Angels were that he would bring Goodwill and Peace to earth.

Christmas Day

  • Mary and Joseph, Angels and stars in the Nativity set.  The Wise Men started their trek.
  • Read Luke 2.
  • Prayed.
  • Jesus’s Christmas breakfast (something that would nurture a relationship with Jesus- vegi tales videos) and a gift for Jesus- for many years a sponsored child through Compassion and later family gift catalog choices  (Bethany currently sponsors kids through CGA, perhaps a homegroup project?).

After Christmas we’d talk about Jesus family needing to go on a trip and we’d go play in the snow for a few days, have a room service dessert and just relax.  We’d watch some Christmas specials like Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life.   In the teen years that became an XC ski trip with XC team friends.

Mark’s New Year’s Eve “God Family” slumber party.   Maxine, a single mom, and her daughter brought their family traditions and Mark supplied all the food.  Very enjoyable for mom’s who were a bit tuckered out at this point.


  • 3 Kings bread and a gift from grandparents (wise guides) and we’d talk about the challenges to God’s love (we didn’t dwell on slaughtered babies).   The tree came down.

Summary of Natty’s reflections:  She liked how comfortable we were with our gift giving traditions.    She appreciates that her expectations were humble because then she didn’t feel entitled/disappointed at the time or now. We lived in a neighborhood where gift extravaganzas were more the norm but we also had Jewish and Iranian Bahai neighbors who didn’t gift give at Christmas.  We didn’t feel we were better or worse than others; we were ourselves.    She feels that mixing secular and religious can water down religious.

She felt we should have promoted more giving on the part of the kids (they did when they had money).  Cautioned that “looking down “on gift giving- can suppress some people’s love-language which could be frustrating for them.

Really enjoyed the service projects.  For example, we adopted a family with work colleague.  There was a gift wrapping party in Seattle and then we’d visit the Teddy bear room at the 4 Seasons Olympic.   It felt good to help kids get really nice gifts, things they needed and wanted.

We spent a significant amount of time at church, pros/cons? It made sense, it’s a religious holiday; we were Jesus and community focused.  She enjoyed it, we made it was special and had fun as well (e.g., eating leftover choir cookies after we served them dinner).  Our God family was important at Christmas.   It was diverse- different ethnicities, family structure, body types, etc.

She did feel our Jesus breakfast was contrived, bit odd to have a party for someone not physically present.    She did learn that we valued a relationship with Jesus and wanted that for her.  She liked having an adopted sister, Fabiola, for many years.  (Janette-It was touched when she’d write about praying for us and remember our needs).

Never once wished we’d believed in the Santa Claus myth because she didn’t (and doesn’t) see any benefits, he wasn’t a compelling narrative.   He presented materialism/ commercialism, kind of a tool for stores.   It made sense to reject that.  She was aware that she was a Santa Atheist while friends were believers.   She learned how to be respectful of others beliefs.  (There’s a sheet to think through Santa in the “Unplug the Christmas Machine packet.)

She liked recognizing a real person, St Nick’s, with a compelling narrative, who humbly helped families and especially girls.  St Nick helped us bridge to secular relatives.   We could all celebrate his model of gift giving.

Natty’s therapist advice.  Whatever you do, be very clear about what you believe/value.  Show how you support your values with how you spend time/ traditions.

This helps keep the stress low for parents and kids.  I do remember spending time thinking, planning and organizing; reading our schedule now makes me tired (It is a compilation, we didn’t do everything every year).


Other Resources:

Janette’s packet from Unplug the Christmas Machine

A teen and adult history of Christmas- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Inw2deKB-d8

European Christmas, current traditions  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEqCJmOPCik


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