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Creating Holiday Traditions That Aren't Based on Gifts

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  • Creating Holiday Traditions That Aren't Based on Gifts

    We've had lots of snow here and no snow plows so besides sledding, I've spent a lot of time organizing toys. I'm thankful for all the beautiful gifts we've received but I think my children have enough toys to last several lifetimes! We have two birthdays around the corner and I'm sure grandparents are already planning more toys for my boys!

    I'd love to hear how others have created non-gift traditions for Christmas (or other holidays) and birthdays? We really want to bring the focus to family and thankfulness and togetherness, and not on the shiny packages! I know the big holiday season is over, but I want to start thinking of ideas as I know it might be a hard sell to my mom especially. She sees lots of gift giving as one of her main jobs as a grandmother.


  • #2
    We suffer from something very similar - on my husband's side my MIL is a shopaholic and buys ridiculous amounts of toys, clothes, and other various things we neither need nor want. I come from a family that believed in fewer, but meaningful gifts, so I really struggle with the excess.

    For me, the holidays are about family time and doing lots of activities together, as a family, that make them special. For example, we make a day out of going to pick and cut a Christmas tree, decorating the tree, making the cookies, making the special food we serve on Christmas Eve, going to visit certain holiday sites (for example, we live in the DC area so seeing the White House tree and the Zoolights are special traditions), going to Christmas Eve service, going shopping and only buying gifts for those in need (through charities) rather than things for ourselves.

    For Easter, for example, we make clues (age appropriate) and hide the Easter basket that our son has to find following the clues - which can often take a while if he get's stuck on one.

    Birthdays, admittedly, we are still struggling with, but we've talked about activities rather than parties (such as going to see one of those medieval knights dinner shows), picnic at the zoo, etc. One tradition we had in my house growing up was that on birthdays, it was your day and you got to make (reasonable) decisions - for example, if you wanted hot dogs for breakfast, you could do that. If you wanted the family to go to the park in the morning, you could do that (you can always swap out a weekend day for the real birthday if it doesn't work) - as kids we invested a lot of our time 'planning' our day to make the most of it - much better than any present.

    When he's older we plan to look into family volunteering opportunities aroudn the holiday time - and really discuss about how we're lucky to have what we have, but others are not as lucky and so we should help them in whatever way we can.

    With the in-laws, we've held several discussions with them about how we understand they want to give gifts, but we don't have the space/need for them and how we'd much rather they contribute to his 529 plan as that is a better investment in his future. It hasn't stopped the gift giving, but it has provided another outlet for them to spend money on him - they can contribute to that all they want. We also make our son leave many of his presents at their house for him to play with there, rather than bringing them home. Would something like that work for you? In the end, we can't control her gift giving, so we need to manage how we react to it. Some ways to do this might be to have your sons pick the top gifts of what she has given them and donate the rest to charity, or for every gift that comes in, they need to get rid of something, and to of course always explain to them the meaning of holidays.

    And, if all else fails, it might be time to sit down with your mother and discuss the type of relationship she has and wants to have with her grandkids - hopefully she's building memories with them and not just providing presents. I am sure she doesn't want her grandkids to view her through the 'what has she got for me today' lens - gifts which will be easily forgotten in a year or two. I'm sure she'd rather have them remember the good times they had together building lasting memories through fun activities. She may not realize that so much gift-giving in the early years sets the tone and foundation for what happens later as they grow older.

    Hope this helps!



    • #3
      I also plan to have lots of family time related traditions for Christmas. My son was 2 1/2 this last Christmas and we started some traditions though we will do more as he gets older.

      Christmas will always be a big family holiday with us. We will decorate together, bake together, go see lights, read Christmas books, watch Christmas shows, drink hot chocolate and egg nog, eat cookies. We buy gifts for children in need and food for the food bank and he will be very involved in that. I involved him this year to the extent that he could understand. That will be a very big part of our Christmas. I also want my son to be involved in shopping for gifts for the family and we will get together with the family to give them their gifts. And of course he will get gifts too, but that won't be what Christmas is all about.