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“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling. How could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” – Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is one of my family’s favorite Christmas stories. (Not sure if my kids are the only ones who like to hear the same story over & over, but I’m pretty sure we’ve read this one about 400 times since Thanksgiving.)
This line has been on my mind a lot this holiday season. My kids are old enough to know the difference between giving and receiving. We do our best to teach them to be generous and to think of others. But even so, it’s easy to get caught up in the “the trimmings” and “the trappings” of the holiday season.
In some ways, I think it’s a tiny bit more difficult in my family. We celebrate Hanukkah AND Christmas. So we begin with 8 nights of presents – each girl receives one present for each night, just like my sister and I did when we were growing up. The Hanukkah gifts are provided almost entirely by my parents, so that allows my husband and I to use our entire holiday budget on gifts for Christmas morning. The girls also receive gifts from various friends and family members – and on top of that, each girl gets one really special gift from Santa and a stocking full of goodies.
I realize how very blessed we are, and I’m so grateful that we have the means to provide our kids with so much. I think my kids are grateful too – but frankly, they can be a little entitled. Around this time of year, we hear lots and lots of “I want…” but not a whole lot of “I want to help…” They want toys and clothes and candy and a big Christmas dinner…but what about non-material gifts? What about kindness and generosity towards others? How do we teach this to our kids before things get completely out of control?
Here are some of my thoughts for incorporating non-material gifts into our holiday traditions (and all year long) in 2015:
1. Teach Kids Firsthand That It’s Better to Give Than Receive. Yeah, we all know this in theory. But be honest. When your kids “donate” money to charity or “give” gifts to their loved ones, isn’t it usually your money that they’re spending? Do they take money out of their piggy banks to give to the Salvation Army, or are they giving the bell ringers change that you dug out of the bottom of your purse? (Or maybe that’s just me.)
What if one year we made our kids responsible for their own gift giving? What if we asked them to use their allowance money to buy gifts at the Dollar Store or to make handmade cards or pictures? What if we helped them make crafts to send to their grandparents? What if they spent time and effort on gifts instead of money? Would that have an impact on them?
2. Participating in Clothing, Toy, or Food Drives. Thinking along those same lines, what if we allowed our kids to be in charge of collecting holiday donations? Perhaps we could ask them to donate some of their toys and clothes to children who have less than they do. My husband and I donate clothing, toys, and food on a regular basis, not just during the holidays, so we’re hopefully teaching them by example. And we always ASK our girls to donate their extra toys and clothes. But what usually happens is that I sneak into their bedrooms when they’re at school and clean them out myself. 99% of the time, they don’t notice that anything is missing.
There’s got to be a better way. Maybe we could start with a small task like “Go into your room and find 2 dresses and 1 toy that you don’t wear/use anymore.” And then we could work our way up from there.
Or what if we gave the girls a certain amount of money to spend on other people? What if we let them pick out toys and clothes for another little girl? Or let them pick out canned and non-perishable food for a food drive? It doesn’t have to be with their own money – what matters to me is that they’re putting thought into it…that they’re thinking of OTHER people.
3. Make a Gift Embargo for One Night of Hanukkah. To be honest, we talked about doing this during this holiday season, but we didn’t follow through. But I love the idea of picking one night of Hanukkah (or finding a way to do the same during Christmas) where we forgo gifts altogether. Instead, we enjoy being together as a family, lighting the menorah, maybe making latkes. And that night instead of opening a gift, each of us would give a gift to a child (or family) who otherwise wouldn’t have a gift to open. 7 nights of gifts vs. 8. It’d be a lesson in giving vs. receiving – plus it’d be nice to for them to see that the world won’t come to a crashing halt if they get one less toy this holiday season.
4. Give Gifts That Involve Spending Time Together as a Family. Instead of adding one more toy to their massive toy collection, one that will probably end up broken, missing half of its pieces, buried in a toy box, and/or forgotten by January 1st, what about non-tangible, memory-creating gifts? How about movie tickets? Or passes for ice skating, mini golf, or a trolley ride? An envelope might not be as exciting to open on Christmas morning, but I can all but guarantee that it will create memories that will last longer than any doll or a noisy electronic toy.
5. Consider a Giving Them a Gift That’s an Investment In Their Future. Okay, so I know savings bonds and college savings accounts don’t exactly have that whiz-bang factor on Christmas morning. Trust me – I got a ton of savings bonds for my Bat Mitzvah (back in the Dark Ages). I also got some really pretty jewelry. And to a 12 year old, the jewelry was fabulous, and the bonds were meh.
Every single piece of jewelry was broken or lost within a year. But the savings bonds? I used them 10 years later to buy my first car. Talk about a lasting impact.
And it’s the same with a college savings plan. As I mentioned earlier this year, my parents purchased a Florida Prepaid College Savings Plan for me when I was about 14 years old. Was it big and flashy? Nope. But is it a gift that I appreciated in my future? You bet. I’m 40 years old, and this gift still impacts me today. That’s why I gave the same gift to my own children.
Giving your children the gift of education or the gift of an investment in their future is one of the best things you will ever do for them. They may not say it now, but perhaps one day they will sit down and write a blog post about it.
Interested? You can learn more about the Florida Prepaid College Plan at http://www.myfloridaprepaid.com/what-we-offer/. And remember, if you sign up by December 31, 2014 (hurry!!!) they will waive your enrollment fee…plus your first payment won’t be due until April!
What are some of the ways that you teach your kids about the giving vs. receiving and the value of non-material gifts? I’d love to hear how you do this in your family – please leave your thoughts in the comments!