Small Traditions to Implement for a Mindful Family During the Holidays
By Abby Meaux Conques
The holiday season can be a downright stressful time, particularly for Moms. Moms tend to end up being the ones to choose all the gifts for the family and children, to get outfits ready for all the different holiday gatherings, and to make sure the hostess of the event gets a gift when you walk in. The holidays can be a stressful time, making some gatherings borderline unpleasant, not because of the company, but because of the expectations.
Who wants to spend their time on things that are unpleasant to them? No one. But we can change that. We can change the unpleasant feeling of having to do all the things and the pressure to get the best and most amazing *insert new well-marketed toy here* for our children for the holidays, that will end up at goodwill in six months anyway.
So how do we start?
First, we begin with perspective. Once we know… really know…that material things don’t indeed make the world go round, it’s easier to not feel as though we need to get the best *insert material thing here* for anyone on our list, period. The list in itself is stressful. Let me tell you this when you’re buying things by default for people (i.e. your godchild’s sibling), that’s a choice you are consciously making in order to make yourself feel better.
Often times, the parents of your godchild feel guilty that you feel the need to purchase things for their other children when it comes to holiday buying. In fact, most parents likely have the same view as you do when it comes to buying things around the holidays: please don’t give me more stuff.
The bottom line is, we don’t need more stuff. But, the fact of the matter is that no matter how many times you tell Aunt Helen not to buy little Johnny a new train set, she buys him a new train set. Do you know what Johnny would really like? A ride on the train at the local zoo. So what should we do? Articulate that. Tell Aunt Helen something very straightforward like, “I know you really enjoy getting Johnny train sets, but in our home, there’s no room for more material items. This year, if you choose to buy something for Johnny, please consider getting him something like a pass to the local zoo where he can ride a train and think of you every time he boards it.”
Easy as that. There are all sorts of other ideas, too. We need to be the example for children to understand that the holidays are not a material time, but a loving time, a helpful time, a meaningful time laced with gratitude and the beautiful feeling of aiding someone in need. So how do we do that? I don’t have all the answers…but I have a few ideas for you.
PRESENCE OVER PRESENTS
Years from now, children won’t remember what gifts you gave them but will remember special times spent together. Drive out to the country to collect pinecones to make your own holiday décor or items for loved ones. Make a memory of the day. Go to the kids’ favorite lunch spot before heading out or grab a milkshake on the way home and make it a small tradition. Or make it a point on the Saturday before Christmas to be a family game night with a certain game, or a family movie night with a particular movie at home. You can enrich the experience by everyone wearing holiday pajamas and making hot chocolate. Use what you have around your home to become memory makers.
TREAT CARDS AS TREASURED ITEMS
Encourage children to create homemade cards for loved ones, including photos or drawings and a short love note describing the reasons that person means so much to them. Hand delivers cards to neighbors, accompanied by a plate of homemade treats. Children can also send cards to military personnel overseas or to area nursing homes.
Adopt a less fortunate family, child, or charity for the holidays (local churches, social service agencies or charitable groups on facebook can be a good start). Ask children to be “Santa’s helpers” by choosing and thoughtfully wrapping books, toys and other gifts for the less fortunate or for shelter families. Help children research good causes and earmark a small amount of money for them to gift to the cause of their choice, such as an animal shelter or other local nonprofit. Honor the gift of time, as well: Youngsters that spend a few hours helping out at a food pantry, caroling at a nursing home, reading Christmas stories to shelter animals or wrapping gifts for Toys for Tots will experience and remember the true joy of giving.
NURTURE THEIR SPIRITUAL SENSE
Organized religions aren’t the one and only venue for sharing family beliefs. Be open-minded and explore the realm around you. On the night of the Winter Solstice, December 21—the shortest day and longest night of the year—enjoy dinner by candlelight. Follow dinner by a family stargazing in the backyard and make holiday wishes. On other holiday evenings, under only the Christmas tree lights, menorah or other special candles, and speak quietly about your blessings. Listen to carols on YouTube from other parts of the world to reinforce a spirit of unity and invite intriguing discussions about how other cultures observe their holidays.
Speak with your children about giving their siblings certificates for each other rather than buying something for them. The gift certificates can cover act of service like, ” “I will clean your room on your behalf, clear your dinner plate for you, unload the dishwasher for you, read you a book, make your bed for you, eat your vegetables one night at dinner so that you don’t have to, but you still get a snack (kids love this choice!), let you pick the movie for family movie night or which game is picked for family game night, do your chore for you,” etc. The possibilities are endless, the single gift certificates give each of the merits of the selection, and it helps kids learn to help one another as a family unit.
Family members love lists. They may ask you what children specifically want for the holidays this year. This is the perfect time to suggest experience gifts over material gifts. Good suggestions can be:
Museum entrance fee coverage or memberships (think science and art museums) Orchestra or theatre season tickets or tickets to shows you know they’d love (make a night out of it and suggest dinner gift cards from other family to make evenings extra special) A tent for camping Sports season tickets (even if it’s supporting your local college team; start new tailgating traditions where the whole family can enjoy each other’s company) Local art or music class tuition Batting cage memberships Bowling and skating passes Movie tickets Lunch date certificates New skill or hobby class tuitions Magazine subscriptions Musical instruments and lessons
Once you shift your perspective that the holidays don’t have to be about material gift-giving, different kinds of doors will open up to you for ideas. You can truly change everything this season, have a wonderful time of year and never have to exchange one material item. Think about what this perspective shift will do for your kids, too. Entire movements have been constructed by one change of choice.