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  • Abundance, or clutter? Buying, or giving?

    Today while Z is off to the car show with her Daddy (what can I say, the girl loves cars),  I will be scooting around town with A, finishing up the Christmas shopping. Luckily A is still small enough that even if she remembers seeing me buy a gigantic stuffed Nemo,  she won’t be able to say anything coherent about it Christmas morning. (You know, other than “feesh! feesh!”)

    (Disclaimer: I usually don’t have all the shopping done this early. But this year I  felt driven to get all of the shopping done before Thanksgiving, a goal which I obviously didn’t meet. I’m not sure if we’re going to get hit by the flu, or what, but I’ve really felt like I need to get it all done and finished. )

    My husband and I come strongly from the school of “more is more” at Christmas.  We agreed before Z’s first Christmas that when Santa came, he left a BUNCH of toys, (even though you only get to ask him for one).  There’s just something symbolic in a loving, kind man, who gives you plentiful gifts, simply because he loves you and because you tried hard to be good.

    In preparation for  the new things the girls are receiving, I cleared out a bunch of toys that they no longer play with, and in the process, realized that a lot of the toys that were hardly ever played with were those I bought at Christmas time LAST year, in an attempt to either balance out what the two girls were getting, or to just fatten out the pile. What I really ended up doing was just fattening up their room.

    So this year I’m focusing. They’re each getting their “big” toy (and a couple others), and the rest will be things I think they’ll actually use, not just filler.  I’m going for puzzles and games over cheapie plastic toys.   Books instead of junk.  Clothes instead of a repeat of something they already have.

    I read somewhere that at Christmas each kid should get something to play with, something to wear, and something to read. I really like that.

    Besides the girls, we have a decent sized extended family that everyone buys for, and of course, I usually over buy there too. (Remember that whole “gifts love language”? That was me.)  So I went really simple on presents this year, trying to focus on one thing that each person would really like.  And for the most part, I think I succeeded.

    And the result of all this? I feel like the things I’m giving will really be gifts, not just stuff. Hopefully they will have meaning to the recipient, but even if they don’t, they have meaning to me.  They really will be an expression of my love and understanding of the person I’m giving them to, not just an expression of my largesse.  And with all the presents purchased at the beginning of December, hopefully I can focus on some other elements of the season, like giving to those who could really benefit from it.

    How is your gifting going?  Do you have any great go-to gifts the rest of us could benefit from? What do YOU want for Christmas?

    6 Responses to “Abundance, or clutter? Buying, or giving?”

    1. Brandy says:

      This is fascinating, Maryanne! I came from the “less is more” school. I remember one year when I came back from Christmas break a boy asked me what I got for Christmas. I told him that I got roller skates, and he said, “What else?” I looked at him blankly :) We got one gift from Santa, a stocking of treats, and then gifts from family. The focus was on food and family and “it’s the thought that counts”. I love getting gifts, but I almost never buy them for others, I think because I worry about “buying” someone’s affection, maybe? But what I do, each year this weekend, is send Christmas cards. I love letting folks know I’m thinking of them :)

      I’d love a Christmas card…

    2. Hilary says:

      I love this. I remember early Christmases in my family the pile of gifts under the tree spilled over. But over the years we’ve scaled back. We couldn’t sustain it, and I think we didn’t want to, either. Since I joined the church I’ve wanted this season to be more about Christ, and I’ve slowly started doing some things that create that, but I definitely feel that I haven’t yet established “Our Christmas” traditions yet. Now that Adam is getting a little older I find myself leaning towards the “less is more” camp. I LOVE the idea you shared of “each kid should get something to play with, something to wear, and something to read.” I think I may steal that. I like the stories of Christmases for poor farmers, etc., long ago where gifts were mostly food and much needed clothing. We’ll see how it all pans out for us. And, by the way, I really like your idea of giving your children a feeling of abundance.

    3. Carolyn says:

      We often got one big gift from Santa, plus a stocking filled with stuff you didn’t usually see – the most perfect apple and orange, Black Jack and Clove gum, a candy cane and other distinctive treats, plus nuts. Most of our gifts were from our parents, with one each from our siblings. Mom always made the girls a nightgown and the boys pajamas, which we got to open on Christmas Eve.

      Our gifts were usually not as extravagant as some of the ones our friends got. I remember being very impressed when my friend bought her Mom scented soap from a department store(!) for Christmas. We tended to get more clothes than other presents – including mundane necessities like socks and underwear.

      But with 5 kids, the presents still added up to a “vulgar display” under the tree, as my sophisticated uncle called it. There were times when one of us was more interested in playing with the box than with the toy that came in it, which kind of dampened the enthusiasm for giving multiple toys.

      We eventually adopted a family friend’s tradition of opening gifts one at a time (after the obvious, unwrapped gifts from Santa and the stockings) with everyone paying attention to the person who got the gift (with a “thank-you” to the giver). The thought of a kind old man who gives you lots of gifts just because he loves you is lovely in a grandfatherly kind of way. But it’s nice if your family loves you, too.

      We didn’t usually give gifts to extended family, other than holiday foods. My mother doesn’t give her grandkids a present every year (except for the little ones). The other kids may get a card with $5.00. But when it’s each child’s turn for a “real” present, it’s a meaningful one – a violin, an electric piano, etc. She also takes each child on a trip when they turn 12.

