N. Leigh Dunlap


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Would your child’s wish list bust a small nation’s defense budget?

Whether your family celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or some combination, most kids have concluded they’re all pretty much about the same thing – getting stuff. So how do you convey to your kids the deeper meaning of the holidays? The particulars will vary with each holiday and each family, but here are a few general pointers.

Be sure what the holidays mean to you. If you’re hard-pressed to see anything in them beyond stress, family conflict and financial strain, you might want to reassess your celebration. What will it take to bring back the meaning for you? Ask yourself what traditions are too stressful? Which ones do you absolutely need to preserve and which ones wouldn’t you miss? Seriously – lose a tradition or lose your mind?

Model the things you feel are important about the holiday. If giving is important to you, give of your time or energy and involve the kids: shovel an elderly neighbor’s sidewalk -- make them help; have them choose something of theirs to contribute to the used toy drive; have them contribute some of their allowance toward gifts. If tolerance is a central value, be tolerant; don’t snarl if someone wishes you happiness for the wrong holiday; stop and enjoy the Christmas lights.

Emphasize people over things. Like any of us, kids are basically looking for happiness and they sometimes come to believe that a particular toy will provide it. But how many of your childhood presents can you recall? As an adult, your memories are probably of family traditions and who took part. Make space for one-on-one time with each kid and for family outings. If that means you won’t have time to bake four dozen cookies – don’t.

Limit the number of gifts your kids may receive. Help kids look at their wish lists with a critical eye: Which things will they treasure most? Which will give them the longest enjoyment? Are there experiences they may want even more -- a concert, a class, a family trip? Put those options out there as a reminder that it doesn’t have to be about “things.”

Did You Know:

The custom of giving holiday presents goes back a couple of thousand years to kalends, a solstice holiday, when Romans would give the emperor presents of…sacred twigs. Makes a game system look really good, huh?