Four Steps to a More Meaningful, Less Commercialized Holiday — With Kids
With its focus on family and faith, December should represent an ideal opportunity to model and teach simplicity's tenets to our children. Paradoxically, it has become the season when families face the greatest obstacles in their efforts to downshift. Many of us are never more saturated and less satisfied, more full yet more empty, than during the holidays, when our society stages its ultimate display of materialism. And all the commotion comes from the simplest of origins: having enough lamp oil for eight nights, celebrating the return of daylight and observing the birth of a child in an animal's manger.
If this is the plight of our culture generally, it's even harder for those of us with kids. Take Kate Rhoad's family of The Woodlands, Texas. Before 1993, Kate says her family had a mainstream American holiday, overdoing everything. They spent as much as $1,000 just on gifts, even when they had only one child to buy for. (They now have three.) "There were huge amounts of presents under the tree, stuff the kids didn't need and couldn't appreciate," Kate says. The family found itself buying too much, doing too much — and not enjoying the result.
"It was hectic, we were too busy. The kids felt it too. We just didn't have fun," recalls Kate.
In 1993, Kate and her family decided to scale down both the overdoing and the overbuying aspects of the season. They sat down at the end of November with the December calendar. "We made a list of things we really wanted to do over Christmas and put them on the calendar," explains Kate. They chose low-key, family-friendly activities like reading stories while drinking cocoa and going caroling with friends.
The Rhoads now exchange simple, often homemade gifts that engage the children in the process of giving. For example, the entire family cooks up a batch of barbecue sauce and delivers it to neighbors. They make picture frames for in-laws with photos of the kids in them. The family's annual holiday price tag now reaches about $200 for everything — from gifts to décor — and the children have a wonderful time.
"Our intention is renewal, and all that buying had nothing to do with renewal," says Kate. "I love the fact that we've made these changes."
A Formula for Simplifying the Holidays
The Rhoad family's holiday transformation — from "Crassmess" to Christmas — mirrors the promise that living more simply offers year-round. By doing away with distractions and focusing on what matters most to us and our children, we find our lives filled with meaning, purpose and happiness.
Here are four steps to get you started on your family's quest for a holiday with more fun, less stuff ... and happy kids.
1. Search Your Soul
The big fear for parents is that downscaling will somehow cause their kids to suffer, feel deprived, or even unloved. Experts stress that that's not the case. In Unplug the Christmas Machine, authors Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli point to four things that children really want during the holidays: a relaxed and loving time with the family, realistic expectations about gifts, an evenly paced holiday season, and reliable family traditions. In other words, kids really want a simplified celebration, too. Focusing on the "warm, fuzzy" elements of the holidays — family get-togethers and treasured rituals — will ensure that you and your kids have lifelong, cherished holiday memories.
Robinson and Staeheli ask participants at their workshops to fantasize about their "perfect holiday." Give yourself a few moments to do this too. Close your eyes and visualize your dream holiday. Think of what you're doing, with whom and where, and of the sights, smells, tastes and feelings. Have your kids visualize their "perfect holiday," too. They will undoubtedly mention gifts! Ask them what their perfect celebration might involve beyond presents.
The responses that Robinson and Staeheli receive have similar (simple!) themes. The core of most families' holiday fantasies include "simple gifts, natural decorations, a fire, traditional food, leisurely schedules, music, time spent out of doors, an emphasis on family activities."
For most families, the journey from fantasy to fulfillment will involve concentrating on meaningful rituals and de-emphasizing the gift-giving tradition.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for a New American Dream. © New American Dream.
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