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The Gift of Going Without

This holiday season we're trying to focus more on memories and less on stuff.

With the holidays upon us, I have found that my children are receiving gifts everywhere we turn. Go to my sister’s wedding: gift. Lunch with cousins we don’t get to see very often: gift. Seeing the grandparents: gift (and we hadn’t even gotten to December yet).

We are blessed by generous relatives and friends who want to take part in the joy my children display when receiving a new toy or stuffed animal or puzzle. We also have the means to attend holiday events laden with candy canes, goody bags, and gift-wrapped surprises. I really don’t want to sound ungrateful — and I mean this in the nicest way possible — but can we cut it out?

I remember how special it was to receive gifts this (or any) time of year and how exciting it was to get something when you didn’t expect to. Now my fear is that whenever we leave the house, the kids are expecting someone to give them something. I have friends who have broken down in tears begging their parents and friends to stop showering their children with toys and gifts.

Thinking about this — and about the toy drives for the children who don’t have much of anything — is enough to make my Christmas guilt factor soar. Writing this for the world (or at least my community) to see also makes me feel like the whiniest McWhinester on the planet. But I write it in hopes that there is a good answer to all this excess.

As a family, we are trying to focus less on stuff and more on experiences. I’m hoping that our nighttime walks through the neighborhood to see the lights will be the tradition my kids remember and cherish. After all, the only thing I really remember about the coveted Barbie-head make-up doll that I received at a young age was that my sister smeared her face with lipstick that very same Christmas Day. Ah, memories.

We also have always donated to the thrift stores or other donation centers around. Recently, I’ve tried involving my kids in the decisions about what to keep and what to donate, and I’ve been surprised by the results. My 5-year-old son was much more able to recognize the importance of letting go of stuff than I had anticipated. And while the trains are staying, we’ve agreed to let the kitchen set move on.

I’d like to include some volunteer activities in our community this Christmas and for 2012 as well. While I’m still trying to figure out what organization would welcome a harried mother with a 5- and 3-year-old in tow, I’m sure it’s out there.

At the risk of sounding like an old lady (which I am to all of my college students), I want to get some of the magic back for my kids this holiday. I want to focus on the fun activities and limit the stuff. I want to be mindful of others and generous when and how we can be. And I want to carry it over the holidays and into our lives throughout the year. 

My goodness, this is starting to sound like a Hallmark card. Sorry about that, and happy holidays!

Sarah Wayland December 07, 2011 at 12:51 PM
Wonderful article, as usual, Christa. We too have been trying to involve the kids in deciding what to give to charity. We need to clean some old stuff out to make way for the new. You are so right about appreciating time together. Isn't *that* what memories are made of?
Shannon Hoffman December 07, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Great column, Christa. Well said.
Kate Kelly December 07, 2011 at 09:05 PM
Of course, you can always look for opportunities for what the young people call "regifting"; pizzas are a great place to start! Kate and Joe Kelly
Joe Kelly December 07, 2011 at 10:17 PM
Hey! What happened to that leftover pizza I had in the fridge?

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