So many people gripe about the commercialization of Christmas
(or Hannukah, or whatever one celebrates at the end of the
year)... Why not just let the public tinsel-and-muzak roll off
your back? ...Right - that's not so easy to do with kids in the
house! Nothing we do is going to keep businesses from dangling
those carrots in front of prospective customers... And for most
people, presents are a big part of the holidays.
But many of us seek more balance, especially when we notice
that -getting- is looked forward to much more than -giving- in
our households. ...What if we make sharing part of the -fun-?
It's a way for children to learn that there -is- meaning beyond
the getting part of gift exchanging. That deeper togetherness-
engendered enjoyment, in fact, is bound to stick in the mind
long after the panoply of toys has faded in memory.
There are so many ways of putting "we" into end-of-the-year
-- Putting on a party at home
A party is a fine way to share with others - and kids, of
course, can help with planning it and making it go smoothly.
Look for ways of making the gathering truly cohesive... Have a
sing-along, go caroling. Play a group game. Have a quilting
party (kids can help with that too). Invite each person to talk
about his or her favorite holiday memories - while sitting
around a bonfire at the beach or in the snow?
Here's an idea... Make a child a wallflower spotter! Kids
usually like to be used as "runners" and intelligence
gatherers... A parent could set things up so that even a shy
child could be an effective icebreaker just by passing an
invitation from mom for a guest to join her in the kitchen.
-- Helping out at someone else's party
If your family is invited to a big wing-ding, offer to arrive
early to set up or stay late to clean up. Yep, kids too! The
Befores and Afters can be billed as (and -be-) mini-parties in
themselves - where sharing in the work is great fun. (Put the
toddlers to sleep in a mini -slumber- party, if need be, while
the dishes get done.)
-- Letting other people help out at -your- party
How is this sharing? ...There are all sorts of people who enjoy
conviviality but -don't- enjoy (maybe even absolutely dread)
the responsibility of putting a party on themselves. Maybe such
a person rues that fact that his apartment is too tiny - or that
her home is so messy and there isn't time to deal with the
clutter. Or maybe they just feel inadequate to plan and manage
things in a gathering... but love to -help-!
Giving them a way to participate - in the planning, and/or the
setup, monitoring, maybe game-leading, cleanup - could be a
huge blessing to these folks. (Not to mention a help to you -
hey, you could actually-enjoy- your party for a change!; -and-
the companionship with the helper/s.) If it were me being asked
by a friend, I'd be delighted - and would certainly feel
specially singled out rather than used. (Yep, I'm one of those
who's a natural-born brainstormer and major domo - but who
stresses out unpleasantly when the whole thing is up to me.)
Giving your kids insight into this - and letting them in on the
-privilege- ( ;^) of sharing in the work - is good exercise for
their own planning and interacting abilities.
-- Focus your party on sharing with others
Some for instances...
Ask your guests to bring food for the local food bank.
If you have a gift exchange, have everyone bring -two- gifts -
one to go to Toys for Tots.
If you have a children's toy exchange, have each child bring two
in-good-shape toys of their own that they're tired of. They'll
take one "new" (used) toy home... the others will be gifts for
less fortunate children of the community.
Or have your party's main activity be -making- gifts/food to
donate to those in need.
-- Taking a party with you somewhere else
Parties can be portable - and there are plenty of other places
where we can have fun... feting others in need of it too, and
not as likely to get much of it. Nursing homes, homeless
shelters, the homes of shut-ins. How about taking the makings
of a party to the police station, or to a children's hospital
I recall a very happy experience of this kind of pleasure as a
young Girl Scout... Our troop made decorations, baked
cupcakes, and wrapped little presents for the inhabitants of a
rest home in our town - and took a Christmas party there. We
sang carols, ate cupcakes and drank punch, and got to open
surprise presents ourselves, as I recall... But we also got
another gift: the chance to make friends with "old people" who
were otherwise hidden away from our ken. And then, of
course, there was the gift of knowing we'd made a difference to
them - you could see it in their eyes.
-- The exchange of presents can be on many layers...
For me, trying to formulate an especially meaningful gift
greatly enhances my pleasure in giving - because I know it has
more impact at the receiving end. Older kids can understand
this too - and can be encouraged to take layers of meaning into
consideration when they choose gifts for others. Putting more
thought into a gift is putting more of -yourself- into the
giving of it.
It's a game! - let's see, how to add another layer to Aunt
Jan's present... A real surprise? A family symbol? Humor?
Something that will last for years? There are many
possibilities - and even toddlers might come up with great (if
perhaps odd ;^) ideas (and the charming oddity would be one of
the layers, of course!).
-- A family gift exchange that includes the children as givers
Family gift exchanges that I hear about usually mean "the
-adults- draw names" - and the kids get presents from
-everybody-. I'm sure that's fine with the kids! - but I think
the children should draw names too. Letting them rake in gifts
from all and sundry without participating as givers takes
something away from them... They don't get to be a "special
buddy" to their allotted loved one - that's the fun part of this
giving arrangement, that this -one- gift can really be given
And it's a great way for a child to learn the nuances of gift-
giving (i.e., sharing themselves with the recipients).
-- And the gifts given -to- children might allow them to share
A group game. A promise of a popcorn-and-movie slumber
party. Chocolate chips and walnuts to take to Granna's house
for a cookie-baking session. A pinata. Stationery. A kit for
making crafts as gifts. Vegetable seeds for a garden, the
output of which is to be shared with a homeless shelter. A
pre-paid calling card to be used for calls to Grandpa.
What a nice tradition, if at least one of a child's presents is
sure to be a sharing gift.
-- Sharing with the critters around us...
Whether as the focal point of a party or just in a family
setting, remembering the wild things during the holidays can be
a delight. I know, they don't know it's Hannukah or Christmas...
But isn't the point of the holiday to focus on our blessings?
Surely one of them is that there are so many wonderful creatures
we share this world with.
Children -love- to put out food and decorations for the birds,
squirrels, etc.! Have a blast making edible garlands and
ornaments for an outdoor tree (or apartment balcony). And
perhaps you won't forget to fill a stocking for the dog or cat?
-- Finally, why do we decorate our homes and property with
lights and other gaiety?
It gives -us- pleasure every time we come home, but it gives to
the whole neighborhood as well. (Surely you've made sure your
kids don't think that you put up all those house decorations in
-competition- with the neighbors. ;^)
One of the most wonderful holiday treats of my past was the
years I lived on a country road where there were no lights...
except during the month leading up to New Year's. Then, a
family with several acres along the twisty road wound little
white lights around trees all along it - driving past their
house at night was like entering fairyland! I never met these
benefactors, but I blessed them each time I went by, my spirits
Sharing does give back to the giver... but sometimes kids (we
-all-) need nudging to see the opportunities for the sowing and
reaping thereof. Incorporating a few into the end-of-the-year
festivities is a great way to make the holidays more meaningful
About The Author
Sherry Gordon is the author of The Sharing Season: Ideas for
a Frugal, -Meaningful- Holiday -
http://www.the-sharing-season.com. (10% of the profits go to
the American Red Cross.) She lives and writes in the Idaho
backcountry and is the developer of the websites
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