Hope you enjoy my new column from this month’s Seattle’s Child. Would love to hear what traditions you’re starting with your family this year–big or small!
Last Christmas, my five-year-old had exactly three things on her list for Santa: a diary, a set of jacks, and a Pillow Pet.
I have to admit, that seemed a little skimpy to me. So throughout the coming weeks, I found myself offering suggestions and pointing out things in catalogs, trying to bulk up her order. Did she want a jewelry box? New slippers? A Barbie? Finally, a more experienced mom helped to snap me out of it. “Are you crazy?” she asked. “The day’s coming when you have to outbid everyone on eBay to get a specific-model-number Lego set, so enjoy the simplicity while it lasts.”
I did a very quick 180 that day, and it got me thinking about how I present the idea of the holidays to my kids. Suddenly, I saw what an opportunity I had in front of me. With a new or young family, Christmas is a clean slate. My five- and two-year-old girls, for example, had no lofty expectations of how many gifts they would receive, nor did they have set ideas of what our activities should be. They didn’t even know what Christmas dinner ought to be! What they were excited about was the ideaof Christmas – colored lights, time off from school, treats, the chance of snow, Santa on the roof. Did it matter to them whether their gifts totaled $30 or $300, whether we went to big-ticket performances or a neighborhood puppet show? Not in the slightest. It was up to me to show them what the holidays look like for our family.
It’s time to take advantage of this, people. For many of us, becoming parents means that for the first time, we get to start our own traditions in our own houses. Even if we’ve flown home to the east coast all of our lives, when babies come, we often get a free pass to nest with our own family and do our own thing. Finally, we can have lasagna and martinis for Christmas dinner if we want, and no one will be the wiser! We can watch Christmas Vacation instead of It’s a Wonderful Life! Halleluiah! It’s funny, then, how we often find ourselves simply repeating the familiar traditions we grew up with – even those we don’t like.
“The formal Christmas dinner was always stressful at my house, growing up,” shares a dad I know. “It was my least favorite thing as a kid. Yet somehow, I instigated it myself because it seemed like what I was supposed to do once I had a family.” After killing themselves by pulling this off with a newborn, the next year they started their own tradition: a self-serve potluck lunch and a batch of Bloody Marys, which allowed for more mingling and less prep and clean-up. It’s now a Christmas day tradition at their house, and their whole family loves it.
My advice to you this year is to take a moment to think about what memories are most meaningful for you and your partner, and to talk about what you want the holidays to be, for you and for your kids. You might settle on some small things, like a cookie-making party with your neighbors, or bigger ones, like working at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve. The important thing is that you put intention behind it, and realize that you have a rare opportunity to start annual rituals that your kids will look forward to … at least until they have their own kids and decide to change everything.
Here are some ideas I’m working toward this year. I’d love to hear yours.
- Shop local – Hit our many wonderful craft fairs and neighborhood stores, and if it’s age-appropriate, involve your child in choosing gifts for others. It beats schlepping the kids to a big shopping center any day.
- Introduce charity – Involve your kids in the concept of giving, from picking a needy child’s name off a tree to weeding out toys to donate. A friend of mine takes her kids and their red wagon around her block every year to gather food bank donations from neighboring houses.
- Get together – Start simple, homespun traditions that gather friends or neighbors, like cookie decorating, making snowflakes for the windows, or having a progressive party.
- Get creative – Save money on wrap, cards, and décor by having your children decorate butcher paper with markers and glitter that you probably already have on hand. It’s an activity and a money-saver – plus your kids will be proud and the recipients charmed.
- Experience gifts – In lieu of an expensive present, choose a shared experience that involves time together, like a ski trip, a membership to the aquarium, or theater tickets.