This is only our fourth Christmas as parents, so I reach December 25th wondering, as I stare at the wreckage of boxes and wrapping paper, how much is too much? Were the gifts I chose really appropriate for her age? How can I foster the love of giving so that it creates as much pleasure as receiving? Where did the stupid elf end up last night?
On December 26th, I turn to the internet and begin my dizzying search for the perfect answer. The answer I have found? Well, there isn’t one. Instead, there are zillions. Just as I can’t pluck an answer-giving star from the heavens, I have yet to settle on the perfect gift-giving balance. And even if I did, I fear my solution wouldn’t work for every family and will likely fail in a year or two as needs, incomes, and other changes affect our lives.
So, do I wander the aisles of the nearest shopping mall wailing or do I load my amazon shopping cart until I can start to feel its phantom weight?
Well, maybe. But first, I’ve decided to collect several rather interesting and fun ideas I’ve heard over the years that I keep coming back to. These are the gems I’ve found to be most reasonable and likely to be incorporated by my family in the future.
The first idea is to simplify the number of gifts by using a formula known to all that will help manage expectations. To do this, it seems most people have a steadfast rule they follow each year. For example:
The three gift rule: This seems to be open to any item, but every family member will only receive three gifts total.
The four gift rule: This is a rather catching and interesting idea that would provide a bit of satisfaction for parent and child. Each family member receives something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. (Yes, I’m loving the rhyme as well.)
The five gift rule: This follows the idea above and adds an additional element. Everyone receives something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read, but also are given (or perhaps pick out?) something to give/donate.
An interesting concept, which I’ve only recently run across, is the zero waste Christmas. This is essentially the hope that a family will consider the environmental impact of the toy industry and the fact that small steps make a big difference for a healthier environment.
How to get started?
Second-hand toys and games: Instead of buying new, hit up the nearest online moms’ market and find some gently used items. This will help keep toys from the landfills, ostensibly cost less, and still provide joy.
Environmentally friendly items: Purchase products that are made from recycled materials or utilize materials and production processes that are environmentally friendly and ethically oriented.
Make your gift: This can be a chance to use up items in your craft box, break out your favorite recipes, or take your favorite hobby and share the joy of it with your friends and family.
This next idea I feel is a great option for those looking to work on family cohesion. Instead of toys, give experiences. I’ve taken this one step beyond in my head: Why just give those experiences to the kids? Why not include the whole family?
Classes: Find something unique and fun that would be easy for all members of the family to do and enjoy it together. Send the entire family to a cooking class, sushi-making class or glass blowing session.
Vacation: Who doesn’t love a family vacation? (I’m sorry to all the groaning teenagers out there.) Instead of separate gifts, combine the funds to purchase a vacation, whether it’s as simple as purchasing a tent for a week in the woods, grabbing those groaning teens and shoving them in a mid-sized sedan for a trek across country, or finding a cruise ship to board, give the gift of time and adventure.
Crafts: As an avid crafter, I think it’s never too early to start introducing children to everything from knitting to working clay. Find the niches your child might be interested in and foster them. Rather than having them do random crafts, ask them to make something the entire household can appreciate like new pillows for the couches or handmade pottery for the dinner table.
Giving instead of getting is a concept that is difficult for most four-year-olds and even this 35-year-old to grasp. However, I do feel it is a desperately important part of the season for us to not just do, but to love every step of the process.
Donate to a charity: This is a chance for each family member to choose a charity and send the money (either all or in part) that would have gone to gifts, to that organization. You can help your children pick out and donate something for another child in need.
Donate your time: Set a goal for your family for future charity work. Whether it’s finding time at the soup kitchen during the holidays, helping an elderly neighbor with yard work, or wielding a hammer for the nearest charitable building project, do it together as a family.
So, there they are, in all their awesomeness, the brightest stars I’ve managed to pluck so far. Many of them seem like perfectly appropriate options for birthdays as well.
Here I leave you; good luck this holiday season and please let me know what other shiny ideas you have discovered.