This article originally appeared in “Chicago Tribune.”
I grew up in a family where gift giving dominated Christmas. Every year, my mom shopped for every cousin in my enormous extended family – 18 of them on her side alone. For each of my two siblings and me, she would start with just a few gifts, but then inevitably this number would grow. And grow. And grow. I have memories of her rushing to the store days before Christmas to find another toy for my brother so she could even out the amount she spent on gifts for each of us.
I’m not gonna lie. I loved it. What kid wouldn’t? And I’m also not going to say it took away from the true meaning of Christmas. In fact, at age 10, I still believed Santa made it to every house in the world on Christmas Eve because Jesus could give Santa powers to do anything.
So one might expect I would raise my kids in the same gift-giving spirit. But I’m not … or at least, I’m trying not to.
It’s not just because my kids don’t need more “stuff” (although this is part of it). It’s not because I think gifts take away from the meaning of Christmas (though I certainly see how this can happen). It’s not just because my kids were acting particularly bratty the day I started writing this. It’s because my kids don’t actually want anything.
And here’s where you tell me I’m nuts. Of course, every kid cares about gifts, right? I mean, no kid would ever turn down an opportunity for more presents on Christmas morning.
But here’s the thing: If not for the adults in their lives prodding my kids to tell them what they want for Christmas, my kids wouldn’t even think about making lists. If no one ever placed a Toys “R” Us ad in front of them, they would have no idea what Legos they were missing. If not for commercials between Christmas movies showcasing the latest Nerf guns, they wouldn’t have visions of the Mega Zombie Elite Striker Missile dancing through their little heads.
I know the feeling when you truly want a gift and believe it will add to the joy in your life. I also know the feeling when you have to think hard to come up with something you would like (wedding registry, anyone?). It’s not a feeling I’d like my kids to become comfortable with. It’s a feeling that drives a constant state of want – a constant checking in with what one has and what is out there to get.
And it’s unnecessary. My boys are ages 5 and 2 right now. They are enthralled by the idea of Santa and his reindeer. They love making decorations and ornaments to give to relatives. They love dancing to Christmas music in the kitchen. They are excited about baking and decorating cookies. They like snuggling up and watching Christmas movies. Everything about the season is magical to them. And I’m pretty sure that if all of this remained and on Christmas morning there were just one or two presents under the tree, they would still be full of joy. (Anyone remember the people of Whoville in “The Grinch”?)
But I know there will still be prodding, asking for lists and requesting which characters my kids like and which Legos they “need.” Aunts and uncles and grandparents will want to know what to buy. Here’s what you can do:
• Show them that you love them through experience-based gifts. Fill a gift bag with cookie cutters and fancy sprinkles, and invite them to a baking play date at your house. Wrap up an ice skate ornament with a message that you’ll take them skating. Take them to see live theater or a sporting event.
• Donate money to a worthy cause in their name, and then make them a part of it. For instance, some nature centers let people adopt an animal in exchange for a donation to support its care. You can gift a certificate with the animal’s name and information and then take them to visit it.
• Pay for a specialty class or activity that’s outside their usual extracurricular routine and that they’ve always wanted to try.
• Purchase a membership to a local museum, zoo, aquarium, nature center, etc. Make this gift even better by chaperoning the first visit.
• Subscribe to a magazine or monthly craft/activity kit in their name.
• And finally, give a gift for the whole family: A sleepover (free babysitting) at your house. Need help with presentation? No worries, I’ll even figure out how to wrap it up and put a bow on it for you.
Nicole Radziszewski is a freelance columnist. She lives in River Forest and is a certified personal trainer and mother of two. Check Nicole out on Facebook at Facebook.com/mamasgottamove.