By Melissa Stefanec
As a middle-class parent, the holidays fill me with sugar, spice — and a little dash of dread.
It’s not the potential family meltdowns or the to-do lists that have me twitching with fear. Nor is it the overcommitment and packed schedules. What leaves my glass of eggnog half empty is the torpedo of gifts that is about to be fired at my house.
There are many jolly elves who overpack Santa’s sleigh each year. There is me, my husband, several grandparents, aunts, uncles and a variety of teachers, friends and neighbors. Each of us has nothing but good intentions and love in their hearts. But our good intentions end up overstuffing our homes (and eventually our landfills).
• Why the dread?
If you think I’m being melodramatic about the collective parental dread, pay attention to how many parents talk about the holidays. If you spend enough time with parents, they will start talking about their holiday fears — fear of shopping, fear of spending, fear of too many presents, fear of gifts going unused, fear of having to make room in their homes, fear of wasted money and resources.
The holidays shouldn’t be a time to live in fear of mass consumerism. The holidays should be about something more.
• The magic was never in the stuff
Rationally, we all know gifts don’t make magic. To that end, I challenge you to recall the stocking stuffers you got years ago or more than a few big gifts. I bet you can’t.
What you likely remember is doing relatively ordinary things with people whom you love. For example, I remember making armies of chocolate-covered peanut balls with my grandmother and mother. I remember watching my father sing in the choir. I remember going caroling at nursing homes. I remember poking myself with a needle as I made popcorn and cranberry garland (the mild bloodshed was totally worth it).
If you want to create those sorts of holiday magic for the kids in your life, think about how you can replace the gift of stuff with the gift of memories.
Try the hybrid approach to gift giving
I’m not suggesting you quit gifting cold turkey. I get it; buying gifts is fun. Kids like gifts. It feels good for everyone. But, this year, I challenge you to take a hybrid approach. Pick out a special gift or two, but then do something beautiful; give kids the gift of your time.
• Ideas for making actual magic
Here is a list of ideas for swapping out a few gifts and giving children the gift of your attention. Most of these ideas are simple, inexpensive and require little preparation. However, the benefits will be felt and remembered for years to come.
• Take a holiday jelly stroll: Take a hike in an actual wonderland. Learn about the different types of pine trees you encounter. To add some merriment to your walk, sing carols as though no one is listening.
• Learn about a tradition from another culture or faith: For many folks, this time of year is sacred and pious. Have the whole family learn about another culture’s or faith’s winter observances.
• Play a silly board game: Take the time you would have spent wrapping gifts and play the silliest board game you own. Make it a yearly tradition.
• See what the animals do for the holidays: Most zoos close for only a few days a year. Go to the and make a game out of noting what the animals do for the holidays.
• Learn to make a holiday dish from another culture: Replace one of your holiday go-tos with a dish you’ve never heard of. Have the kids help prepare it and learn about the history behind that dish.
• Have a holiday music dance party: Dancing to holiday songs is sure to make for some awkward dance moves and a lot of laughs.
• Give candy to strangers: Go to a busy store and hand out candy canes with handwritten messages of kindness. Just think of how good your kids will feel to make people feel more blessed and less stressed.
• Paint rocks and leave them on community trails: Have a holiday rock-painting party and then find places to leave those rocks throughout your community.
• Do learn-to-draws and decorate with your artwork: The internet is full of learn-to-draw videos for kids. Throughout the season, draw as a family. Then use those pieces of artwork as decorations. If you end up with too many masterpieces, consider donating them to a nursing home or community center.
• Make popcorn or paper garland: While you do it, talk about things that make you happy. Creating together is a great time to forge a shared bond.
• There’s no place like bowl for the holidays: Start a family tradition of bowling in your favorite holiday attire or pajamas.
• Give the gift or memories
As you start thinking about what to gift your favorite kids this year, I encourage you to think outside the gift box. Give the special kids in your life the gift of your time. Help them learn how to create magic for themselves, you and those around them.