      We always visited, talked with or wrote to extended family during the Christmas season. We also visited, as a family, a few of my parents’ adult friends – including a couple of their former college roommates who lived in different towns. Somehow, we knew that it was important to visit family and close friends at Christmastime. This taught us that our parents had interests outside the nuclear family, but that they did not intend to separate those interests from the family. When I was small, some of my parents’ seemed quite impressive and even exotic.

      Though I’m sure that some members of my family had “issues” with others, these seemed not to be important during holiday visits. Everybody seemed to get along. Sort of like there was an expectation of a truce between any family members who had a disagreement. Not sure how this happened. We visited one aunt and uncle who entertained his relatives on one floor of the house and her relatives on the other. Worked out fine.

      I’ve since learned that the harmony I observed isn’t always found in extended families. I don’t know if the lack of expectation for the exchange of gifts had anything to do with the harmony I saw, But our visits with family were generally very relaxed events. Now that I think back, we learned how to appreciate the personalities of our adult relatives during these visits. The adults seemed to be at the center of these gatherings, with the kids finding ways to entertain themselves or each other. Sort of balanced out the child-centered Christmas morning.

    4. Maryanne says:

      Carolyn,
      I should add that the girls also get presents from us, and they’ll get a present each that they “pick” out for each other. (Z will pick one for A, A pointed in the general direction of something yesterday, so I went with it.) We also employ the practice of opening those presents one at a time, with appropriate thank you’s – my parents started that, because otherwise it just disintegrates into an orgy of toys instead of being a gift exchanging process.

      I’m really interested in your mom’s approach to gifting for the grandkids; at what age does that start? My grandma sent each family money, which translated into $5 each Christmas for each of us, which we goodnaturedly joked about, but with the passel of grandkids she had, even that would have been pricey. So I like the idea of one meaningful gift —

      I’m also like the idea of visiting with adults… I need to think about that.

      Thanks everyone, for your comments so far!

    5. Carolyn says:

      We had at one time in our family, something like the “orgy of toys” atmosphere when gifts were opened. The other way is nicer.

      About the visits with adults, my parent’s friends took an interest in me and my siblings because we belonged to our parents – even though they weren’t relatives. They told us stories about our parents. My parents took an interest in their friends’ children, too. We sometimes saw these children during such visits, but shyness between the kids prevailed. Perhaps we were embarrassed while being appreciated by the adults. But that appreciation was a good thing.

      My Mom’s trip with each grandchild is at a fixed age, but the “meaningful” gift is not. It’s something related to each child’s interests and progress. My Mom is a cello player, but learned to fiddle so she could teach the grandkids who lived nearby, and my sister in another state teaches fiddling to her own kids (writes books on fiddling, too.) Though one son plays mandolin instead. When a child is ready for an instrument, they get one from Grandma. For the non-musical kids, she has to watch for other aptitudes: her gifts are something to bring richness to the child’s life, and usually include an expectation of her future involvement.

      The grandkids soon get they idea that they have to be ready to participate by using the gift. They may even express an interest when they feel ready. The first grandkid got a quarter-sized violin when quite young, then half sized, as instruments were passed down the line. The full-sized violin is a permanent gift. Grandma has to scout out good instruments, so it has been hard to pick a fixed age at which she would give one to a grandchild. But each grandchild who wanted an instrument knew that Grandma was trying to find the best one for them

      I’m sure that her methods wouldn’t work for all grandparents.

      One of my uncles wrote a song for each of his grandchildren. Each song was very different from the others and was sort of an expression of his enchantment with the personality of each child. Poems, fantasy stories featuring the “focus” child, special videos and other family history types of gifts at a certain age are another possibility.

      One of our friends is now writing a children’s book in which the names of her grandkids show up as the names of the non-starring characters.

      One special holiday food from Grandma and Grandpa, given yearly, may also leave more lasting memories than toys, etc. Especially if it’s a family recipe passed down to Grandma and Grandpa.

    6. Carolyn says:

      Just got another great idea from a friend who told the Christmas Story to kids at our branch party, using “Maurice”, a hand-puppet camel who belonged to one of the Wise Men. The year she told her own kids the Christmas Story using Maurice, each child got a “Maurice” puppet as a Christmas present, to be kept in a “future family” box for each child. This connects gifts to family experiences, which can be remembered when the child opens the box to add new items, and even repeated when the child is grown up and out on their own.

      Other things which could go into a “future family” or “future Christmas” box for little ones might include gifts from extended family which could fit in a photo album: photos, recipes, family letters, favorite quotes, personal letters, etc. When we got married, my Aunt Shirley gave us a recipe book which contains her recipe for Date Nut bread, which she always served when we visited at Christmas. And my Mom’s Boiled Raisin Cake, her substitute for Christmas Fruitcake. And recipes from Aunt Beverley and other women in the community. Precious because they’re connected to people and experiences.

      One year my piano teacher made for each of her daughters a bound favorite quote book, with some quotes in her handwriting, some pasted in. She made a smaller one for me. Precious.

      Other “experience” or “connection”: gifts might include tickets to the Nutcracker or “A Christmas Carol”, or even a sporting event. My Dad’s side of the family had a slide show every year – family photos only. Fun (now) to remember when Ted and Marlene’s family all had the flu at Christmas one year. They didn’t look as elegant as they normally do. It’s important to have pictures of each child who will attend in the slide show. These days, each child (and adult) present could be given a print of one of the slides.