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All too often the holiday season becomes about “stuff”–presents, decorations, more presents. How do we wean our children away from their focus on getting gifts and instead shift attention to the spirit of togetherness, generosity, peace, and goodwill? 

It can be helpful to hold a family meeting and talk about everyone’s feelings about the holidays. We can ask our children about what, besides the gifts, they really like about the holidays. Often memories start to emerge: making pavlova with Grandma, taking a walk together as a family, ordering take-out Chinese, a picnic on the beach and days-worth of Christmas Day leftovers. 

From those memories, you can start brainstorming about what to establish as part of your family holiday tradition, perhaps even exploring new ways to enliven the summer season. Could a family hike followed by ice cream be a regular ritual? Colouring and cutting holiday-themed place settings? Decorating biscuits to distribute as gifts? 

In discussing the holiday, you can also introduce activities that involve giving and service to others. All sorts of studies detail the mental and physical health benefits of selfless service. The term “helper’s high” refers to the chemicals released in our brains when we engage in giving behaviours. Children can be very intrigued by learning about different charities, especially those that are local or important to their families. Part of the process of gift-giving can include choosing a charity and giving a gift in your child’s name or even having your child play a part in delivering the gift.  

Another approach is to focus on giving gifts that are really experiences: a trip to a museum, a weekend family adventure, certificates for favourite excursions, cash and a coupon for an outing to the arcade, a day trip with a friend to the bike park. Whatever the experience, the focus is giving the gift of doing something, and ideally doing something together, rather than owning an object.  

Brainstorming about the types of gifts or experiences we share with friends and family during the holiday season helps open our children up to the idea that gifts don’t have to be an item purchased at a store or online. As you explore this idea with your children, you can offer options such as: 

  • DYI/Handmade Gifts
  • Care Packages
  • Video Gifts/Electronic Messages
  • Experiential Gifts
  • Gifts of Quality Time
  • Skill Sharing Gifts
  • Donation & Support Gifts
  • Food Gifts

Children can be involved in creating care packages or gift baskets, video collages or audio greetings that can be sent to grandparents, favourite dry goods recipes in  decorated jars , and vouchers for activities or quality time.  One I always remember is my mother giving me a voucher to brush my hair 3 times a week and I was allowed to say how long the hair brushing lasted! This always turned into a beautiful ritual with tea making first and a comfy seat in the lounge.  My mum used to also ask me to write family vouchers, time gifts I would give to the family like making everyone’s beds on a certain day.  I made this special by leaving chocolates on the pillows! 

We have enough things in our lives. Even if our youngest children aren’t quite ready to give up the idea of getting material presents, we can model both how gifts can take on many different forms and how we can bring more of ourselves to the holiday gift-giving experience. 

Likely our children won’t remember a particular toy they unwrapped in 2023, but they will remember what they did with those they love and how they felt while doing it. Perhaps just planning a different kind of giving this year can bring less stress and more joy. What better gift than that? 

Denice Scala

Author Denice Scala

B.A, M.Ed, Dip ED, Dip RSA, Cert. Neuroscience. Principal, Forestville Montessori School. Denice Scala is an executive leader with extensive experience in key strategic roles requiring business transformation and innovation. As a passionate advocate for the power of education to enrich lives, Denice moved from classroom teaching to leadership positions in 1992 and since then has held international in roles in Scotland and Australia as Principal, Head of Junior School, and Head of Learning Support. She has an impressive working knowledge of early learning, primary, middle, and secondary schooling including gifted education and special needs. Her Masters in Gifted Education led her to work extensively to find ways to cater for gifted students. This led to providing professional development opportunities for educators to assist in their understanding of the characteristics of gifted children and the complexities of growing up gifted. Denice’s unparalleled grasp of current educational realities is equally matched by her big picture thinking combined with practical solutions to navigate change. Denice’s passion for Montessori education led her to undertake the AMI Introduction to Adolescents Course, to audit the AMI 6-12 Diploma, and to also currently undertake the AMI School Administration Certificate Course.

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