Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas gifts

I'm thinking a lot today about our Christmas gift-giving. Partly because I've been making the rounds of blogs and message boards and reading posts from people about what their kids got, and partly because I'm just thinking about whether we're going the in the right direction in our own family.

One thing that has been a source of disappointment is how little initiative my kids take in the gift-giving department. For a few years they were part of a wonderful art class and they would magically arrive home a week or so before Christmas with a bundle of secretly-made arts and crafts which they would wrap and distribute to family and friends. But art class hasn't happened for a couple of years, and nothing seems to have replaced it. Noah talked briefly about doing a couple of things (whittling, building websites for people) but nothing much transpired. Sophie knit a bunch of korknisse one night but while she enthusiastically played along, most of the initiative came from me. Fiona made a papercraft thingy for Sophie a few weeks ago, but then her standards changed and she decided she didn't like it enough and it was thrown out before it was given.

Some of the kids participated willingly in working on things I was making. And they did do some charitable giving from their allowance savings. But there seemed to be no significant self-motivated desire to create or buy gifts on their own. Maybe I'm wrong to be expecting this interest to surface naturally in children. Maybe I take too much control over family gift-giving, too much ownership of the whole event (even though what I do seems pretty minimal to me). Maybe they need more guidance rather than less? Some help with brainstorming and planning?

Gift-giving here is pretty minimal these days. Maybe too minimal. The "kids' computer" (which not all of them use on a regular basis) received an upgrade to monitor and motherboard. Each of the children were given under $100 worth of gifts in addition to that (except Sophie, who got a much-needed wool mattress topper that was a bit pricier), and there was Khet, the new family game. We don't do a big extended-family gift exchange -- just a few simple things between a small number of families. In our parental gifts I've loosely aspired to the "something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read" guideline, but the "something to wear" end of things got overlooked this year, because the kids seem to have lots of clothes (mostly thrift-shop things, but still...) and seem to like to wear the same grubby things day after day anyway.

Of course there's also the issue of how much we buy for the kids during the year. And I'll admit that especially since we don't have a public library to use and we get a Learning Allowance through the homeschool program the middle kids are part of, we spend a lot of money on books. Art and craft supplies are the other big expenditures from the Learning Allowances. Birthday gifts are just as minimal as Christmas, but there are a lot of things we buy through the year without thinking twice. Last year we bought two sleds (we were parking at the top of the driveway and used them for getting groceries down to the house, but still), some skates for Erin, XC ski boots for the kids who had outgrown their old ones, a violin for the now-adult-sized violinist, a music stand so Sophie could practice in her room, a new winter jacket for another growing kid, a soccer ball, a couple of DVDs, and assorted bits of clothing.

Because we live outside most of the reach of consumer culture, we aren't subject to a lot of the social acquisitional pressures that families elsewhere are. We have one small TV, no game systems, no DVD player in the van, no cellphones (yet!), no Lego Mindstorms (no Lego at all, actually) or designer-label clothes except what happened to be at the thrift shops. It's been years since I've bought anything significant I'd describe as a toy.

I guess the bottom line is that my kids are not terribly stuff-oriented, and that's fine. Yesterday they got a book, three or four smallish gifts they liked, a family game and an bookstore gift certificate to share, and they ate lots of good food. Their computer will be happier once the upgrades are complete (and the new monitor is running now and is nice!). And they're not disappointed. Our ecological footprint has been kept somewhat in check and our bank account isn't showing any strain. I should count my blessings.

Still, I wish I had more of a sense of how to nurture the impulse to create and give in my kids, especially in the elder two who are perfectionistic procrastinators and who do not like to participate in collaborative endeavours.


  1. Perhaps, since you do not really participate in consumer culture, your kids do not feel any particular urgency to give stuff as gifts. It sounds like a lot of your family time surrounds activities and the fun they have for holidays has more to do with what they do than with stuff they give or get. And since the things they get are given when they are needed, there is also less of a sense of "I have to find or make something for so-and-so at Christmas!"

    I don't know for sure, but it sounds like you are raising your kids with an entirely different mindset about material goods than is generally found in our culture. I am not sure that is really a problem.

    It also sounds like you are thinking about making a bridge to the more normative culture of "gifting" during the holidays and how to do that. It will be interesting to see what you come up with over the years.

    I sympathize with your perfectionistic procrastinators. I am one myself, and I have not yet found a complete answer to the problem!

  2. Thank you Eli, for your wise and calming words. Unlike my kids I have had exposure to that "other" world, and I have moments of anxiety when I compare what we're doing with what I know to be the norm elsewhere. Like when I go blog-surfing on Boxing Day morning. You've given me some good food for thought.

  3. I like what you do, Miranda. And I agree with the comments about consumer culture. The only thing I would add would be that we have a family meeting in October (this year in Sept as that was when Erin was in town) and decided what elements we would include in Christmas, price limits, etc. It was a truly egalitarian process as I was really open to whatever we as a group decided to include.

  4. Miranda, I can't help wondering if perhaps the positive lack of "gimmees" in your house contributes to the dearth of wanting to give. Sort of like supply and demand... Your family isn't bent on *getting* this and *getting* that over Christmas, so perhaps the notion of being all hyped up about giving gifts hasn't crossed the kids' minds. It's all so low-key that they perhaps they just aren't identifying a need to create giving ideas. Honestly, I don't think it in any way reflects on their overall level of generosity towards one another, or the family, because you post regularly right here about how they cooperate and makes things fun and fair for one another. I think it's pretty acceptable that they're not falling over themselves to come up with any old thing to hand over just because.

    Now having read that over, it sounds a lot like the first comment up there. lol

  5. Erin's quartet gig was a good gift though wasn't it?

  6. I am reading this sometime after christmas has come and gone. Four of my kids are older and were homeschooled/unschooled well into their teens for all and all the way for the oldest 2. We live in the city and are much more immersed in consumer culture than your family. However, my kids have never got in the habit of giving each or their parents gifts except on very rare occasions. The older boys have purchased gifts for serious girlfriends. I don't mind that they don't give gifts. I think that even for my family the fact that their needs are met regularly means that there is no big build up of wanting to get (or give) during the holidays. This was less true when they were younger and more susceptible to all the ads and hype around them in the city.

  7. KievMama1:54 am

    We are also far from the consumer mindset. My oldest (7 1/2) does, however, have a gift-giving nature. She is just very intuitive about what people like. But, usually she makes the gift herself. If not, she finds small, inexpensive trinkets made by local artists.

    This year both the oldest and the youngest (2 -- and with the guidance of the oldest) gave pictures they drew.

    On Christmas day we were up in the mountains skiing (and it wasn't Christmas in our area). We found some branches, put them up around our hotel room, and opened the few gifts we could tote in our suitcase.

    In our case, too, there were family games. And each girl got a little something special. The 7 1/2 year old got something I'm not entirely thrilled about. But, dang, she had been asking Santa Claus for 3 years in a row; never pouted when she didn't get it; and never whined about it throughout the year. I figure she deserved it!


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