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The Perfect Gift


Parents spend much time and even more money to give their children the happiest holidays. But my two grown kids have far simpler memories of their best Christmas than I could have imagined.

I figured it would be the big gifts they remembered: the guitar, the bicycle or the electronic toys. Unexpectedly, Rachel, 18, recalls getting up early and heading over to her grandparents’ home on Christmas morning. She also enjoyed the whole family hanging out together and playing a game or going to the movies. For Josh, 25, our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, with special foods and festive table settings, brings back fond thoughts.

During the holiday season, life feels rushed, everything seems to cost more, and we’ve shifted far from the season’s true meaning. Take steps toward reclaiming the holidays as precious time to share with family and friends by doing less, sharing more, making gifts, giving sensibly and building traditions.

Do Less

The calendar begins to fill up as early as November with holiday parties, gift exchanges and family visits. Once a few required events are set, mark your calendar with dates to spend relaxed time with the kids by visiting a museum, taking a hike or making a craft together. Resisting the urge to overcommit is difficult at first, but once you schedule activities for the family, you can more easily decline invitations that don’t interest you.

Share More
Often time is the best gift of all. Make a date with the kids to give some of your time to someone less fortunate. The United Way of Central New York can link you with age-appropriate volunteer opportunities in your area; visit www.unitedway-cny.org to search the database or call 1-800-Volunteer. Even families with young children can get involved by making desserts for United Way’s Unity Kitchen.

Visit an elderly neighbor or friend with a simple gift basket and spend the afternoon talking, looking through photo albums or working on a jigsaw puzzle. Even a casual conversation may be a rare interaction for those who are unable to get about on their own. For an extra-special present, round up the kids and offer to tackle a household chore like organizing the garage or painting a room.

Consider adopting a child, teen or adult through one of many “angel trees” around town. Choose someone to purchase a practical gift for and take the kids along to help make the gift selection.

Share the holiday’s festive foods by making baked goods or an extra batch of your best dish to share with co-workers or neighbors who may not have your time or resources. The ultimate way to share, of course, is to set an extra place at the table for someone who might otherwise spend the holiday alone.

Make Gifts
Don’t be mauled by the mall, with its bustling crowds, beeping cash registers and maxed-out credit cards. Start brainstorming about gifts your family can make. For instance, make Grandma a hand-decorated photo frame. Layer pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to the flat surface of the frame with craft glue, pop in a photo of your child and you’ve got a special gift. Visit the craft store for more ideas. The creative experience is as valuable as the pride in accomplishment, and the result can be a handmade, useful item. Check out the library for how-to books of creative gifts for any age or ability level.

Teens will get a kick out of making compilation CDs using music they already own. Have them consider which songs a particular person might like and compile a play list to elicit a certain mood and burn the CD. Decorate the CD liner with personal artwork.

Give Sensibly
Rather than giving frivolous knickknacks or items the receiver may not want or need, assemble gift baskets geared specifically for that person. Good quality snack and food items like nuts and chocolates, gourmet crackers and locally produced cheeses, jams and jellies, beef sticks and mustard, flavored coffee or tea, or New York apples make delightful gifts that the receiver can use or share with others. These baskets are great for homebound seniors who may not splurge on gourmet treats and can be handy for them to serve to drop-in guests. Even the basket the treats came in can be reused for storage.

Encourage large family circles to cut down on the number of gifts they give and have each member designate a favorite charity that each giver can contribute a small amount to. The combined contribution may be more than you ever imagined! Check out www.charitynavigator.org to see how your charity stacks up in efficiency and percentage spent on administration and fund raising.

Build Traditions
Revisit your favorite memories from your childhood and determine which elements had the most lasting impact on you. Build on that experience and make it the focus of your holiday energy and you’ll begin establishing lasting memories for the younger generation.

Choose, with the kids’ help, a holiday treat that you will make this year, like homemade hot cocoa mix, festive decorated cookies, or sweet or savory cereal mix snacks, and make a large bunch one afternoon and package it in festive tins or jars. Add a small recipe card, if desired, and bestow upon teachers, neighbors, the postal carrier or anyone for whom a last-minute gift is needed.

And making more than you need isn’t a problem—you can always enjoy the results yourself! If it is a favorite among the receivers and the givers, it may turn into a holiday tradition to do year after year.

Photographs by Michael Davis


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