I realize that the holiday season is different for every family, and is often fraught with feelings of protectiveness over one’s traditions. You hear all the time about whether or not saying “Happy Holidays” is polite, politically correct, or somehow construed as an attack on the Christmas holiday. While I believe most people agree that we live in a society that turns holidays into frenzies of consumerism, and that this is a negative thing, it is still an easy trap to fall into. Even though I personally think it is ridiculous to spend more money than makes sense, to rush around from store to store scrambling to find something, anything, to be able to scratch another name off my list, I still do it every year, at least a little bit.
I daydream about the perfect simple Christmas season. The house will be decorated with handmade treasures, the kitchen will smell of fresh baked molasses cookies, gifts will be handmade, or lovingly and locally purchased, and wrapped in recycled brown paper bags. No stress, no rush, no busting the budget. Each year Jeramy and I move one step closer to achieving this daydream, but we haven’t gotten quite there yet. (We will keep trying though.)
We are not a religious family, so for us Christmas does not include certain traditions that others partake in. Although sometimes I do enjoy slipping off on my own for the Christmas Eve service at my Unitarian Universalist church, we focus on a non-religious meaning to the holiday. Christmas for us is about giving to others. Giving meaningfully, because we care, not because we feel obligated to buy something for everyone. It is about spending time together as a family picking out just the right Christmas tree at the orchard. It is for crafting, decorating, sipping hot cocoa under the twinkling lights, and reading stories together in our pajamas on Christmas Eve night. It is about telling Simon to look out the car windows–”Look, quick, on the left!”,”Coming up on the right!”–to see the elaborately decorated houses as we drive around. It is about coming together to share meals with family when the daylight hours are short, and the cold keeps everyone inside.
It is about taking a bit of extra time to appreciate the everyday magic in things, and to show those we care about just how much we care by partaking in the tradition of giving, even if all we give is a handwritten greeting.
All of this to say: I will not be asking my children to write Christmas lists. The reason for this is simple: I do not want them to focus on asking, but rather on giving. I want to encourage them to think about others during the season, instead of themselves.
I know, I know. It is a tradition, the making of the list. One that I partook in, that you probably partook in, and that has been going on for generations. And we turned out OK. I know. I am not trying to rob my kids of magic, or say that they don’t deserve presents, or don’t deserve to daydream about what might be under the tree for them on Christmas morning. I am OK with the fact that Simon has told us what he would most like to receive this year. But I feel very strongly against asking him to make a list of stuff.
I worry also that a Christmas list for small children may set them up for disappointment. What if they ask for things that the grownups in their lives simply cannot afford? I used to circle things in catalogs. But, when you are just a child, and there is so much variety in front of you, how can you possibly narrow it down to what you truly want? Commercials, store displays, and catalogs are trying to tell our kids that they want everything by using bright colors, catchy jingles, and scenes of smiling kids playing with toys and gadgets. There is so much being thrust at them, that if we ask them to make a list, we are asking them to filter out noise they may not be mature enough yet to ignore.
I give my kids gifts because I love them, and because as their parent, I want to give them the world, like all parents do. I want them to wake up Christmas morning, look under the tree, and feel anticipation to discover what is there for them underneath the shining bows. To see them get excited over just the right thing being chosen for them is something I hope to always be able to do.
I just won’t be asking them for any lists.