Inside: Are you aching to teach your kids to be more grateful this holiday season? Do you wish you could slow it all down and focus on what really matters? To focus on giving this Christmas? Teach your kids the power of giving this holiday season with this new tradition.
Mama, can I put that on my wishlist? Can I ask Santa for that? Do you think Grandma would get that for me?
My three kids just Facetimed with their grandparents to rattle off their wish lists, hoping their grandparents will find merit in purchasing yet another purse and more Legos and even more Shopkins.
My kids’ wish lists are usually a mile long. And I’m a little uncomfortable to admit this, but they usually get most of the things on their list.
My kids aren’t really spoiled since I know they don’t expect it and they appreciate it, but they are definitely indulged.
And it’s not their fault.
They are the only kids on both sides of the family. They are the only grandkids, the only nieces and nephews and the only great-nieces and great-nephews for two families. Families that happen to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.
Even if every family member only gave them a small gift, my kids would still each get 10 presents, plus Santa gifts, gifts from us and 8 nights of Hanukkah presents.
Any way you look at it, December is gluttonous.
We try to minimize it all and ask for experiences rather than actual stuff: museum passes, Legoland tickets, and soup-cooking classes…those are my favorite gifts for them to receive because I don’t have to pick a museum pass up off the floor ten times a day.
Related: 25 of the Best Experience Gifts for Families that Don’t Want More “Stuff”
And we make sure to write thoughtful and unique thank you notes after we receive all of our gifts using photos.
But we’ve also started to focus on giving to balance out all of the receiving.
And this simple idea we started a few years ago has quickly become my absolute favorite holiday tradition.
A New Holiday Tradition to Help Kids Focus On Giving This Christmas
I love traditions, especially during the December holidays.
I was raised in an interfaith family where we celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah and I’m passing down both of those holidays, and all of the traditions that go with them, to my kids.
To say our December calendar is full is an understatement.
We build gingerbread houses and decorate them with an obscene amount of candy. We fry latkes and doughnuts and make our Christmas crafts.
We have dreidel contests and decorate our Christmas tree with one new ornament for each kid.
We make advent calendars, we light our menorah, and we count Christmas lights as we drive through town (and then we reward the best lights with these Random Act of Kindness Awards).
We also intentionally spread kindness during the holiday season with our Christmas Kindness Countdown and our 8 Nights of Kindness for Hanukkah.
But a few years ago, we started a new Christmas tradition to focus on giving. To focus on the other people in our family besides ourselves. A tradition that helps us spend a little less time adding to our wish lists.
One night in December, we all pile in the car and head to a local discount store. Everything in this store happens to be $5 or less and it’s chock full of the most random things you never knew you wanted: umbrellas you can color, lava lamps, and unicorn gumball dispensers.
At the store, each of my three kids is tasked with the job of shopping for four presents: one for each sibling, one for me, and one for my husband.
They have the freedom to wander the store, with one of us following behind, searching for perfect gifts for the four people on their shopping list.
Now, I can’t lie. The first 5-10 minutes of the shopping trip usually involves them seeking out things they personally want.
But with a quick redirect: “Do you think your brother would really like sparkly nail polish? ” they focus back on the task at hand.
To further help combat the gimmes and focus on giving, we also use this Things I Want/Things I Want to Give chart. (You can download it below.)
When they find a gift for me, they put it in my husband’s shopping cart.
When they find a gift for my husband, they put it in mine. And we check out separately, purposefully keeping the gifts a surprise.
Gift Wrapping Is Part of the Tradition that Helps Focus on Giving:
Picking out the perfect gift isn’t enough. With all of the wrapping I have to do, these are the few gifts I don’t wrap. I call each kid into the room to wrap their presents (we use gift bags and tissue to make it easier) and then make cards.
They pick out the bag, the tissue, and spend time making sweet cards for their siblings and parents.
Since my kids are usually focused on unwrapping holiday gifts, focusing on wrapping gifts is something new. They match up the bag to the gift size. They choose tissue color that matches, or mis-matches the bag. And while we’re wrapping, we talk about the gift they chose.
I picked out a “K” pillow for her because she loves my “A” pillow.
I choose slippers because Daddy’s feet are always cold.
I got her the unicorn gumball dispenser because gum comes out of the unicorn’s butt and he thinks butts are funny.
Ugh. It’s the thought that counts, right?
The actual gift sometimes doesn’t make sense to me until they explain their thinking process behind it. But there’s always a reason for the gift.
Including the giant hot pink dice I received one year with “yes,” “no,” and “I can’t decide,” on the sides.
Apparently, they no longer want to leave my really tough parenting decisions, like whether or not they can have a popsicle for a snack, up to my moods. They’d rather take a chance with me rolling the dice to get a 5 pm popsicle.
Did I want the dice? “I can’t decide.” But one of my kids thought it was the perfect gift for me and that’s what matters most.
The Most Important Part of the Tradition
Christmas morning is a frenzy of gift opening, paper flying, and desperately trying to slow my kids down. Plainly put, Christmas morning is a zoo.
So to really focus on giving and on these special gifts that were carefully chosen, we open them–and nothing else–on Christmas Eve.
These thoughtful gifts would easily get “lost” in the craziness of Christmas morning. So while it’s still calm, and before they get overwhelmed with all the other presents, we slowly open these gifts one by one.
And being able to really focus on these gifts and the stories behind why they were chosen is the whole point. It’s not about opening up another present. It’s about my kids watching someone else open with genuine excitement.
Every year, the expressions on the givers’ faces confirm this tradition is a keeper.
My kids are excited to be the first to give their gifts rather than the first to open their gifts.
They bounce up and down in their seats as they hand over their carefully wrapped gifts for us to open. They usually help open the presents too because they can’t contain their excitement any longer.
I always wanted a ‘K’ pillow. Now I’m just like you!! I’m going to sleep with it for-ever!!
The shrieks of delight from their siblings as they open each other’s gifts are priceless.
And then, my favorite part, unsolicited sibling hugs. Actual, real hugs I didn’t beg them to do for a picture. My kids just grab ahold of each other in sheer gratitude.
It melts my heart.
My husband and I watch the scene unfold with tears creeping out of the corners of our eyes.
This is what the holidays are all about.
This is what family is all about.
Because this tradition focuses on and celebrates the power and beauty of gift-giving and thinking of others.
The next morning, we’re back to the gluttony of the holidays: the frenzied gift opening, the opening of new toys and trying not to lose pieces and the snowman wrapping paper flying through the air while I alternate between sipping my coffee and my mimosa.
But for one moment, for one evening, we relish each other and the spirit of giving.
And my new hot pink dice.
Get the Things I Want/Things I Want to Give Printable here to help with the gimmes even more.
Bridget | This Mom Life says
What a great idea! I have 1 kid but I like incorporating him in picking out a present for Mom and Dad. Some else also suggested taking him to pick out a gift for the animal shelter. And we love baking treats to deliver to our neighbors with our Christmas cards. Thanks for sharing!
I loved reading this! Making traditions that can help our kids focus on others, in a world and at an age where it’s common to only think of oneself, is awesome. We are excited to participate in the #familyservicechallenge this year. If your interested you can check it out at http://www.familyservicechallenge.org
Jena | Rooms Need Love says
I love this. My daughter doesn’t have any siblings yet but she’s very close with her cousin. I think we’ll start this tradition with my brother’s family. Thank you!
Nicole Black says
That’s a fantastic way to adapt it to your family! I’d love to hear how it goes! Happy Holidays!
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