Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christmas With Kids: How Do You Handle the Holidays?

It shouldn't have surprised me. There's been a radio station playing Christmas songs for two weeks, the decorations have been up for nearly a month in department stores, and Santa already came for pictures at a local Toys R Us.

Still, I couldn't help but be disappointed by the story that many stores--including Best Buy, Toys R Us, and Target--have decided to start Black Friday sales at midnight (or even earlier) this year. They cite "consumer demand," but I find it hard to believe that people were writing in to demand they open their doors in the middle of the night.

Many employees are protesting the openings, claiming that it's unfair to them to not be able to spend time with their families on Thanksgiving. In order to open the store up at midnight, they'd have to sleep through their holiday festivities. Not to mention, they wouldn't be able to travel, and there will be plenty of customers who skip out on their own holiday traditions to wait in line.

I've never been much for Black Friday shopping, or really even the Christmas gift frenzy in general. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate getting and giving meaningful gifts. I think that it's a nice gesture that demonstrates love and caring. But more and more it feels like the entire "spirit of Christmas" (whatever that means to you, and I think it means a lot of things to a lot of people) has been getting boiled down into smaller and smaller nuggets, all of which neatly fit into shiny wrapped boxes.

I've never shopped during any of these crazy frenzies, but I did work at Wal-Mart during Black Friday while I was in undergrad. I watched the usually pleasant customers turn grumpy and the usually grumpy customers turn into malcontent misanthropes. There were elbows thrown, carts robbed, feelings hurt, and names called. I left my shift feeling worn out and sad. Merry Christmas.

As a childless adult, I used to just shake my head at this madness and call it a day, but now I wonder what messages my daughter will pick up about Christmas and Thanksgiving in particular and the meaning of gratitude and charity in general. How do I ensure that these consumer-driven fads don't drown out the opportunity to truly reflect on the things we appreciate? How do I help her see that there's more to the holidays than scoring the best deal or getting the best present?

Here are some ideas I've considered, but I'd love to hear more:

1) Include my daughter in Christmas shopping trips for friends and family and (once she gets a little older) talk about picking out a good gift based on things that person likes and what kind of things they enjoy. I'd also like to shop for a charitable cause (I thought about the Angel Tree, but since it's sponsored by the Salvation Army, and since the Salvation Army has such a horrible history of homophobia, I feel conflicted).

2) Focus on the quality of gifts we give her for Christmas rather than the quantity. I'd love to incorporate experiences into this so it's not just material things. Lifehacker suggests "experience coupons" if you're low on cash, but--besides from saving money--this strategy has the added benefit of promoting family togetherness (because a coupon for a zoo trip is something we can all share) and overall happiness (as studies have found experiences are more likely to make us happy than possessions).

Those are some ideas I'm kicking around. What do you do to keep the consumer frenzy from gobbling up your holiday spirit?


  1. A friend of mine every year runs something she calls "Plain Clothes Santa." Her uncle is a social worker and collects gifts for children who would otherwise get nothing. He gets ages, lists and sizes for the kids so that the gifts are more personal than just, "Here's a 450-piece jigsaw puzzle, little 2-year old." This will be the third year that we participate, and now that my son is 3 he's old enough to help me look for presents for the four kids we have "adopted" this year.

    I've also participated many times in the AnySoldier program, which lets you send personalized packages to a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan who then distributes the items to servicemembers who don't have a lot (or any) people back home sending them things. We do this all year long (and some of my AnySoldiers have become real-life friends), but especially at Christmas.

    My husband and I also put a limit on how much we spend for one another, leftover from our salad days. This forces us to be more creative with gifts.

    And then, we also complain rather vocally every time a commercial for a Black Friday sale comes on TV. So, you know, he hears that...

  2. If you're looking for a Salvation Army alternative, I know many nursing homes will let you adopt a resident who is not likely to see any family during the holidays. Sometimes these folks are among the most neglected. If you an take the gift to them personally, even better.

  3. Rebecca, that's a good idea. I'll look into the local nursing homes. Thanks!

  4. Melissa, AnySoldier sounds like a great program, and I hadn't heard of it before. I'll up my level of complaining about commercials just to be safe, too!

  5. "What do you do to keep the consumer frenzy from gobbling up your holiday spirit?"
    Turn off the tv. Not always the easiest thing, but that takes care of a large fraction of the ads that manipulate you into doing the corporations' bidding, like inducing desire for things you don't need.
    Turn over each Christmas thing in your mind, whether it be gift giving, party throwing, or the trip to a warm place. Ask yourself whether you're doing this because YOU want to do it, or because of what "people" might think if you didn't. Ditch the items in the second category.
    Cellomom: proud to be the Grinch that stole Christmas - from the corporations!