When I was growing up, Christmas was different than it is here in the States. I grew up in Dominican Republic and for one, the holiday that we received gifts was Los Tres Reyes (The Three Kings Day) and not Christmas. On Los Tres Reyes, we received our toys. I should actually say – our toy. Singular and not plural, as we each received one toy each. It wasn’t because we were poor. Sure, just like a lot of families we had years that weren’t as good as others, but even when the year was good for my family, we still received one toy each. And we weren’t unique, as the majority of our friends received one toy as well. There were some that had more than one, and had a houseful of toys, but these were the minority. Most of us received one toy.
And what a great toy it was! Traditionally, all the kids come out to the street on that morning and show off their toy. We brought out our doll, truck, doll house or whatever we were gifted and showed it off with great pride. We played all day with our toy and continued to play with it for months. So much appreciation! It was our special toy and brought so much happiness.
One particular year, I received a lovely doll and so did my sister and my brother received a large riding toy truck. Our excitement was huge. We were thrilled! My little friend across the street made his rounds throughout the neighborhood showing off his toy and playing with everyone else’s toys as well. When he got to my house, he showed me his toy. It was a little plastic bird whistle that made a gargling noise when you filled it with water and blew the whistle. I can still see the fascination on his face and his great joy in his toy. I was probably around 7 or 8 that year and that day was a lesson learned that has carried over to how I parent my kids during Christmas.
I learned that year that what is important during the Holidays was not how many toys you get, but appreciating what you get. I learned that it’s not about how big your toy is, how fancy or if it’s the latest or greatest. It’s about the love behind the gift and keeping it simple so that you appreciate the little things. And this has been the way we’ve implemented gift giving in my family.
My kids get one gift during Christmas time. They don’t expect a houseful of gifts that they play with and quickly forget. They don’t open gifts waiting for the next big thing and hoping the next one they unwrap is *the* one. They get one gift each and the joy on their face is reminiscent of how it was for us as children too. To me, Christmas is not about stressful shopping trips, massive gift wrapping (though I sure do love gift wrapping) or over spending. It’s about enjoying traditions, spending family time and remembering the little things in life. I believe in a simple Christmas. I grew up with one that was filled with family dinner time and gift giving was just a part of, but not the main attraction. And I truly believe that the lesson I learned as a child was one that I was meant to learn. I learned early on the importance of appreciating what you have.
Peter Emmenegger said it well on his article, “Nurturing the Playful Mind”, Natural Child Magazine:
Ironically, we are surrounded by an overwhelming abundance of toys and yet fewer and fewer encourage fantasy and imagination. Who is to blame? It seems that childhood has become commercialized as children are viewed as a niche market. Toy manufacturers spend millions each year on advertising, targeting children directly and encouraging them to pester their parents to buy what they see promoted. Advertisers create a need and parents give in to ensure that their children do not feel different or left out. Unfortunately, using toys to promote social acceptance and positive self-esteem encourages conformity.
This year, and I realize that it’s late in the season, I challenge you to rethink Christmas. Remember that the less toys there are, the more the appreciation. The less stuff we surround our children with, the greater the imagination. And the less you have to purchase, the less stress for you. It’s a win-win and a great lesson to learn when we bring it down to simple and little and in that simplicity have the greatest Christmas holiday of all.