By Heidi Meyer
“Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more”: Dr Seuss.
The inspiration of this article came when I was de-cluttering and organising an office and found a picture written on which was this: “I love you mommy, my biggest wish is to spend some time with you!” This opened my eyes to the fact that children are given everything physical that their hearts desire but not the quality time they need with their parents. Perhaps they do get the attention and treasure it more than any toy or other gift, perhaps even more than you may believe!
In nostalgia my mind wanders back to Christmas’ as a child. It was a whole month of festivities starting the Saturday before Advent, when we picked fresh conifer branches to make the advent wreath, adding the four candles and decorations. The following weeks were filled with endless preparation and simply excitement.
We made Christmas ornaments, baked cookies, everyone working in secret on special handmade gifts for the family. We didn’t have sufficient pocket money to buy gifts and it was all about finding ways to make something special.
Just stop for a moment before you go that route, I was a kid then. Consider that preferences in a family vary considerably, rather think of something edible, like home baked cookies or handmade fudge, than a carved clock that took months to make, which ultimately the receiver may not want!
These activities where accompanied by Christmas carols playing in the background on an old wind up record player, later a radiogram. I still sense the anticipation building up to Christmas Eve. The Christmas cards and parcels from godparents started arriving and were locked away in a cupboard and I, desperately wanting to know what was hidden in there?! Oh, and not to mention the indescribable temptation to peek!? The anxiety of Father Christmas looking down at us through the little hole in the ceiling to see if we were behaving at dinner, which would influence our Christmas wish favourably or otherwise.
Celebration and Gifts
Christmas Eve started late afternoon, when we handed out Christmas presents to the farm workers, an early lesson in giving! Then we left for the Christmas Eve church service. The church with a huge Christmas tree and us in a nativity play in which miraculously all children participated in some form or another, be it a shepherd, sheep or donkey! While we were away, Father Christmas would deliver the gifts. We first had a simple supper of freshly cooked mealies, normally the first of the season, with fresh farm butter dripping off it. Our parents went to ascertain if Father Christmas had in fact made his rounds to the farm, having had to negotiate slippery dirt roads and flooded rivers. Eventually we were allowed into the special lounge that had been locked for the past couple of days in preparation for the feast. I can still feel the excitement seeing the presents under the Christmas tree and wondering which of them was mine.
Presents were limited and normally fell into 4 categories:
- Something to wear – a new hand sewn frock
- Something you liked – a toy
- Something to read – a book which we could choose from a catalogue months before
- Something you need – shoes, stationery
Gifts, Gifts and more Gifts
Do children nowadays still have the sense of excitement at Christmas as we had? Can we as parents still whip up this anticipation? Can our children still appreciate presents? Aren’t they so accustomed to immediate gratification? I watch parents shopping and see how kids get given a toy or an ice cream or “just something small only for today” and before long they expect more and more every time.
Bedrooms and playrooms are stacked with toys and children don’t even know what they have and yet still get gifted more on each outing. Grandparents who live far away, are on a guilt trip because they don’t get time to spend with their grandchildren and gift more toys to compensate for not being with them. Friends and family indulge the children to impress the rest of the family at Christmas.
How to manage children’s gift expectations?
It is wonderful to see children tearing away the paper and squealing with excitement when they see the much wanted item, but try not to go overboard. I sometimes wonder whether we give, just to experience this excitement. Then when the kids stop and wait for the next present, and there isn’t another one, tension mounts and disappointment becomes almost palpable. Would they be content and sit down and start enjoying just the one toy, or the presents like those we were given as children?
- Break the cycle of giving small gifts all the time – this will lower the expectation.
- Establish from the beginning how many presents you want to give and how much you wish to spend.
- Talk to them about their expectations and explain that you will be scaling down, so that perhaps you can all go on a special holiday.
- Gift special experiences rather than stuff – Gran and granddad can give a voucher to spend the day with them at the zoo for instance.
- Give each child a gift of your time, where you can spend time doing what they love just with you at home. Incidentally it will cost nothing but will build a sense of warmth and belonging.
Encourage your children
Spend time with your children and reduce the toy clutter. Let them learn the joy of giving and to be content with what they have. Let them, in person, gift de-cluttered toys to children less fortunate than them.
- Know the true meaning of Christmas or Hanukkah and teach them the cultural and religious traditions of the family.
- Encourage them to be creative and if they want to buy gifts, to spend within their means.
- Care for the less fortunate, de-clutter before Christmas, take your children along and gift the excess to a children’s home or orphanage.
The focus of Christmas has become a spending frenzy, shopping for gifts and fuelling consumerism more and more.
Give a gift of your time and act responsibly with your finances instead of adding to debt and stress.
Christmas should be a time to share with loved ones, enjoying good company, good food, wine and much laughter. Gifts I believe are overrated, at least however at my age I believe one enjoys company more than gifting, mostly ending up with stuff one doesn’t need or want. I actually enjoy seeing the excitement in the giver much more than the recipient.
Wishing you and yours the enjoyment and nostalgia of the Festive season.
For those in essential services; make some time for your spouse, your children, your family and friends. This break in your busy schedule will mean a lot to them, and possibly rest your mind just a little.