Better than Toys

Making a List_Every kid can easily make an expansive (and probably expensive) Christmas wish list, and have a lot of fun dreaming of what they want to receive.  I used to look at a toy catalog as a kid and write my own illustrated list to Santa. (I had an inkling it was really Mom and Dad loosely interpreting my list and getting the gifts, so there was no grand disappointment when kids announced Santa was a myth).  Now as a parent of a 4 and 7 year old, I certainly don’t want to begrudge the kids gifts, or dreaming of things they’d like, even as an aspiring minimalist.

My concern, though, is that our culture has a HUGE overemphasis on acquiring STUFF. Stuff that does not keep our attention or last long, is not made to last, and ends up cluttering our homes, over-filling thrift stores, and spilling into dumps.  I believe materialism also contributes to mental illness because we have no space to think, overwhelm grows, and people are looking to things to make them happy. I’m not just talking about with hoarders…I’m talking about in the lives of the average Jane or John, dad or mom, boy or girl. It is SO easy as parents to end up with a playroom full of toys all over the place, irritated with their disarray, and STILL have “bored” kids. 

So what’s the alternative? When we first had our son we actually did ask others to skip the presents at Christmastime, because as people of faith we wanted the focus not to be on receiving things but celebrating the Christ in Christmas–the gift of love from God.
(We figured and explained that he can receive things any time of year, especially birthdays. As minimalism has gained popularity, more people understand an approach like this, but still…sounds pretty grinchy to most, right?)

However, I think that request went to the wayside because it created an awkwardness for family members who don’t always see our kids and were wanting to send gifts, and likely wanting fairness since other grandkids would be receiving gifts.

There was also a little cognizant dissonance for me in the request because I myself like to give gifts to others at Christmastime, because I think of people throughout the year and want to demonstrate my care for them. Effectively, Christmastime is kind of the slot on the calendar everyone makes a concerted effort to think of others via gifts, I realized.  Maybe it’s a tradition too engrained to try to buck?

I needed to figure out a realistic answer for myself and our family, “How can we raise our children intentionally not to focus on getting more things especially at Christmastime?” I think the remedy can partially be found in a spirit of generosity.  I don’t think generosity is something that comes natural to us; I think it needs to be modeled.

So each year we have a tradition where we do get out a gift catalog, but instead of making a list of things they want to GET, they circle the things they want to GIVE to those in need. (We let each kid pick one gift to give individually, then one they decide on together).  Samaritan’s Purse is just one charity that helps people have a visual on needs like hot meals, warm coats, school supplies and tuition, village wells, and other things around the world through their gift catalog, as well as Operation Christmas Child where you can fill a shoebox full of gifts for a kid across the globe.  Compassion International is another one we like.

If you involve your child in giving in ways they can see their impact at Christmastime and throughout the year, you may discover you actually HAVE given THEM gifts, too.  Joy in knowing they will make someone else happy/fed/warm, etc.. Satisfaction in doing a good deed.  A greater sense of social connection. And, if you want to get deeper into the psychology of generosity, you’ll find that you’ll be helping them create a strong self-esteem and less-stressed brains, among other things.  That sounds like putting the MERRY into Christmas, to me!

Oh, and don’t despair if your family just doesn’t have the ability to give financially this year. Generous actions like picking up trash in your neighborhood, fundraising, and volunteering have the same positive effects! I hope you have a Christmas full of the blessings that come by practicing generosity!

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