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Ho! Ho! No!

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The economy’s downward turn couldn’t have come at a worse time of year. With the holidays approaching, Christmas lists and holiday requests have started to emerge around the dinner table, and Al and I just look at one another across the table and think, “Where are we going to find the money this year?”

The National Retail Federation predicts that the average U.S. consumer will spend more than $800 this season on holiday gifts, food, cards and postage, decorations and other items. That’s a big hit on an already beaten pocketbook.

Maybe it’s time to revamp our thinking about what makes a happy holiday season. Personally, I feel a little nauseous seeing Christmas decorations displayed in some stores even while Halloween is still on the shelves. Maybe it’s the ghastly combination of orange, black, red and green; more likely, it’s the out-of-control commercialism that makes my stomach lurch.

Instead, why not enjoy some of the more lasting joys of the season. First, give the gift of
traditions. From one year to the next, my children don’t remember most of the toys they receive, but they recall in detail the Christmas cookies we baked and decorated to drop off to friends.

Maybe it’s that special restaurant you go to each year for your fancy holiday dinner, or the piping-hot latkes for Hanukah, or the trek to Grandma’s house each Christmas Day for lunch. In my family, we always had a pattern for opening gifts: youngest to oldest, each person seated in his or her special chair, with my younger brother hiding a present in the hopes of being the last man standing. Traditions are the adhesive that glue families together and make the holiday season so memorable.

Consider sharing music with your children. There are wonderful songs celebrating Hanukah and Christmas that can bring magic to your children’s lives. One of my favorite Christmas activities is going caroling with the children as we drop off gifts to our friends. When the children were young, our repertoire was admittedly limited (“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bells”) but as they grow older, holiday music has become an integral part of our holiday celebrations. We listen to carols while we trim the tree, read the nativity story and gather at the piano.

As for trimming the Christmas budget, how about encouraging fewer, but more thoughtful, gifts. For example, our family shares a not-so-secret Santa tradition. We pick names the day after Thanksgiving and our kids focus on finding a special gift for one of their siblings instead of having to buy for all of them. They exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, and some of our most heartwarming Christmas memories are of the faces of both the giver and the receiver.

Or, instead of buying gifts for friends of the family, host a potluck dinner party at your house. The gift of friendship is priceless and always appreciated. If December is too hectic, plan an evening in January and send them a save-the-date with a plate of your favorite baked goods in lieu of a traditional gift.

I find it fitting that Thanksgiving falls right before the gift-giving holidays in our culture. Doing something thoughtful for those less fortunate than us instills in children a sense of gratitude for all they have. Try knotting a quilt for a children’s hospital or making holiday treats for a local nursing home.

In the midst of our hurried, harried lives one of the most precious gifts we can share with our children is the gift of time. Most parents take a few days off from work during the holiday season. The past couple of years, I fell into the trap of allocating that time too many different ways. Between volunteering at the children’s schools, attending holiday parties at work and with friends, writing an epic Christmas letter and sending off cards, while still trying to fit in shopping, wrapping and baking, I found myself physically drained by the time Christmas rolled around. The people I really wanted to spend time with were being pushed aside so I could tend to less important things.

This year I have vowed to say “no” to superfluous stuff and say “yes” more often to Christmas crafts with the kids, more baking together, and playing those games that mean so much to my children.                           ■

Alan and Kelly Taylor and their five children recently moved from their Liverpool home of 10 years to Greenville, N.C. Kelly holds a master’s degree in family studies; Alan is a newly appointed assistant professor in the Department of Child Development and Family Relations at East Carolina University. To comment on this article, write to editorial@familytimes.biz.

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