Six ways parents can downplay presents and encourage gratitude during the holiday season.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. The decorations, celebrations, being with family, the food, and traditions. All made better if we get a nice snow and the weather is cold (Good thing I live in New England!).
But the presents…each present my girls receive represents a thoughtful and kind gesture on the part of someone who loves them. But at their young ages I sometimes worry they don’t fully understand the generosity behind each gift. I also worry that the accumulation of so many things is feeding a sense of materialism and consumerism.
But most of all I worry that presents become the focus of Christmas and take away from the true spirit of the holiday.
6 Ways to Downplay Materialism During the Holidays
There are a few things our family does to try to minimize the focus on presents. I can’t say these actions totally eliminate the hysteria of getting presents, but hopefully they help:
- Downplay presents: Having a number of other traditions such as baking cookies, going to church, singing Christmas carols, reading the Christmas story or visiting relatives can bring depth to the holiday and make presents just one part of the equation.
- Don’t give as many presents: This one is obvious. If kids don’t receive a lot of presents there won’t be a lot to open. Another idea is to give the gift of experiences more than things. For a list of experiences that can be given as gifts see: 22 Kids Gifts to Make the Holidays Less Materialistic.
- Gift a few items they would have received anyway: My girls love to draw and read so each year I give them a few craft supplies and some new books. This way they experience the fun to opening presents while not necessarily adding to the amount of stuff in our house.
- Open presents slowly: In our family, we each take turns opening presents. The girls can open one present first but then they must wait until everyone else has opened a present before they can open another. This doesn’t take the focus off of presents, but it does teach self-control and patience. It also plays into my next point…
- Teach the lesson: “It’s better to give than to receive”: It’s not always easy, but it can be beneficial to have kids actively involved in giving gifts to others. One year I took the girls to a pottery studio where they made ornaments for their teachers and mugs and trivets for relatives. They had fun creating these gifts and enjoyed seeing the looks on relatives faces when their presents were opened.
- Write thank you notes: If any of our relatives are reading this, they know I haven’t been the best at this! Having young kids write out thank you cards can take a lot of time and effort, but it can be worth it. And now that my oldest is 8, and fully capable of writing cards on her own, there’s really no excuse. Having kids show their gratitude helps them understand that gifts were lovingly given to them by someone else who thinks they’re special.
With all this said, I still cherish the thrill and anticipation that come across my kids faces at Christmas time. They glow with excitement as they open each gift and have fun over the following days and weeks playing with what they were given. The spirit and warmth of Christmas or Hanukkah we feel in childhood is priceless. But rather than hold onto memories of just gifts, I hope my kids will take away a deeper sense of the true meaning of Christmas.
These are just a few of my ideas. What do you do in your family to survive the holiday gift glut?
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