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Why Must December Torment Me So?

As a little girl, I’d lay awake (sometimes in my parent’s bed) watching the clock tick round and round for hours.   That dreadful clock.  Dancing butterflies tickled my insides while my brain pleaded with the night to just fall asleep.


When a reasonable hour of morning finally came, I begged to get out of bed.  I always had to wait for my parents to 'check' if he came or not.  The soft jingling of Christmas music was my cue to  round the corner into the living room.  


There was my dad with his coffee, nervously fiddling with the music and my mom sitting with her camera back lit by the warm glowing fireplace.  Rainbow lights reflected on the walls from the tree and Christmas village.  And mountains of presents were perfectly placed among stuffed animals upright in doll beds and stockings so full they slumped sideways on the couch.  Some wrapped in big boxes, several others nakedly waiting for my admiration.  It was picture perfect, overwhelming and everything I’d dreamed about.

 Christmas 2015

So 30 years later, what do I do for my kids?  With environmental pressures and a desire for less stuff, I'm almost in denial that Christmas is upon us. Yet on Christmas morning, I dread to hear the sad voices of my kids saying, "He didn't come". 


In Joshua Becker’s article written early this year, he suggests twelve compelling reasons to reduce the number of toys in our houses.  In short, he explains that toys are significant in teaching our children values.  


But less toys = less presents = less WOW on Christmas morning.  How am I going to reconcile lack of consumerism with my childhood desires, especially when my kids still believe in Santa?


“Wise parents think about the number of toys that children are given,” says Becker. “While most toy rooms and bedrooms today are filled to the ceiling with toys, intentional parents learn to limit the number of toys that kids have to play with.”


I want to be wise and intentional. 


This leads me to make a connection between my actions and my values.  And what are my values anyway?  Before we decide what values we want to teach our kids through toys, and before we go on a Christmas shopping extravaganza, we should know what our values are.


Here are some of my favorites:

  • Honesty
  • Mindfulness
  • Health
  • Humor
  • Making a difference
  • Creativity
  • Positivity
  • Adventurousness
  • Integrity

But how does one choose the MOST important values?  


Seeking some help with this challenge, I downloaded Core Values Assessment worksheet from Darren Hardy's website for the Compound Effect.


Over the past 16 months or so, I’ve revisited this exercise and refined my answers. With a whole list of values to choose from this became a long-term debate in my mind.


When I'm stuck doing double-unders or burpees in cross-training, I often ponder questions like "Do I value health benefits of burpees over sleeping in a warm bed?".



So back to the values.  Here’s what I came up with for myself:

  1. Harmony
  2. Excellence
  3. Ingenuity
  4. Sustainability   


And what does this have to do with toys and Christmas morning?  


Well it tells me that that shopping for loads of plastic-filled toys and gadgets to fill stockings and  provide hours of unwrapping gifts isn't harmonious, excellent, ingenious or sustainable.


So what can I do to bring in the magic?  How can I give more of the experience and less of the stuff, and still answer that butterfly feeling my kids have on the eve of the 25th?  How does Santa show up for them?  


What I can do is focus on the giving and what happens after a gift is unwrapped.  To fill the notorious post-unwrapping lull with sounds of drawing, music making, crafting and group play.  To be there.  Present and laughing and enjoying each other.  


I can emphasize the importance of considering others and brainstorming ways to give.  To recognize what ongoing pleasure we can derive from the gifts we do receive, and to show gratitude for what we are given.


Though Christmas morning will not be the same as when I was a child, we hope to keep the magic, although at a smaller scale.  Perhaps Santa will bring one thing they both want, and we will give a few things everyone needs or can use for a long time.  We will be thoughtful about packaging and try not to buy plastic.  Most importantly, we will set the stage for our meaning of Christmas and modify traditions to sit within the comfort zone.


I hope they remember the blissful mornings we spent together telling stories over tea in their BittyMugs, scrambled eggs from our chickens and Dad's homemade waffles hot off the press.   I want to capture that eagerness of picking an animal for a family across the world so others can live healthy lives.  And to savor the comfort and coziness of sipping hot chocolate together after a long snowy hike in the woods.


Here are a few of the new things we’re doing:

  • Renting an AirBnB in a nearby city where we’ll spend the three days after Christmas with just our family.  This gives us a chance to extend the holiday, step away from chores and the daily monotony, and to explore a new city together.
  • Picking a project to support through Heifer International
  • Donating a gift to a child in need through Linnea’s school
  • Glass straws, metal & glass containers, cotton
  • Making candy canes to give away
  • Adopting a family from Lydia Place (helping homeless citizens become self-sustaining) & letting the kids pick out gifts for them
  • Cooperative board games
  • How-to books on drawing & crafting
  • Music, art or skating lessons
  • Create Annual photo books as gifts for ourselves and grandparents
  • Creating a list of "Ways We can Give" as a family group exercise, and then scheduling out those activities for 2017


Our kids are developing their own set of values and they probably won't match ours exactly.  We just hope that by modeling and discussing our buying decisions, we can influence them in the long-run.


I want them to experience the zeal of anticipation and appreciation of receiving a coveted gift.  And to eliminate the infatuation with temporary “on to the next” mentality. 


And when it comes to toys, and just hanging out at home, they can be creative, and resourceful, and able to find satisfaction with how-to books for weeks and months to come.  At first they might be bored, and that's ok. 


So this holiday season, I encourage you to take a look at your values, and to check out Becker’s article to see if less toys resonates with you.  Perhaps fewer glittery packages under the tree will be a beautiful thing.


P.S. If you're looking for one of those timeless, well-used items, consider a set of BittyMugs for your next gift.  They're plastic free, they teach responsibility, and they give back.  The Little Mugs with BIG Impact.


Heather is the founder of Wildini™, a zero waste company dedicated to supporting animal conservation through eco-friendly products for kids. "As a kid I always wanted to help save wild animals and Wildini is a vehicle to living that dream." says Heather. Heather writes about minimizing waste, animal conservation successes and clever products at Wildini.com.


Dec 22, 2016 • Posted by Anne-Marie Faiola

This is exactly the same conversation with my husband and I had last month when we decided to get the children one large gift only. One single, solitary, gift. Yet, seven days before Christmas, my husband found himself panicking thinking of the children only seeing one gift under the tree. So we compromised and added a few more small to medium size gifts and agreed to do lots and lots of little things in a stocking for them. It’s hard. I want my children to understand how privileged they are, how truly fortunate they are to even get one gift. But then I also don’t want to take away those same happy memories I have from when I was a child of the elaborate Christmas tree piled high with gifts. Thank you for sharing your equally mixed feelings. I can identify.

Dec 11, 2016 • Posted by Jackie Pitman

I love this article..it speaks to me.

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