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Have Holiday Gifts For Our Children Gotten Out of Control?

(2.5 min read) When I was a child, celebrating Hanukkah was filled with love and joy. I learned about its history, and on each of the eight nights we spent time talking about the destruction of the temple and the miracle of lights. As part of our celebration, we also sang melodic songs, ate delicious fried foods (to symbolize the oil that burned for longer than expected), and let the lights on our menorah shine bright. The festivities continued with gift giving. One gift for each of the eight nights. What’s not to love about that? Especially as a kid.

Regardless of how much I enjoyed Hanukkah, and how special my family made it, it didn’t seem like enough in comparison to Christmas. When shopping for our holiday, a jolly ole Santa was there smiling and holding a sack of gifts while Christmas tunes filled the air.  Television programs showed families gathering around a beautiful tree opening up the neatly wrapped gifts that sat underneath.  As a child, I couldn’t help but wish that our holiday could be more similar to Christmas. Hanukkah didn’t seem like enough.

As a parent, I didn’t want my children to feel this same sense of religious separation. The good news is that it hasn’t been an issue.  The bad news…there seems to be an even greater separation happening: a complete disconnect regarding what the holiday is truly about versus what children seem to think it’s about…presents. This seems to hold true for Christmas as well.

Unfortunately, this theme of “not enough” tends to be a common one for many middle-class children. It appears that the holiday season has been reduced to the materialistic component. While many young children are satisfied with the excitement that comes from tearing open boxes with a wondrous sense of surprise, as they become preteens, it’s often no longer just about receiving presents. It’s about receiving presents they want. God forbid they unwrap boxes to find things they need, like a water-pik, socks, or underwear. Oh no, those are not presents. They are expected items and should not be given as part of this special holiday. Instead, getting name brand, expensive things that every other kid wants (and seems to get – whether in reality or in our children’s minds) is the key to a successful celebration.  It’s natural for children to think about themselves and to be preoccupied with possessions. But it’s a problem that disappointment replaces gratitude when they are not able to check off each specific item they requested.

When did the holidays become an arms race for who receives the newest, shiniest, best, and most expensive ____? (fill in the blank with whatever it may be that year)  I’m pretty sure we all agree that expensive presents aren’t what the holidays are about…not Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa. Let’s be real for a minute here. Is your child going to look back 20 years from now and remember the iphone X, UGG boots, or video game system they received for the holidays? Perhaps. But probably not (especially when each year the presents are of the same caliber). As important as these things may seem in the moment, the satisfaction they provide is ever-so fleeting.  

Entitlement, materialism and keeping up with the Jones’s… these are tough topics to talk about (let alone put out there in a blog!). But I’ve come to realize that it can be particularly difficult to recognize and admit whether we play a role in perpetuating this misguided emphasis on material things. Believe me, I understand that it’s especially challenging when the holiday spirit takes over and we simply want to make our children feel as joyful, loved, and happy as the season makes us feel. But I think many of us have lost our way. Myself included. I do not mean to criticize anyone’s traditions, values, or parenting styles. We all have a reason for the way we choose to celebrate. However, I think it’s important to stop and think about why we are making these choices.  Perhaps we shower our children with gifts because it’s easier to give into them than go against them. Or maybe we do it because we feel pressure to do what everyone else is doing.  Quite possibly it’s a little of both.  There are probably a whole host of other reasons out there as well.

What happens if we take a step back, strip away all of the extra fluff, and create the holiday we want to have, rather than the one we feel like we should have?  

Start by asking these 4 questions:

  • What does the holiday mean for our family?
  • What kind of long-lasting holiday traditions can we create that express our families’ values? *consider what we want our children to remember 
  • How can we put real purpose and feelings into gift giving? *maybe it’s that they are created instead of purchased
  • Is there a more meaningful way to use the money spent typically spent on presents? *perhaps it’s used for an experience or to give to those less fortunate

The answers to these questions are intangible, as are the traditions and experiences we establish. It’s the intangibles that are characteristic of the holiday season. By taking the emphasis off presents, we allow our children to absorb the true spirit of the holidays. Not only are these aspects more likely than gifts to provide that sense of love, joy, and happiness we all want for our families, but they also help to create strong connections among us, and memories that will last a lifetime (and hopefully traditions that will be passed down for generations). 

I know that it might be hard for our children to understand or agree with this change.  It’s a hard concept for adults to believe – that money and material things are not the keys to happiness. For children, they will simply think we are being mean. Allowing them to see some insights into why we are now saying “no” to these material things can be helpful. This video of celebrities sharing their perspective about fame, wealth, and material success is quite powerful and will likely resonate a little more. I highly recommend taking a minute to watch with your children:

Check out this list of 2018 Holiday Family Volunteer Opportunities in Long Island

Don’t live in LI, a simple google search should yield some good results.

Share with us… Our goal is to provide best practices that will aid you in helping your children build character, confidence and life skills. However, we recognize that there is no one size fits all solution for parenting. That’s why we are grateful when we hear questions and comments. It enables us to see new perspectives, and to pass along our learnings to our community.  Please email us at info@GAALSusa.com

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