Today I have an awesome guest post for you from Stephanie with Mama Minimalist. She and I share a lot of similar beliefs when it comes to our kids and the Christmas season and she has some great things to consider before wrapping all your presents this year!
Bare feet pitter pattering down the hall. Pig piles in Mommy and Daddy’s bed, then bear hugs and wet smooches. High-pitched squeals and cheeky grins – all amidst the backdrop of a twinkling Christmas tree, no less. These are what parents’ dreams are made of.
Mothers and fathers alike desire happy children and that’s why, on Christmas morning, they pile gifts underneath the tree. Indeed, for both the religious and the secular, the essence of Christmas is joy and love. Offering gifts has become the prominent means to express these ideals.
Consider last year’s Christmas at my house, when my oldest daughter was almost three years old. Ani awoke to quite a spectacle: boxes wrapped in shiny bows overflowed the space underneath the tree and spilled into the hallway. There were presents from my husband and me, of course, and there were dozens from each set of grandparents. There were many more still more from her great-grandmother, aunts and uncles.
Ani dutifully opened gifts at first, first untying the bows then carefully removing the paper. Each gift received wide-eyed wonder.
But as the morning went on, Ani grew weary. Unwrapping left her overstimulated and fatigued. We paused the festivities to cook and serve breakfast; afterwards, we went back to the tree and the unopened presents strewn underneath.
My husband and I shared a look. We knew intrinsically that we would never be able to top this year’s spectacle. I grew anxious at the mere thought of attempting it, and I found myself wondering at what point our gifts no longer special but are expected.
Sometime after lunch, as Ani continued to open gifts but had considerably slowed, I observed something heart-breaking: Ani was no longer smiling. Indeed, the grin she sported upon first seeing the presents had extinguished.
It was then I realized something had to change. Although the gifts had been given with such love, they did not offer lasting happiness.
As it turns out, this scenario is common in many households on Christmas morning. The transience of happiness even has a fancy name: Hedonic adaptation. While children may receive a burst of happiness in viewing (and perhaps even after opening) presents under the tree, their levels of happiness quickly and inevitably recede to their original levels. That’s because we as humans are wired to adapt to things we are constantly exposed to.
As parents, what do we do?
To the chagrin of advertisers, the answer has nothing to do with purchasing more toys. Indeed, the answer to hedonic adaptation is actually quite simple: Return the holidays to their roots and create the essence of the season – that joy, that love – through experiences.
This strategy – to favor experiences over stuff – is backed by research. Indeed, both children and adults alike receive greater levels of positive emotion from experiences than material possessions. Better, experience-related happiness is the kind that lasts and sustains. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
It can be argued that Christmas morning is an experience itself since it only occurs once per year. I agree and, as such, I do not advocate for a gift-free holiday. Indeed, my husband and I have quietly adopted a gifting strategy. It’s the Want-Wear-Need-Share-Do-Read strategy of gift giving and, this year, each of our children will receive a total of six presents:
Want: A gift that attempts to satisfy my child’s greatest want
Wear: A wearable gift. Clothes, hats, winter gear, et cetera are all fair game
Need: A gift that satisfies a real need
Share: A gift for everyone to enjoy, such as a gigantic set of Legos or a new swing set
Do: An experiential gift in which the entire family creates lasting memories by doing something together
Read: A book or magazine
December is an excellent opportunity to have conversations about what is both important and necessary. It is also a great time to give our children our most precious gift: our time.
If, like me, you want to instill lasting happiness this season, consider re-creating the following old-fashioned holiday experiences with your children:
1. Make a popcorn garland
2. Make birdseed ornaments to hang outside
3. Create Christmas cards for community helpers
4. Volunteer at a food pantry
5. Bake and decorate cookies
6. Host a game night
7. Make a recipe book with your children and fill it with your family’s favorite holiday foods
8. Create kid-friendly Christmas crafts distribute to those you love
9. Donate old clothes and blankets to you locale humane shelter
10. Do something kind for a neighbor
Wishing all families a joyous December!
Stephanie Seferian is a New England-based wife, blogger and mother to two spirited daughters. She loves to get creative in the kitchen with her preschooler, Ani, and hike with her Yallow Lab. She is on a mission to minimize obligation and clutter in ways that are both incremental and sustainable. In hopes of taking back the season, Stephanie is running a free “12 Days of Christmas” holiday challenge to make Christmas less about gifts and more about giving. You can find more info and sign up for this free challenge here.