If you check your calendar, you'll note that Christmas is exactly five weeks away, which probably means that your holiday planning has already begun. My five-year-old grandson is old enough to begin to understand and participate in Christmas-related activities, such as decorating the tree, making cookies, and setting up the Nativity scene. Of course, he's also old enough to anticipate gifts, and has already requested "another battery engine," which means that this is likely in his future.
My parents didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up, yet I have some very happy Christmas memories. Here are some suggestions on how to create a wonderful holiday for your kids while minimizing materialism and maximizing creativity.
7 Tips for a Fun Minimalist Family Christmas
1. Don't go overboard on gifts.
No matter how great the gifts are, by the time your child opens her third or fourth package the experience seems to peak. The gifts won't be met with as much enthusiasm and some may be tossed aside. So focus on three or four quality gifts rather than a bunch of cheap, less desirable items. It was because of this tactic that my parents were able to get me some memorable gifts without straining their budget. They usually focused on one or two special gifts each for my siblings and I, added a few good books for each of us, and then finished with a new game the whole family could play together.
2. Make sure at least one of the gifts for your child is very open-ended.
Open-ended toys encourage creative, child-guided play, rather than limited interactions that are controlled by the toy. Compare an "educational" electronic toy or branded action figure with toys like blocks, Legos, K'Nex, baby dolls or a doll house, small vehicles, plastic zoo or farm animals, play dishes, drawing and craft supplies, bicycles, skateboards, and the like. The more versatile the toy, the more resourceful your child's play will be and the more interesting the toy will remain.
3. Plan a fun family adventure.
The kids probably won't remember most of what you buy them for Christmas, but they will always remember the time you spent together. An adventure doesn't have to be as costly as a visit to a theme park; trekking to a rural Christmas tree farm or attending a community theater holiday performance can be every bit as fun and memorable. I remember being taken to see the ice skating and decorations on Union Square in San Francisco, and marveling at the gigantic Christmas tree in the beautiful rotunda at City of Paris. My daughter and son-in-law buy tickets for the Christmas Train sponsored by the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento; maybe sleigh rides are a possibility where you live. Do a little research and plan a special experience for your family.
4. Use natural tree decorations, and let the kids help make them.
Everything except the lights (and maybe a few cherished ornaments) can be natural and/or recyclable. String popcorn or Cheerios with fresh or dried cranberries. Use raffia to hang pinecones. Dried orange slices are festive and smell wonderful. (You can dry apples the same way – slice them so the star appears in the core, and brush with lemon juice so they won't turn brown.) I used to spend hours cutting paper snowflakes, and your kids may enjoy doing it too. They look pretty on the tree, on windows, and on brown paper packages.
5. Involve your children in food preparation.
From sugar cookies, frosting, and plenty of sprinkles, to ambrosia salad and roasted winter vegetables, kids can have fun and learn valuable skills in the kitchen. Don't forget to let them help you make jars of five bean soup as gifts for neighbors and teachers.
6. Have your children write thank you notes.
Gratitude for our many blessings is absolutely essential to a contented minimalist life, and kids should always be taught to say thank you. Even a five-year-old can write "Thank you" and Love" and his or her name. Mom or Dad can fill in the specific reason for thankfulness. This is a great activity for Boxing Day.
7. Speaking of Boxing Day – be sure to celebrate it.
Boxing Day is on December 26, the day after Christmas. It's also the feast day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem. The word "boxing" doesn't refer to the sport, but to the tradition of giving boxes of food and clothing to servants and the poor. Interestingly, the role of a deacon in the early Christian church was to serve the needs of the church members – to visit the sick and to distribute food to the poor. The story in the carol "Good King Wenceslas" takes place "on the feast of Stephen," and ends with the reminder, "Ye who now will bless the poor/Shall yourselves find blessing."
So please don't go shopping the day after Christmas! Write thank you notes and visit family you couldn't see on Christmas Day. Maybe your kids could plan a canned food drive among your neighbors, or this could be the day that you purchase chickens or rabbits to help a poor family feed themselves. If your town has a hospital, perhaps your family could visit the pediatric ward. You could sing carols and bring small gifts to the kids who couldn't be at home for Christmas:
- a bag of mixed fun-size candies and chocolates
- a box of mixed snack-size packages of crackers, cookies, and dried fruit
- Matchbox cars
- a compact game such as Uno or Boggle
- a cuddly stuffed animal (these rabbits, bears, and bunnies are super soft, machine washable, and baby-safe)
- a sticker book (these have lots of great themes; some are reusable; all are amazing play value for the price)
- flexible, fun Wiki Stix
- pocket-size Spirograph in a tin
- books that can be read to or read by boys and girls of many ages (these are great too).