Christmas can be a stressful time and being surrounded by piles of new stuff adds to the mayhem. Research by anthropologists reveals clutter makes people feel anxious, helpless and overwhelmed so it’s a good idea to anticipate and avoid gift saturation point.
In our house children are banned from mentioning Christmas until after Bonfire night so when they were little on 6th November when they brought up the C word, I’d remind them of The Santa Bag. He brings it a week before Christmas to fill up with toys to deliver to children all round the world. Now the kids are older we ask them to fill a bag for the charity shop before they can expect to get anything new.
In previous years I’ve made the mistake of quantity over quality feeling the pressure to supply a big pile of gifts, a large component of which were panic waste of money nonsense. Then I’d witness present fatigue as the kids stormed through the pile of wrapped presents flinging each to one side to reach for the next. It was clear there was too much.
I’ve now learnt to manage my kid’s expectations in terms of the actual gifts they are going receive. We tell them they can have something to read, something they need, something to wear, something they want and something to share.
Something they need could be a new duvet cover or an alarm clock, so they don’t need to have their mobile phones in their bedrooms to wake them up. The wear part can be a pair of trainers they’ve been coveting or an impractical party dress. Sharing presents are family games or activities which bring us all together rather than isolating the children in their bedrooms. If the something they want is just too expensive don’t be afraid to tell them so. They’re children – they’ll get over it.
As it’s often the anticipation that’s more exciting that the actual gift, instead of the children just coming down to a pile of presents we try to prolong the whole rigmarole by hiding gifts around the house. To get extra excitement to young ones call this a Treasure Hunt.
We also hide Christmas Promises. These hand-written age-appropriate ‘coupons’ are placed in little envelopes (think the sort florists use) and are to be redeemed when the children want. These are all about spending time rather than money on them so maybe a movie night at home (they get to choose the film and snack), after school deluxe hot chocolate, stay up an hour later than usual, a pamper night, a friend for a sleepover, ice-cream for breakfast or an after dark supermarket trip in their pyjamas. Top hits have included a bag full of two pence coins to spend at an arcade and a recipe with money attached so they shopped and paid for the ingredients themselves.
Invest money in memories not stuff. These experiences can be anything from tickets to shows or events, trips to a splash park, going bowling or iceskating to rock climbing or go-carting. You can even work sheep with a Border Collie.
Give your kids a journal to record it all in. Or next Christmas you could compile a photo book, easily made online using the memories captured on your phone.
Gifts that keep on giving are also rewarding so think magazine or comic subscription; a cinema pass; or sport or art classes. Monthly subscription boxes themed round science, art or baking are another way to spread the love. If you adopt or sponsor an animal such as a guide dog you’ll receive regular updates in the post.
Consumable gifts like chocolate or a personalised can of squirty cream are good because they get used up. We’re a big fan of mug cake mixes as it least they require some effort to make rather than just being available to stuff into eager mouths.
Children love the traditions of Christmas so introduce some family ones. Our children always get a new pair of PJs or onesie on Christmas Eve. I’d have to buy them new ones anyway so I may as well make it special. We’ve also introduced a shopping trip to buy for gifts for those less privileged processed through schemes run by charities such as The Salvation Army and Family Action.
Children can then feel the pleasure of giving but also appreciate how lucky they actually are.