Sunday, December 2, 2012

Giving and having, getting and doing

Christmas is for kids. At the very least, I think there's nothing more magical than a kid's Christmas. Last year, when our older daughter was on the verge of two, was the first Christmas that she was old enough to really be excited about, and it was the most exciting Christmas I can remember (of course, my memory is crap). That may also have something to do with being up until 2-oh-my-god o'clock putting together the kitchen we bought for her.

But when we think about Christmas being for kids, it's important to realize that "Christmas" is essentially what we make of it. For the Christians in the audience, there's a good chance that means keeping Jesus and the Nativity at the center of Christmas. Regardless of whether you celebrate a sacred or secular Christmas, though, I think it's important to be intentional about what you want Christmas to be, especially for those of us who are parents, who basically define Christmas within our own household (in, of course, the larger cultural context).

What we make of Christmas likely will influence what our children make of Christmas for themselves and their children. We not only create the Christmas experiences that they will look back on and say "Remember that one Christmas when..." or "Remember how on Christmas we would always..." but I also believe that how we approach Christmas (and every other day, but I'm talking about Christmas now) will have a profound influence on who our children become and what they come to value.

For instance, most of us at least pay lip service to the idea that we don't want Christmas to be all about toys and expensive things and consumerism. As with most lessons, our actions speak at least as loudly as our words do. No matter what we say that's critical of the materialism of Christmas, if we ourselves spend wildly trying to find "the perfect" gift or to buy more and more expensive gifts to make this Christmas the best Christmas ever... well, I trust you see where I'm going here.

With this in mind, I wanted to share something that came recently in a magazine called Family Fun, which my mother subscribed us to (thanks Mom!). Kristin Bock of Oshkosh Wisconsin offered the Idea of the Month in the most recent issue, and it boils down to this: each Christmas, each of their children receives "just three presents: a book, a toy or other coveted item, and an experience." So they emphasize the importance of books, they give one conventional gift, and then they emphasize the importance of experiences over stuff. As the mother describes it:

We weren't sure how that last one would be received, so on Christmas morning Norman and I held out bresth as each child opened a thin package with a folder and a note inside. The folder included descriptions of three "experience packages," and the note instructed the recipient to choose one.

For example, Isaac's options were a day trip to a cave (and some spending money for the gift shop), a trip to a local aviation museum, complete with an airplane ride, and an outdoor photography lesson as well as a photo editing session in the studio. Our son couldn't contain his enthusiasm. After much thought, he asked if he could pick two and have one count as his birthday gift in February!
A couple other points:
  • each child gets his or her own experience, and the experiences are tailored to that child's particular interests
  • they keep costs down by using family and friends to serve as tour guides, hosts, or teachers (they don't mention it, but this also adds a deeper relational element to the experience)
  • for expensive trips, only one parent goes along
As she summarizes it, "Our family is really learning the value of doing rather than having." The Christmas experience, in other words, helps to reinforce the values that the parents want to teach. I wouldn't be surprised if this change, in fact, reinforced the values for the parents themselves, as well.


  1. I should have mentioned that, although I thought that we might still be early to use this with our almost-3-year-old, I'm pretty sure I was wrong. Lauren and I were talking about the article, and she said "Yeah, it's important for kids to learn that Christmas isn't all about presents." Our daughter immediately says, with some distress in her voice "No, Christmas IS all about presents!"

  2. Ha ha!

    I would like to move more in this direction... it tends to be the main occasion (besides her birthday) of getting stuff we'd like her to have, though... and while we don't want her to be materialistic, we don't want her to feel deprived, either. We do at least try to think carefully about what we get.

  3. Great idea!! I love the doing something together rather than having more stuff. Although I admit there is a massive pile of gifts under our tree all for my two girls. It is just so fun watching them tear into the presents, that it is hard to not buy a lot of little things.

  4. I definitely understand that! We were thinking for our almost-three-year-old of trying to aim for a number of smaller presents this year, because it *is* fun to watch her tear into them.