So many people gripe about the commercialisation of Christmas (or Hanukkah, or whatever one celebrates at the end of the year)… Why not just let the public tinsel and muzak roll off your back? …Right that’s not so easy to do with kids in the house! Nothing we do is going to keep businesses from dangling those carrots in front of prospective customers… And for most people, presents are a big part of the holidays.
But many of us seek more balance, especially when we notice that getting is looked forward to much more than giving in our households.
What if we make sharing part of the fun? It’s a way for children to learn that there is meaning beyond the getting part of gift exchanging. That deeper togetherness engendered enjoyment, in fact, is bound to stick in the mind long after the panoply of toys has faded in memory.
There are so many ways of putting “we” into end-of-the-year celebrations…
Putting on a party at home
A party is a fine way to share with others and kids, of course, can help with planning it and making it go smoothly. Look for ways of making the gathering truly cohesive… Have a singalong, go carolling. Play a group game. Have a quilting party (kids can help with that too). Invite each person to talk about his or her favorite holiday memories while sitting around a bonfire at the beach or in the snow?
Here’s an idea… Make a child a wallflower spotter! Kids usually like to be used as “runners” and intelligence gatherers… A parent could set things up so that even a shy child could be an effective icebreaker just by passing an invitation from mom for a guest to join her in the kitchen.
Helping out at someone else’s party
If your family is invited to a big wingding, offer to arrive early to set up or stay late to clean up. Yep, kids too! The Befores and Afters can be billed as (and be) mini-parties in themselves where sharing in the work is great fun. (Put the toddlers to sleep in a mini slumber party, if need be, while the dishes get done.)
Letting other people help out at your party
How is this sharing? …There are all sorts of people who enjoy conviviality but don’t enjoy (maybe even absolutely dread) the responsibility of putting a party on themselves. Maybe such a person rues that fact that his apartment is too tiny or that her home is so messy and there isn’t time to deal with the clutter. Or maybe they just feel inadequate to plan and manage things in a gathering… but love to help. Giving them a way to participate in the planning, and/or the setup, monitoring, maybe game-leading, cleanup could be a huge blessing to these folks. (Not to mention a help to you hey, you could actually enjoy your party for a change!; and the companionship with the helper/s.) If it were me being asked by a friend, I’d be delighted and would certainly feel specially singled out rather than used. (Yep, I’m one of those who’s a natural-born brainstorm-er and major domo but who stresses out unpleasantly when the whole thing is up to me.)
Giving your kids insight into this and letting them in on the privilege of sharing in the work is good exercise for their own planning and interacting abilities.
Focus your party on sharing with others
Some for instances…
Ask your guests to bring food for the local food bank.
If you have a gift exchange, have everyone bring two gifts one to go to Toys for Tots.
If you have a children’s toy exchange, have each child bring two in good shape toys of their own that they’re tired of. They’ll take one “new” (used) toy home… the others will be gifts for
less fortunate children of the community.
Or have your party’s main activity be making gifts/food to donate to those in need.
Taking a party with you somewhere else
Parties can be portable and there are plenty of other places where we can have fun… feting others in need of it too, and not as likely to get much of it. Nursing homes, homeless shelters, the homes of shut-ins. How about taking the makings of a party to the police station, or to a children’s hospital ward?
I recall a very happy experience of this kind of pleasure as a young Girl Scout… Our troop made decorations, baked cupcakes, and wrapped little presents for the inhabitants of a rest home in our town and took a Christmas party there. We sang carols, ate cupcakes and drank punch, and got to open surprise presents ourselves, as I recall… But we also got another gift: the chance to make friends with “old people” who were otherwise hidden away from our ken. And then, of course, there was the gift of knowing we’d made a difference to them you could see it in their eyes.
The exchange of presents can be on many layers…
For me, trying to formulate an especially meaningful gift greatly enhances my pleasure in giving because I know it has more impact at the receiving end. Older kids can understand this too and can be encouraged to take layers of meaning into consideration when they choose gifts for others. Putting more thought into a gift is putting more of yourself into the giving of it.
It’s a game! let’s see, how to add another layer to Aunt Jan’s present… A real surprise? A family symbol? Humor? Something that will last for years? There are many possibilities and even toddlers might come up with great (if perhaps odd) ideas (and the charming oddity would be one of the layers, of course!).
A family gift exchange that includes the children as givers and receivers
Family gift exchanges that I hear about usually mean “the adults draw names” and the kids get presents from everybody. I’m sure that’s fine with the kids! but I think the children should draw names too. Letting them rake in gifts from all and sundry without participating as givers takes something away from them… They don’t get to be a “special buddy” to their allotted loved one that’s the fun part of this giving arrangement, that this one gift can really be given some attention. And it’s a great way for a child to learn the nuances of gift giving (i.e., sharing themselves with the recipients).
And the gifts given to children might allow them to share with pleasure…
A group game. A promise of a popcorn and movie slumber party. Chocolate chips and walnuts to take to Granna’s house for a cookie baking session. A pinata. Stationery. A kit for making crafts as gifts. Vegetable seeds for a garden, the output of which is to be shared with a homeless shelter. A prepaid calling card to be used for calls to Grandpa.
What a nice tradition, if at least one of a child’s presents is sure to be a sharing gift.
Sharing with the critters around us…
Whether as the focal point of a party or just in a family setting, remembering the wild things during the holidays can be a delight. I know, they don’t know it’s Hannukah or Christmas… But isn’t the point of the holiday to focus on our blessings? Surely one of them is that there are so many wonderful creatures we share this world with.
Children love to put out food and decorations for the birds, squirrels, etc.! Have a blast making edible garlands and ornaments for an outdoor tree (or apartment balcony). And perhaps you won’t forget to fill a stocking for the dog or cat?
Finally, why do we decorate our homes and property with lights and other gaiety?
It gives us pleasure every time we come home, but it gives to the whole neighborhood as well. (Surely you’ve made sure your kids don’t think that you put up all those house decorations in competition with the neighbors.
One of the most wonderful holiday treats of my past was the years I lived on a country road where there were no lights… except during the month leading up to New Year’s. Then, a family with several acres along the twisty road wound little white lights around trees all along it driving past their house at night was like entering fairyland! I never met these benefactors, but I blessed them each time I went by, my spirits lifted.
Sharing does give back to the giver…
but sometimes kids (we all) need nudging to see the opportunities for the sowing and reaping thereof. Incorporating a few into the end of the year festivities is a great way to make the holidays more meaningful for everyone.
Sherry Gordon is the author of The Sharing Season: Ideas for a Frugal, Meaningful Holiday http://www.thesharingseason.com. (10% of the profits go to the American Red Cross.) She lives and writes in the Idaho backcountry and is the developer of the websites www.ThinkJointVenture.com, www.AffiliatePrimer.com, and