Too Much Toys

When my husband was just a tiny little guy no more than three, the holidays rolled around. His parents, excited about seeing him experience his first real Hanukkah celebration, overdid it a bit in the presents department. As my mother-in-law tells it, he came to the stack of gifts waiting for him wide-eyed and busting with anticipation, and quickly tore into them.

But after opening four or five of the brightly wrapped packages, the happy shouts of joy turned into tears. When his mother asked him what was wrong, this overwhelmed little boy answered simply, “Too much toys.”

We made the same mistake a few times with our own kids. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “spirit” of the season and start to literally buy into the idea that “more is better” and that Christmas or Hanukkah won’t be good without a zillion presents. The truth is a little goes a very long way when it comes to young children.

They don’t need much to have a good time. And when they get too much they may not appreciate (or even remember) what was given.

So do yourself a favor and limit the gift giving to a few well-chosen things that will survive months of active play. And focus instead on building happy and meaningful holiday traditions that will stay with your kids for years to come and underscore the beauty of family and celebrations.

But don’t think that these traditions need to be grand or expensive or terribly involved in order to become treasured. When I was a kid my mom would buy these cheap “snowball” ice cream thingies (God knows what was in them) from the grocery store that came with a candle that you stuck into the top.

For years she served them to my sisters and brothers and me for dessert on Christmas Eve. Very simple, very no-big-deal but it obviously made an impression. After all, I’m still talking about it many decades later. It’s a memory that feels good and Christmassy and reminds me of how excited I would get on Christmas Eve.

Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hannukah or Kwanza and regardless of whether you’re secular or religious, there are millions of down-home, easy-but-fun things you can do with your family that can turn into treasured holiday traditions. It’s entirely up to you!

Over the years I’ve heard many wonderful stories from families about how they get in the spirit of things. Some of my favorites:

  • Leaving cookies, milk and a few carrots on a special plate for Santa and his crew on Christmas Eve. My kids LOVED to do this and wouldn’t go to bed until they made sure that Santa was covered.
  • I had a friend who used to bake a birthday cake for Baby Jesus each year. Her kids would light a candle and sing Happy Birthday to him after Christmas dinner. It began when her young  son asked why they celebrated Christmas. Mom explained that it was the birthday of Jesus and it took off from there. When her kids were little, they were very serious about that birthday cake. As they got older they began to see the humor in it but wouldn’t let the tradition die. Today those children are all grown up and my friend is a grandmother many times over. And they still get together at Christmas and continue their birthday-cake-for-Baby-Jesus tradition.
  • Another no-cost, fun thing to do is find out which streets have the best lights and then pack everyone into the car and go check them out. For us, this tradition was born out of an act of pure desperation. It had been one of those days when my two-month-old was fussy and inconsolable and I was at my wits end. I knew he would probably nod off if I drove around in the car for awhile but I needed a good excuse in order to get his brother and sister on board. So I sold the idea of scouting out the best Christmas lights with hot chocolate to follow and voila, a new tradition was born!
  • Many families enjoy listening to a local choir or chorus perform some holiday music. There’s nothing more magical than hearing the sounds of the season delivered by young (or old) people you know. Your own guys may want to join too, in time.

It’s also important, at least to me, to try and find ways to underscore the idea that the holidays are a time to think of others and how you can make a difference, large or small, in their lives. Children love to do kind things for people and will happily help you share the love and do something nice. How about:

  • making some holiday cookies to drop off at the homes of a few neighbors – especially  those who will be alone or who aren’t feeling so well?
  • making a special trip to the grocery store to buy groceries to deliver to the food pantry together?
  • getting a few other neighbors together and adopting a family in need? The kids can help plan, shop, wrap and deliver.
  • setting aside some money to spend on Toys For Tots?  Make an afternoon of it with your kids by going to Toys ‘R Us and then bringing the gifts to the drop off.

This is just a small sampling of ideas to get you started. I know you have so many more. But just remember, these are the kinds of things your children will remember long after the toys are broken and forgotten.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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