Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thinking outside the box.... The Gift box.

Why we do Christmas differently.

The real treats of Christmases past were
having things like an orange, or a piece
of sausage!
Most adults in first world countries answer the question what does Christmas mean to you? the same way.  Family getting together, winter activities, and the warm fuzzies that are felt throughout the season.  Some people are honest and add presents to the list.  

Unfortunately, there seems to be a stark difference between what is said and what is actually happening.  I see parents and grandparents fret over getting the right gifts, how they are going to pay for everything, who likes what this year and complaining about having to buy for certain people they don't like.  

So really, REALLY, what is Christmas for you?  Is it stress and line-ups at the register and panic until Christmas morning when you feel the supposed elation all this work was for?  Is it paying credit card bills for months?  Is it disappointment that you didn't get something you wanted?  I understand there is more to Christmas than feelings of being let down and stress, I'm just noting that this is what I observe for the most part.

If Christmas really was so fulfilling, why do people line up at 3am the next morning to buy more stuff?  To buy the things they wish they got, or the new things they think they need now they have all the other things they wanted.  Why do people literally get trampled by other people trying to get a Boxing Day deal?  If all our emotional and physical needs were just fulfilled by the event of the year, what is with the immediate spending spree directly afterwards?  

Boxing Day morning lineup.  

We have lost our way.  And whether it is slowly or not so slowly, we need to find our way back.

If you are part of this culture - this gift giving, gift buying, credit using, manic, commercial Christmas culture, press pause on your pre-Holiday brain (I know you're already planning) and ask yourself if it's what YOU want.  Not what your kids want, not what your parents expect, not what your family wants - YOU.

This isn't going to turn into a post about doing things for you - I don't operate that way, just keep reading.

I did the "big" Christmas just like everyone else.  The tree, a zillion presents (wrapped in ONLY matching and complimentary paper), lights on the house, the whole shebang.  I did bag after bag of unnecessary garbage and recycling.  I saw gifts given that were never used or broken and forgotten before the winter was over.  I'm not judging anyone who chooses to do it this way, who says they enjoy it this way, but I've found not doing it this way is much more fulfilling.  It's better for my children, definitely better for my husband who never knew what to get me, and better for the earth on many levels.  

Here's how we do it differently and why:

1. One gift per child.  
Yes, we really only give our kids one gift each.  Sometimes the gift has more than one component (art kit with paper, pencils, etc) but it's still one gift.   We heighten the receiving of the gift by creating a treasure hunt of clues around the house until they finally find the jackpot.  The oldest ones then read out the name is on the bags and hand them out.  The kids knowing they only get one thing really forces them to think about what THEY want - truly.  Not what is popular, not something they happen to see walking down an aisle and shout "I want that!" but something they've been hoping for and really thinking about.  The other clincher is we won't buy new toys so we have to be able to find the gift used or be able to make it.  I've mentioned being "appropriately honest" with my kids, and how things are made is one of the things I tell them the hard truth about.  The truth is, the majority of our products (clothing, toys, sporting goods, shoes, etc) are made by people who aren't paid very well or treated very well.  I love my children, very much, but they are humans - and equal to other human beings.  I will not buy something for them at the expense of another human being.  End of story.  They know I have to be able to find what they've asked for second hand or be able to make it, and also know if I can't find/make it they may not get what they've asked for.  

My kids know other children get a lot of gifts at Christmas and birthdays.  They think it's crazy.  They can't understand that system because I've raised them to think and feel otherwise.  It's not too late, your kids can make the switch too.  You can make the switch.  The reality is, it's harder for US to not buy than it is for others to not receive a tangible gift.  

