Holiday Gifting

Gifting with Love

I was shocked last year when my seven-year old daughter glibly presented me with a laundry list of expensive toys she expected for the holidays. We all seem to be struggling with the consumerism that has taken over a holiday season that should be about generosity and love. There are no magic formulas for avoiding the incessant “I wants!” which are as prevalent as pumpkin spice everything this time of year. However, I have a few suggestions for making gifting a bit more purposeful. You may even avoid some temper tantrums in the process.

We are our kids’ best teachers

It works out nicely that holiday season coincides with end-of-year charitable giving. As you consider which causes you are going to support this year, why save these discussions for late-night dish washing with your spouse? Rather, find ways to include your children actively in these conversations. Even at a young age, children should hear their parents considering the needs of people in the larger world. For example, do we support local, national, or global needs? What’s more important: hunger, literacy, or culture? They should see you writing your checks or giving on-line. Your kids should know that charity is a part of your family’s yearly budget and that you take seriously the process of giving to others.


We started an annual holiday tradition of an IOU family grab bag. Everyone (even the four-year old) gets a name and is responsible for 1) figuring out something helpful or special they can do for that person and  2) creating an actual IOU note with their favorite arts n’ craft materials of the moment (I’m kind of dreading the request to use slime this year). This is an opportunity for everyone to think carefully about something they can do – not buy! – to make one of their family member’s happy. Here are some suggestions to get you started: half-hour extra help with cleaning, ice-cream party for breakfast, (school!) night out on the town, making lunches for the whole family, sharing a favorite toy, cooking a special dish, and tech help for the older folk. My kids have learned that they have the capacity to give, that everyone in our family counts, and that not all gifts are wrapped.

 Family Gift

A few years ago, our neighbors started the tradition of an annual family holiday gift. Over their Thanksgiving vacation, they collectively decide on something either to buy or do as a family. The first year it was an ice-cream maker, but the next year it was tickets to a concert for the teenagers. My kids are younger so we have opted for things like board games, popcorn maker, and amusement parks. The process of choosing what you’re going to do as a family is fun and setting aside time to do things together is priceless (even if the mac n’ cheese flavored ice-cream is a flop).

Gift for grandparents 

In many families, the grandparents do the “heavy lifting” when it comes to gifts. My kids adore their grandparents but easily fall into the trap of thinking that their grandparents’ lives revolve around them. Ask your children questions like: what are Grandma’s favorite things to do in the winter? What kinds of books and music does Grandpa enjoy? What is Grandma’s favorite color and food? Your children can even pose some of these questions to the grandparents themselves. Finding a gift that will make a grandparent happy is a great opportunity for your kids to step outside themselves and consider the needs and wants of some of their favorite people.

Thank you Notes

There are so many people in your family’s life who help you pull it all together and get from one day to the next. These might be your child’s teacher, a neighborhood shopkeeper, the bus driver, your pediatrician and dentist, the secretary in school, and, of course, your babysitter. Whether you’re giving holiday bonuses to some of these superheroes or not, you can sit down with your kids and have them write a note (or illustration on your note) to one or more of them. We’re not talking Shakespeare or Hemingway: a short, sweet, and specific expression of gratitude will suffice. Your kids will learn how to use words to express appreciation and how a simple thank you goes a long way in making people happy.

It is my hope that our children will walk away from the holidays happy with their own gifts, but equally important, enriched with some life lessons about giving. Happy holidays!