I come from the tradition of Christmas, but I believe these ideas can apply to many holiday traditions. If you have children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews, is Christmas or other holidays a time of “giving” or “gimmes”? Do your children point excitedly to every toy commercial or compile long wish lists as they page through holiday toy catalogs and newspaper advertising circulars? Does your teenager yearn for an expensive article of clothing or maybe even a stereo or a computer?  How can we help our holidays mean more for our families and children than a brief, sometimes expensive, feeding frenzy of presents under the Christmas tree? Here are a few suggestions to help get children and adults get past the “seasonal gimmes.”

First, children and adults could draw family member names from a bowl and be a Secret Santa for someone for a few days just before Christmas. Once or twice a day they can come up with a simple gift or service to perform for this person. It can be anonymous or not. This thought process can dramatically change everyone’s mental focus because it requires them to think about how to give rather than to receive.

Provide some craft supplies and ideas so family members can make some gifts for others. These can be simple gifts from the heart: Decorate a plain picture frame, or make a decoupage plate. Apply glue and glitter to a plain glass ball Christmas ornament. Turn a small plain wooden box into a personalized jewelry box for someone by painting it and putting their name on the lid. Everyone will be more involved in giving a present if they have a personal investment of time and effort to make it.

Consider giving older children a small holiday allowance and take them holiday shopping. They can learn to plan and budget as they shop for others. It may be appropriate for them to spend a portion of their own savings too. Shopping this way is a good way for children to begin to learn money management skills.

Include children in any service projects you undertake as a family. Here are some ideas: Buy toys with the children to donate to families in need. Adopt a person or family in the community for the holidays. Find out what your family could bring to a nearby hospital or nursing home. Give gifts of time and help like errand running or meal preparations to someone who is homebound. Include someone who may be alone for the holidays in your own family’s day. Make it an annual tradition with this person!  If you decide to make monetary donations to a charity, children can participate proportionately too.

Give children and other family members tasks to help with holiday preparations. Perhaps they can help decorate, bake, clean house, wrap gifts, make phone calls, make place cards, or set the table. They will be more committed to making the holiday itself a success if they have been involved in the preparations.

As you shop for children in the family, consider how many gifts they may get, not just from parents, but also from grandparents, other relatives, and friends. If you are a parent, consider keeping track of what your children receive from others this year in your holiday notes folder. As you look back on your notes next year and see how much they received from others, it may help to prevent you from buying too much for them next year.

Following that line of thought, how many gifts “should” children get for holidays or birthdays?  This topic is a little like discussing our annual salary or our religion with people. We don’t talk about the quantity and expense of our gift giving behaviors with others very much. Maybe we could. I have heard of three modest approaches out there that I suspect aren’t typical.

One family I know simply gets each child one gift. They regularly exchange with large families on both sides, so they feel that more than one gift from parents is just too much. They do try to figure out the one gift each child most desires that year and, if possible, find that gift for her.

Another family limits themselves to three gifts per child. Each year they try to find a practical gift (clothing, an item for the child’s bedroom, or something that is a need rather than a want), a fun gift  (a toy or something else the child wants), and a spiritual gift (perhaps a spiritually oriented book, video, or tape).

A third family breaks their gifts into five skill or play categories. They might get each child one gift in the following categories:  a project that requires fine motor skills (like a modeling kit or a bead kit), a game that requires gross motor skills (a basket ball or ice skates), a “lovey” (a stuffed animal or a doll), an item for creativity (a craft kit or art supplies), and a book for reading skills and enjoyment.

Manage children’s expectations about their own gifts. Be up front with children about gift quantity or cost restrictions. One mom I know sets a dollar limit and advises their children that they can request one expensive thing or several smaller items within this amount. Help children to anticipate and to enjoy and yet also to be realistic. Remind them whose birthday it is. A fun family activity could be to make a birthday cake for Jesus.

I know the most important gift I can give to my children will never be found under the Christmas tree. It is the gift of time—time spent talking to them, reading with them, helping them with homework, and also playing with them with their new Christmas toys. Finally, my best gift of time to them is time spent showing them by my actions, not just my words, that it really is more important to give than to receive. Am I there yet?  No, but I am working on it!  Best wishes to you and your family for a simple and joyous holiday season.


Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs.

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