A Conspiratorial Christmas: Gifts of Time

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Doing Christmas different with young kids in the house can be a real challenge. After all, what four-year old doesn’t want bright and flashy toys first thing in the morning? What seven year old wouldn’t be confused and disappointed if that open and expectant circle underneath the Christmas tree was empty this year?

When Maegan Schneider and her husband decided to replace traditional Christmas presents with “gifts of time” last year, they did not know what to expect. The idea originated with Maegan’s mother, who noted that the toys were piling high in the household, yet at the end of each year’s wrapping paper-filled frenzy nobody felt any different. To remedy this system, the family decided that the only presents exchanged would be gifts of time—coupons for special activities shared between the giver and receiver, varied in nature but necessarily requiring quality hang-out hours.

Maegan sat down her four and seven year old one at a time to break the news. After all, she didn’t want the suddenly-empty Christmas tree to make them think they had been naughty. To her surprise, the kids were not devastated. In fact, they took to the idea much faster than the adults had. After explaining the concept, she helped the kids compile a list of every close family member and come up with something they would like to do with each person on the list. She then took them shopping for any gift cards their gift may require, then instructed the kids to make a card for each recipient detailing the special time the kids are giving to them.

Come Christmas morning, the tree wasn’t quite empty. Small piles of cards littered the ground and delicate rolled-up scrolls hid amidst the branches (and Santa still left a couple of toys in the kids’ stockings, of course). As the opening began, the family discovered true gifts—coupons for slumber parties with Maegan’s brother, pottery-making dates with Grandma, special lunches between husband and mother-in-law. The blessings, affirmations, and expressions of love written on the cards were just as much of a gift, as were the tears than inevitably followed. Even though the gift opening did not last as long as in previous years, the gifts lasted even longer; instead of new toys losing their bell-and-whistle appeal after a few weeks, the family was still cashing in their time certificates for three or four months after Christmas. It extended the love and joy of Christmas far into the year.

The Schneiders thought their conspiracy went over pretty well, but they did not know its full impact until this year, when their kids begged to repeat the plan. In fact, their oldest wanted something more—he suggested that in addition to gifts of time, each family member also present love letters to one another. To me, that’s evidence of the birth of a new culture, sparked by one bold family activity and continued in the lives of their children.

How can you and your family create a new culture this Christmas? How can you work to make Christmas a little more conspiratorial?

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