It’s all about gimme gimme gimme right about now, the middle of Chanukah and three weeks before Christmas. Well, of course it is, because the world—the media, advertisers, merchants—focus our children’s sights on the stuff they’re going to get. Ugh!
In the end it is the experiences that define the holidays. Do you remember what you received when you were 7 or 8 or 9? Not likely. But you do remember what you always used to do with your family, year after year. Experiences in the form of holiday traditions and rituals are family glue. Not only do they hold families together, but they stick long after the gifts have been broken or outgrown. And the experiences of the holiday are what help to diffuse the dreaded gimmes.
Experiences come in all forms:
- Every year on Christmas Eve whole family bundles up in their p.j’s, jumps into the car, and combs the city for the best holiday lights.
- One night of Chanukah each year is game night. The whole family plays Dreidel and other games, the best part being everyone’s participation.
- Every year before Christmas or on Chanukah every family member participates in making the family gift—chocolate covered pretzel sticks—to give to everyone on each family member’s gift list. Who knew Dad was such a good cook?
- Every year at holiday time there is a movie night on which the family snuggles in the den, drinking cocoa with marshmallows, and watches The Miracle on 34th Street.
- Every year on Christmas Eve the whole family squeezes into Mom and Dad’s bed and listens to stories of when they were little at holiday time (or better, of the naughty things you used to do!)
- Every Christmas or Chanukah one gift is hidden, and there is a treasure hunt to find it. The hunt all over the house trumps the gift.
- Every year each family beautifully wraps something of his that is ridiculous (a Barbie arm; a wheel from a broken truck) to give to each of the others.
- Every year the family chooses Secret Elves for whom they will do surprise kindnesses, leaving only a note saying “from your Secret Elf.”
You get the idea. These traditions of the holiday are very things that take the emphasis off the gifts and onto the real fun, the traditions, the family… the experiences that truly make the holidays special.
And experiences make the best gifts of all, the ones that are remembered long after the Star Wars Battleship has come apart. Your child will never forget when her gift from Grandma was going to theater to see The Lion King or when Uncle Jon took him fishing on the pier. Maybe the best gift was a camp-out in the back yard with Daddy or taking knitting lessons with Mom. While the gifts you bought may have sparkled under the tree, they are not necessarily the ones that have the greatest impact, the deepest meaning, but they are the longest remembered.
Experiences speak to children in ways that gifts just can’t. They are interactive. They nurture a child because it is through hands on, active experience that children evolve and grow the most. Experiences are time-released: they are absorbed over time and recalled over and over. They live on in our minds and in our hearts, never to be forgotten. Experiences are about people, and they cement relationships. Nothing lasts as long as a relationship. Experiences stick. They are the gifts that keep on giving.
Experiences of all kinds, whether as gifts or as traditions, are the antidotes to the holiday gimmes. If you haven’t started out this way, it’s not too late. Traditions can begin at any time. Your children will absorb your enthusiasm and excitement. And next year they’ll be the ones looking forward to the experience of the holidays.