I read another blog with a Mommy who feels a little bit the same way, and she is AMAZING at compiling lists of ways to shop ethically for different calendar events.  Her blog sometimes feels like I wrote it, which - yes is narcissistic, but it's nice to find other people that make you feel less crazy.  Read her list of ethical gifts here:

2. No gifts for Mommy and Daddy.
My husband and I try to choose things that we would like for Christmas that can be given without money or wrapping.  He usually picks a stay-at-home date night, which can range from watching a horrible action movie with hilarious amounts of chips or Scrabble and baked brie with tunes from the 90s playing in the background.  He also always adds a back rub to the list.  My gift is always the same - a back rub without a time limit, I get to say when it's over.  Insert evil French laugh - honhonhon.  Not worrying what to buy your partner is AMAZING.  It's hard to buy something for someone with their own bank card and income, and even more difficult to buy something for someone who never wants anything (my hubby).  Chances are your spouse might really appreciate no gifts. Maybe fix something that is a two or three day job and let them know it's their gift (be sure to clean it up properly afterwards!)  Cooking someone's favourite meal is also a great way to show them that you love them - same rules apply, clean up afterwards!  If you're quite comfortable financially, and I mean - don't go into debt for this - you could plan a special night with theatre, a hotel stay or a meal at a restaurant with a 3 month wait.  

3. Create the REAL memories you say Christmas is about.
If Christmas is about family and people you love, spend less time in checkout lineups and spend some time with them!  Suggestions from our roster of winter activities:

- Snowmen & Toboganning, duh!

I do not own the rights to this bodacious comic.  Oh Calvin.

- Ice skating.  Most cities have free outdoor ice rinks.  Pick up some used skates (I got skates for all of my kids for less than $4.00 each) and bring a thermos of hot chocolate for a great afternoon.

- get tickets to a family friendly Christmas concert.  Most cities have their own philharmonic or band playing in a local theatre - it doesn't have to be Carnegie Hall for the family to have a great time

- Find a local conservation area that is open during the winter.  Lots of trails are cleared and there may even be a special attraction - at one of our local places, the chickadees are dependent on visitors bringing food and will eat right out of your hand!  We always plan to have hot milk and something yummy when we get home so when the little ones get cranky they have something to look forward to.  

- Visit an indoor play place.  Some of these places can be pricey (especially with more than one child) so make it a treat, let your kids know it's special and to enjoy it.  Pack lots of snacks so you don't have to leave and stay for as long as everyone is having fun (that is hours and hours for us).  

- Local theatre!  Not-so-local theatre!  I love being treated to a high end production in Toronto or Stratford.  Kids LOVE LOVE LOVE theatre.  Why not see what your local guild is putting on this season?  I brought my now 8 yr old to see Peter Pan for his 6th birthday, and can still remember him jumping out of his seat in disbelief when Peter Pan began to fly.  We brought the whole fam-jam to a small production of Cat in the Hat last year and every last one of them (including the baby) had a great time.

- Bake!  Try your hand at making a gingerbread house from scratch, or just make gingerbread people (I HATE gingerbread houses).  If you don't have any children to amuse, spend the day baking with adults you love (or at least enjoy) and deliver goodies to your neighbours.  

- Carolling.  Yes, seriously.  Carol.  Carol like it's nobody's business.  I remember carolling in high school and having such mixed reactions - people slamming doors in my face, asking if I wanted money, but for the most part - happy faces and kind words.  I don't door to door carol anymore, but for years my whole family would visit the nursing home my beloved Nanny lived in and sing to the residents.  It may seem small, or even embarrassing, but the residents (and staff) truly did appreciate it and would sing along. 

- Classic Christmas Nights.  20 years ago, my Oma taught me how to make popcorn on the stove and I have made it that way ever since.  Pop a big bowl of popcorn, pick a classic Christmas flick and grab blankets and pillows so everyone can snuggle together and enjoy a movie night at home.  We watch the same films every year - Home Alone, Elf, A Christmas Story, and Rudloph the red-nose Reindeer.  We don't watch everything all in one night, but with kids being out of school and weather that isn't always co-operative, there can be a lot of down time.  

While I was grocery shopping last weekend, I could already hear parents barking "I will get it for Christmas!" and "be good or Santa won't bring you anything" at their children.  I've heard people ask, "are you ready for Christmas?"  I've read Facebook complaints about how expensive a certain toy is.   THIS IS NOT WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT!!!!  This is not what life is about.  

Creating a beautiful life for you, your family and your friends has nothing to do with what can be bought. Trust me.  Try it.  

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