For as long as I can remember I have loved Christmas. As a child I used to take red and green construction paper and string Christmas chains all over the house. When I was a teenager and had a paper route I saved up money to buy Christmas lights. I was a little Clark W. Griswold in training.
Each year I could hardly wait to see the pile of presents under the tree on Christmas morning.
As my wife and I have begun to develop our own family traditions we have largely followed suit. But over the past few years we have largely simplified and de-cluttered our lives. In the beginning this started out of practicality. We were going through a rough time. We were downsizing. And we simply had less money for gifts.
Our simplification has now moved beyond practical and into philosophical.
And hence the question was prompted: What are we going to do about Christmas?
Does piling a bunch of presents under the tree really match up with our family travel lifestyle? Does the tradition of heaping piles of boxes and bags under a tree help instill in our kids what we value most as a family?
Before I go any further I want you to understand 2 things:
- I am not against things. In fact, I rather like things. Most of all, I like things that are really nice. Just not a lot of things and I don’t like the idea of things taking over my life. If my garage has so much stuff that I can’t pull the car in the garage, I have too many things.
- This isn’t an anti-Christmas thing. I love Christmas. I want Christmas to be an incredibly special time for my kids. I want Christmas morning to be special for my kids. I’m excited and I want them to be as excited as I am.
Our kids are 4 and 2, so there’s still time for us to think very intently about this topic before our family’s approach to Christmas becomes instilled. Whatever we do over the next few years becomes the tradition. Trying to change things up when the kids are 13 and 11 would be a totally different dynamic.
I also want to point out that our family Christmas traditions are not be limited to what’s under the tree on Christmas morning. We have lots of traditions surrounding the holidays. What I want to address now though is the stuff that ends up under the tree to be opened on Christmas morning.
This discussion was largely prompted by the fact that both of our kids have autumn birthdays. Our kids were so excited to receive each package. They were excited as they tore the paper. And they loved the toys… for a few days.
Then I realized that I have observed in my kids to an extreme something that I as an adult do more subtly.
Here’s what my kids do:
- They really want something.
- They receive that something.
- They are really excited about that something.
- They love that something.
- They guard that something against someone else getting it.
- They forget that something.
- That something is gone and they don’t care.
With a few very special exceptions this process takes place. The process can take a few hours or a few weeks.
We buy our kids stuff. When they don’t love the stuff we think that we just have to keep buying more stuff until we find that thing that they’ll really love.
What we don’t realize is that no toy is going to make them happy.
Here’s how the process takes place for me as a “grown-up”:
- I really want something.
- I receive/buy that something.
- I am really excited about that something.
- I love that something.
- I guard that something against it being stolen or damaged.
- I forget that something.
- That something is gone and I don’t care.
With a few very special exceptions this process takes place. While it usually takes no more than a few weeks for my kids, for me and my fellow “grown-ups” that process can take between a few weeks and a few years. Although sometimes it happens in a few minutes!
When we buy something that does not make us happy we think that we must just need something else.
What we don’t realize is that no toy is going to make us happy.
Are you ready to call me Uncle Scrooge yet?
While I’m not against things I have become acutely aware of how cluttered our lives can become with things. And I am aware of how ineffective things are to bring any lasting happiness or real meaning to our lives.
What about Christmas? Am I planning on barricading the chimney and not letting Santa in to deliver that bag full of presents for the kids?
In the end this was a really easy thing for my wife and I to settle on. We’ll get them gifts that match our active lifestyle and gifts that encourage our enduring quest to live a family travel lifestyle. My wife and I have long transitioned from buying one another gifts to buying one another experiences. Ever since we were married we decided that rather than buying one another anniversary gifts that we would share an experience together. The past 2 years I have taken my wife to Disneyland without the kids for her birthday. Last year my wife got me a new ski-helmet for my birthday. But the real gift was arranging to have the kids watched for the day so we could go skiing together.
I’m not going to barricade the chimney. But I am hoping that the presents Santa does pile under the tree are experiential based.
Memberships to zoos and museums are great gifts. It may be hard for our kids to get excited about a membership card under a tree. So we’ll tie the card on a bow around a stuffed animal.
Snow-shoes shaped like bear claws are not only worth being excited about on Christmas morning but they’ll provide us fun adventuring as a family all winter long. And the thing I am perhaps most excited about getting the kids for Christmas this year? Their own suitcases. These kids’ suitcases from Melissa and Doug are really fun. And this year we’ll begin the process of helping them pack on their own.
Whatever you decide to do for Christmas, I am really happy that my wife and I have thought very intently about how we can ensure what we do on Christmas morning matches up with our broader goals as a family.
This post was part of a series of post written by families on the move. Check out these other posts by families trying to ensure their Christmas morning matches up with what they value most:
What about you?
What’s your family’s approach to gifts at Christmas? Have you thought about how your traditions at Christmas align with your broader goals as a family and what you value most? Your answer may not be the same as ours–and that’s okay! But ask yourself that question and think about it. Tell us what you think.
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