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Raising Concord: It’s Better to Give Than Receive

Keeping children focused on the real meaning of the holiday season can be hard but it’s worth the effort.

If I hear my children ask when they can open the gifts already under our tree one more time, I promise you: Mine will be the house you pass with all of their gifts thrown on the front yard. Oh, and with crying children standing on the front porch.

No, no, I wouldn’t really do that. But some days I day dream about it. Some days, I want to ban presents all together and just stand around the piano as my daughter plays Christmas carols and my son dances about.

Keeping children focused on the real meaning of Christmas is hard. Thankfully, I am determined. And after watching How The Grinch Stole Christmas at least 45 times, my kids can now recite the end, when that green cat-like creature with a heart two sizes too small declares, “Christmas doesn't come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more....”

I get that kids love gifts (heck, so do I) but does this time of year have to be so gift driven? Does every commercial in between Christmas specials have to have kids screaming with joy at the $150 American Girl doll they just received or the equally expensive Star Wars-themed Lego set? Of course, clever me has found a way around this: I DVR the specials and then when the commercials come on I can fast forward through them. Ha! I outsmarted the toy companies.

So what is a parent to do?

For starters, we should get them a limited number of thoughtful gifts for being awesome kids in a tough world. Listen, I am no Scrooge. But there has to be more, more giving and less receiving.

My son’s preschool has a great gift drive for children of similar ages whose parents need a little help getting their children gifts. Each classroom has a list of 3-4 children, their names and their needs. The list is a mix of toys, clothes and other practical items. My son loved reading the names and choosing which child he would like to help. Then we took the list and shopped for this child. My son dreamed up a scenario to match the child. “He” must like Star Wars and “he” is my size and likes books too. They weren’t to be wrapped, but my son would have loved to do that too.

I also have my kids make cards for their friends and teachers. I buy lots of colored paper, art supplies and let them go to town. I help my son with spelling, but for the most part stay out of it. When my son got tired my daughter stepped in to help him, and they sat for a while and had a great time. What I don’t do is go out and buy cards for all of their friends, and I certainly don’t buy elaborate gifts for them all. I ask the kids what they think their teachers might like and then together, we go and pick them up something thoughtful. I heard from a parent the other day that their teacher joked to her that last year he got Red Sox tickets from a parent. We both agreed that was insane.

Something new I started this year was to have my kids read about how other countries celebrate Christmas. I started with Germany, because that is where my father grew up and my cousins still live. They communicated with my cousin, saw pictures she took of her tree and admired how similar their Christmas Eve and Day is to ours. Then we moved around the world and noticed something right away. The holiday season in the United States is much more commercial than the rest of the world. Mind you, they didn’t say commercial but I knew what they were getting at. I agreed with them and told them it was up to us as a family to decide what kind of holiday we wanted.

Yes, there will be presents under the tree this year. But we did decide to forgo presents at Chanukah. And I am sure we will add more “giving traditions” to our repertoire but for now we are using the holidays to remember others and keeping it simple.

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