The holidays can be tricky for parents. We want our celebrations to be joyful, but not stressful. We want to keep the season meaningful without being heavy-handed. We want to make things merry, but we also want to be home before bedtime.
And if we’re trying to celebrate more simply, that adds in a whole other set of complications. How do you keep things simple when your kids are surrounded by messages telling them that holiday happiness comes wrapped in a box?
“Keeping the holidays simple can be a gift for your family.”
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I do want my kids to soak up holiday magic, I just don’t want the gift-getting aspect of things to overshadow the rest of our celebrations. But I don’t want their experience of Christmas to be a grinchy one, either.
So how do we keep the holidays simple and meaningful for our kids? And if we’re making a shift toward a more intentional, less consumer-focused celebration, how do we get our kids on board with that change?
I asked around and found lots of simple gifting traditions that work well for families. If you’re looking for a new gift plan this year, try one of these.
- Choose four gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.
- Give three gifts, like the wise men did. Some families choose one gift for the body, one for the mind, and one for the spirit.
- As a family, choose to give less to each other and more to others in need.
- Give experience gifts instead of toys.
- Choose one larger gift the whole family can enjoy, instead of many gifts for each child.
Realistically, though, some kids will need help to get excited about those plans — because kids are kids, and because the world is sending an avalanche of advertising right at them this season.
We might be setting good and healthy limits, but to our kids, those limits might seem limiting. No one wants their kids to feel disappointed over the holidays. So how do you get your kids on board with the idea of a simpler celebration?
1. Set expectations.
Talk early about any changes you’re going to make this year. Tell your kids what to expect. Explain why you’re making new choices and share your own excitement about doing something different.
2. Give your family a new focus.
Many kids have a strong sense of what’s fair. If part of your reason for simplifying is to be able to give more to others in need, let your kids know. Talk about how your family can help to make the world a better place. Show them where your funds will go or how you’ll make a difference.
3. Talk up the good stuff.
Encourage your kids to focus more on what you are doing to celebrate instead of dwelling on what you’re skipping. Build anticipation for the things you’re looking forward to — cookie baking? Ice skating? Fires in the fireplace every night? — and then be present and enjoy them.
4. Enlist help.
Talk to family and friends about the plans you’re trying out this year and ask for their help in keeping thing simple. If they want to give your kids gifts, let them know what kinds of gifts would be most appreciated.
If you know anyone else who celebrates simply, spend some time with them this season. Let your kids see that you’re not the only ones who celebrate with less stuff.
Surrounding yourself with even a small community can be a powerful help in turning your kids’ attention away from all the “get more” holiday messages and toward the meaning of the season.
5. Do something different.
Consider starting a new tradition to help shift kids away from the all-presents-all-the-time mindset. One family I know exchanges gifts, then heads straight to the beach for an early-morning bonfire.
Another family told me that as soon as they finish unwrapping presents, they all get to work preparing a big, special breakfast together. The kids know there is something more to look forward to, so their attention isn’t consumed by the amount of stuff under the tree.
As we let go of old patterns, we make room for something new—we make room for peace, for joy, for anticipation of the coming of the light. We show our kids that we’re open to change, and that we’re all still growing together.
When we help our kids think less about getting stuff, we make space to practice other ways of celebrating, too. We find more time for connecting as a family and more ways to make memories.
And those will last longer than any toy you could wrap up.