I love Christmas. I love the family gatherings, the cookies, the lights and most of all — I love the magic glimmer in children’s eyes as they anticipate the excitement of the holiday season.
When I think back to my favorite Christmas memories from years past, a few things stick out. Like the years my dad would get off from work early on Christmas Eve to take me to feed the animals at a live manger scene. Or listening to my older brother shake jingle bells while screaming, “Ho, ho, ho!” after I’d gone to bed on Christmas Eve night.
I was the youngest of four, so the entire family tried to keep the magic of Santa alive for me as long as possible. For their sake, I pretended to still believe years after I knew the truth.
It’s hard for me to remember many of the gifts that I received. In fact, only two really stick out. The first was the red bed tent my brother gave me for Christmas when I was seven. I was always afraid to sleep at night and that bed tent made me feel so protected.
The second gift I remember receiving was a Swatch Phone for my room when I was 13. It had two receivers, which allowed me and one friend to talk to the same person at the same time. It was yellowish green, transparent and sleek. My remaining teenage years would have been much different without that stylish miracle that connected me to my friends.
My dad went absolutely crazy on Christmas. He had a Christmas savings account to which he would contribute all year. On Christmas morning, we could barely get into the family room to open our gifts. It was exciting and magical.
But other than the two gifts mentioned above, I honestly don’t remember much of the “stuff” that I received for Christmas. By contrast, I fondly remember every single family trip we ever took (from the age of five or so on).
This year, Kirk and I are trying something a little different for Christmas. For our kids, I want to keep the magic and excitement alive that I experienced as a child — but I want to package it a little differently. We’re still going to buy a couple of gifts for our sons, but we’re going to primarily focus on experience – rather than material — gifts this year.
For example, we’re surprising our seven-year old with the soccer lessons he’s been asking for.
And remember back in August when I mentioned that we were going to try and plan a budget trip to a beach with the best seashells? We’ve decided to skip our emergency fund deposit this month and instead surprise the kids with early spring plane tickets to Sanibel Island, Florida.
Sure, we aren’t actually taking the trip until March, but the anticipation of a pending beach mini-vacation is one of the best ways to get through a blustery Ohio winter!
We’re excited to wrap up a paper airplane with mock plane tickets for the kids to open Christmas morning. I’m hoping it will be more memorable than any plastic thingamajiggers we could find to stuff their stockings.
We’ll also be trying to instill in our kids the importance of giving by participating in a few charitable programs such as the adopt-a-family program through my son’s Cub Scout Den. And the kids always love decorating homemade sugar cookies to give away as gifts to teachers and grandparents.
I’m not suggesting that you need to jet set off to an island to create an experience your kids will remember this Christmas. There are plenty of less expensive ways to give them a cherished experience that will only appreciate over time.
Heck, even if it turns out horribly, those are the memories that always seems to get funnier over time.
As an example, my parents and I still laugh about the time I convinced them to take me to see the movie “Gremlins” when I was eight. The move grossed me out so much that I ended up…well, tossing my cookies in the popcorn. We had to leave in the middle of the movie, but the story of me “puking in the popcorn” gets funnier each time it’s told!
Below are a few free or inexpensive experiences that your kids may enjoy:
- If you have snow where you live, go sledding.
- Build a snowman (again, only if you have snow!).
- Drive around and look at Christmas lights while sipping hot cocoa.
- Attend the Christmas Eve children’s service at your church.
- Go for a winter hike.
- Sign your child up for sports/music/dance/drama lessons.
- Wrap up family movie tickets with a few candy snacks (to sneak into the theater). Put the names of the movies the kids want to see in a hat and draw the winning movie.
- Go ice skating.
- Go caroling.
Again, these are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. No one knows your kids better than you!
How are you planning to celebrate the holidays with your family this year? Are you planning to minimize material gifts this year? If so, what are you planning instead?