Awhile back, someone asked me to write about how to avoid greediness and cultivate a giving spirit in our children at Christmas time. While I by no means think we have mastered this topic in our household, I thought I would share a few tips we have learned from others along the way and hope they are a blessing to you.
A Selfless Spirit Doesn’t Start at Christmastime
Children are born selfish. For you mothers out there, this is no new news, I’m sure! A selfless spirit needs to be cultivated. If you have waited until now, it’s a little late to expect fantastic results within the next 25 days. Covetousness and greediness need to be kept in check all year long. And not just in the little hearts of our children, but also in ours! Here are some ideas to help in this department:
- We try to avoid the use of the word “fair” in our house. There is nothing wrong with it, but I don’t like the modern-day connotation it brings…that everything needs to be divvied out equally amongst the children/persons in our house. We often say, “It wasn’t fair that Jesus died on the cross. So we’re not going to focus on being fair either.”
- We don’t have access to regular television programming in our house, and I think this has cut down tremendously on the “gimmes” in our children. They don’t see toy commercials and are just plain ignorant to what is the latest and greatest toy. I don’t frequently take them up and down the aisles of toy stores or big box stores, so they are largely unaware of what is out there. There is nothing wrong with some of the latest toys, but I don’t think that putting toys and eye candy in front of them is going to cultivate a selfless spirit. The same goes for adults, by the way. If catalogs cause a problem with covetousness, get rid of them as soon as they show up in the mailbox.
- Practice gift-giving and receiving manners before Christmas gatherings. Sit down with your kids and talk about what is going to happen at so-and-so’s holiday get-together and practice handing out presents to others first and in a mannerly way. Then practice saying thank you for a gift and not asking for another one when everyone is opening up presents. This might seem silly, but it is very hard for small children not to get excited and greedy when wrapping paper is flying everywhere!
Make the Season about People
Focus on giving to others. Remind them often that the people in our lives are more important than things. And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. (Luke 12:15)
- Sit down with your children and make a list of people that they can make some craft-presents for this year, and then spend the month working on your projects. (Think of teachers, friends, relatives, neighbors, community workers that they interact with.) The internet is a tremendous resource for low-cost easy crafts for kids.
- Schedule a day or two to visit shut-ins or a nursing home to deliver your little gifts or a plate of cookies!
- Let the kids be involved in making, signing, stuffing and stamping your Christmas cards
- The last few years, I have stocked up after Christmas on inexpensive and then marked-down wooden or plaster Christmas crafts. They LOVE these little things and they enjoy wrapping them up and giving them out even more! (Plus they keep the kids quiet and give mama a little bit of Christmas peace during the month too!)
- Invite a loved one over for a special baking day or to decorate for Christmas
- Talk frequently about how much fun it will be to see grandma open up the presents that you are making for her. Or chat about what they could make that would bring grandpa the most happiness. Talk about the likes of others and how important they are to you, rather than drawing up long personal wish lists.
Plan for some “Non-Monetary” Activities
It’s important to establish some Christmas memories and create some of your own family traditions. Think of ways to establish non-monetary or low-cost Christmas traditions…ones where the family is all together not focusing on presents and things. For example:
- Baking and crafting days fall into this category, of course. So does having a “wrapping party” to wrap all of your little treasures for others! Listen to some Christmas music and munch on Christmas goodies with some hot cocoa while you do it. Let the kids make their own wrapping paper by finger painting or decorating unprinted craft or newspaper.
- Go on a family lights tour. You can pay to go through a “Lights in the Park” type of a tour or some other illuminated destination. Or you can simply have daddy drive you through several neighborhoods! (We’ve done both.) We like to bake special cookies to take and eat while on our lights tour. The newspaper is a great resource for especially exciting light displays. Last year, the local paper printed several different self-guided tours of home light displays. Our kids got a real charge out of them, and have talked about the memorable stops all year long. The whole experience cost us nothing but a little bit of gasoline and an evening!
- We like to open up a new game or group activity to play together during Christmas break
- Let the kids camp out one night under the Christmas tree, complete with flashlights, sleeping bags and a fire in the fireplace, if possible. This is becoming a tradition in our house and one that the kids begin anticipating in October!
- Go caroling in your neighborhood or at a nursing home (call ahead and OK it with the activities director). Take some cookies and tracts and distribute them while you carol!
- As your children get older, involve them in planning your special Christmas morning breakfast or the menu for your annual Christmas party. Planning and preparing special recipes together make some wonderful Christmas memories and focus on serving and pleasing others!
- Plan one Christmas-themed adventure each year. This idea isn’t necessarily no-cost, but it’s one that still focuses on an experience as a family, rather than a thing. Go to a Christmas-themed musical, drama, Handel’s Messiah, or symphony. These have been some of our children’s best Christmas memories! Creating poignant Christmas memories that involve activities help children associate Christmas with people rather than only presents.
Some Practical Ideas in the Present Department
- Avoid making presents about a dollar amount. Some children are very easy to please and have inexpensive taste. If such is the case in your house, then by all means capitalize on it! If they prefer a cheap dollar store toy, stickers, and a bag of candy for Christmas then go for it! You’re not cheating them out of better toys if that’s what floats their boat! And there is no reason to purposely buy them more expensive items just because another child is getting something more costly.
- Some parents prefer to limit their gift-giving to three presents per child, because that is the number of presents that baby Jesus received.
- Some folks like to keep presents and materialism to a minimum at Christmas time and do up birthdays really big instead.
- Don’t feel badly about giving them inexpensive or even used items. If you find something at Goodwill or a yard sale that your child will just love, wrap it up and put it under the tree! Don’t create a materialistic spirit in your children by teaching them that they can’t be happy unless they have the newest, latest and greatest.
- We like to give (and receive!) books at Christmas! Books invariably show up under our Christmas tree for young and old alike. Keep your eyes open for them all year long at book sales, yard sales, and elsewhere. One year, I wrapped up a whole bunch of books individually, and then the children got to open up a book-a-day in the weeks leading up to Christmas. They loved it because they got to unwrap items frequently (which is really most of the excitement for children!) and then they could enjoy each book more thoroughly rather than opening them all up on Christmas morning.
- Ask for useful presents from relatives. Maybe you have the “problem” of receiving too many toys and presents from generous and loving family members. If they ask for gift ideas, suggest practical items like a car seat, a winter coat, some needed church clothes that you haven’t been able to find on sale, or small furniture items. My kids have been thrilled to open up a cool, new booster seat for the car!
- Employ the out-of-sight, out-of-mind principle. If your kids can’t stop thinking about presents during December, don’t put the presents under the tree for them to drool over all month. Encourage them to fill the space under the tree with the treasures that they are creating for others!
- Make a special time during December to make presents for each other or go on a special shopping trip to the dollar store. My kids LOVE picking out presents for each other and mommy and daddy and they think the dollar store is just great! It’s the thought, not the price tag, that counts!
I hope some of these ideas are a help to you as you seek to cultivate a spirit of giving in your home! Perhaps you have some great ideas on this topic, please feel free to share them in the comments section below!