Today’s seasonal question comes from She’s a Maineiac, who seeks suggestions for Christmas on a budget.
Dear Good Greatsby,
Money is tight this holiday season, yet my kids are still expecting lots of expensive gifts. I’ve been out exhaustively hunting for great deals, but I’m fresh out of pepper spray. How can I convice them that Christmas isn’t about the gifts? Laura Ingalls used to be thrilled to get an orange or a stick of barely used chewing gum. Strangely enough, when I remind them they’re lucky to get anything, and just being together with family is all that matters, I’m met with cold stares. Any ideas for some wholesome, entertaining, homemade gifts the kids would like in place of the Xbox 360, Barbie Dreamhouse and Red Rider BB gun? Perhaps I can fashion something from the items laying around my house?
Sincerely, Dismayed and Dissed in December
Dear Dismayed and Dissed in December,
Paul: The difference between Laura Ingalls’ gratitude and your children’s is a matter of expectations. Laura Ingalls lived in a log cabin and worried she might be eaten by wolves during the night because the cabin didn’t have a door. It probably wouldn’t take much effort for Ma and Pa Ingalls to convince the kids to spend the Christmas present money on a front door to replace the blanket covering the frame. Give that kid an orange in addition to the door and she was thrilled.
On the other hand, your kids probably expect three to six meals a day, vaccinations against typhoid fever, and a house with wolf-resistant doorknobs. An orange just isn’t going to cut it with kids who are used to waking up Christmas morning to find solid gold bidets, hip expressionist paintings, and fancy no co-pay health insurance.
It’s impossible to lower their expectations at Christmas time because they have high expectations twelve months of the year. The fastest way to lower expectations is to tell the kids you’re considering becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t celebrate Christmas at all. After a few weeks considering the prospects of getting nothing, the kids will consider it a Christmas miracle if they even get an orange and a stick of gum.
When my wife and I sat down to plan this year’s Christmas, we realized once again that we couldn’t remember a single gift we got the kids last year and we doubted they could remember either. This year we’re going to make all our gifts out of items we already have lying around the house (I’m excluding the giant stacks of money we have lying around the house), and I’m happy to share my list with you.
Gift holder–Does your kid have trouble keeping track of gifts? Take a big cardboard box and on the side write: ‘Gift Holder’.
Gift catalog–Does your kid always complain that he can’t remember how many gifts he got? Open an Excel spreadsheet, select Save As, and name it ‘Gift Catalog’.
Gift cleaner–Last years gifts got dusty pretty fast without your kid ever playing with them. Take a feather duster and write on the handle: ‘Gift Cleaner’.
Gift frame–Your child might like to take a picture of all the Christmas gifts and put the picture in a frame made from macaroni. Make sure the frame is in the picture.
Gift protector–Does your child worry someone might steal her gifts during the night? She won’t worry after receiving a can of broken glass she can spread around her presents to scare off burglars.
Gift freshener–Why not place a box of Arm & Hammer baking soda into the gift holder to maintain gift freshness?
A final note: At Christmas time, many parents try and convince children that family is all that matters. I try to avoid this line with my kids because if they look around at their family and are unimpressed by what they see, and I’ve reinforced the idea that family is as good as it gets, they might just spiral into a deep depression. Or search for a better family.
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