Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

It’s that time of year when our mailbox and newspaper are filled with toy catalogs and ads for Christmas gifts.  I used to enjoy looking through these to get gift ideas for my kids until we went through our massive toy purge last summer when we sold 8-10 large storage bins full of toys on Craigslist – and have not missed them a bit.  My kids are older now – ages 8 and 11 – and have settled into their favorite playthings, so we no longer need a huge variety.  Now, when I look through the toy catalogs, I see expensive items that my kids would enjoy playing with for all of 2 days, and then I’d be stuck trying to find a place for them until our next Craigslist sale.  Sound familiar?

My solution this year is to avoid the unused toy glut and pressure to overspend by:

  1. Limiting the number of gifts from us on Christmas day to one.  Since they receive gifts from extended family members, there’s no need for me to overwhelm them with more gifts from us.  Just like the enjoyment of eating a rich dessert diminishes with each bite, the enjoyment of opening each gift lessens over time.  Why not let them fully enjoy the gifts lovingly picked out by others instead of cramming more down their throats?
  2. Keeping the budget small.  An expensive gift doesn’t guarantee more enjoyment.  Besides, I’m still responsible for making Santa look good, so in addition to their stocking, one thoughtful gift from us for each kid will suffice.
  3. Choosing only gifts that will get continual use (like Legos), are educational (which includes activities), or consumable (like craft supplies that continually need to be replenished).  If something doesn’t fall into one of these categories, chances are it will end up in a closet, which is a waste of money and space.

Before you start thinking I’m the Grinch Mama who stole Christmas, you need to hear the second part – the real genius – of my plan.  If your kids are like mine, they probably enjoy playing with their new toys for about 2 days after Christmas, then drive you crazy until New Years.  In the past, we’ve celebrated the 12 Days of Christmas by giving our kids various school supplies to add a little fun to Christmas break (i.e. 4 glue sticks, 3 erasers, 2 pencils, 1 pencil sharpener, etc.).  This year, we’ll celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas by spreading out their gifts from us from Christmas Sunday (when we’ll exchange gifts with my extended family) through New Years.

How to Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas
On each of the days following Christmas, the kids will get to open one more gift.  Sometimes the gift will be for both kids to share, like a game or new puzzle I found at the thrift store.  Sometimes the gift will be craft related, like new watercolor paint sets from the dollar store or the craft kit we’ve never gotten around to opening that’s been in my closet for over a year.  Some gifts will be educational, like the interactive human body books I found at the thrift store.  And some may be activities, like going to a children’s museum or play center to get us out of the house.  The beauty of this way of celebrating is that it gives the kids something new to look forward to on cold winter days that are typically unstructured and would otherwise end up in whines of “I’m boooooooored.”  Plus, kids are more likely to get excited about an educational gift if it’s the only thing they’re getting that day.

Remind Kids Who We’re Celebrating
For a spiritual tie-in, we’ll share the real meaning behind the 12 Days of Christmas and what each day represents.  (This video shows pictures of the Christian meaning of each symbol while the song is sung, so kids can try to guess what each day represents from the pictures and check their answers when the meanings are revealed at the end.)  The last time we celebrated the 12 Days of Christmas, we had the kids recite the symbolism of the previous days before moving on to that day’s gift.  We also hid the gift(s) each day because our kids love treasure hunts – and why should Easter get all the fun!  I especially like the idea of holding off on some of our celebrations to increase the anticipation aspect of advent.  After all, the advent season is all about creating within us a sense of longing for Christ to come.  There’s not a whole lot of longing if we start partying on Dec. 1.

Keep Costs Low at…The Dollar Store
You’ve probably picked up on the fact that this doesn’t have to be expensive at all.  Dollar stores are great places to find craft supplies and kits.  If you start now, you can use the 40-50% off coupons for Michael’s craft store that come in the Sunday newspaper (in ours, at least) to pick up things like Build-A-Bear kits or woodworking projects, which are perfect for the lazy days following Christmas when you might actually have time to do crafts with your kids.  (I’m notorious for buying craft kits and sending them with my kids to Grandma’s house because I don’t have the time or desire to do it with them.  Just keepin’ it real.)

The Thrift Store
I also mentioned the thrift store because we have a great one in town that carries fun children’s books, games, sometimes unopened puzzles, and even educational CD-roms.  When I cleaned out our closets last summer, I divided our clothes into kitchen-sized garbage bags, and I throw one in the trunk every time I stop by the thrift store because I can get an additional 20% off for donating.  Kids don’t care if something is used – at least I’ve trained my kids not to care.  I occasionally take them with me to the thrift store and let them pick out a book or game, so they view it like any other store (except that they are actually allowed to get something at this store).  If you’re not sure how your kids will respond, sit down with them and watch the informative, yet entertaining, online video, “The Story of Stuff.”  Afterward, they may thank you for reusing items instead of buying more junk to go in a landfill.

Check Online for Activity Discounts
For good deals on children’s activities, check your local kids resources magazines for free activities in your area.  Visit the websites of favorite play places to find out if there’s a discount day of the week.  Check out Groupon for deals in your area.  We bought a Groupon deal for an indoor miniature golf course last summer and saved it to use on my son’s birthday in November.  Start looking now for deals you can save until Christmas week – but be sure to check expiration dates!

The Best Family Activities Are Often Free
Of course, activities don’t have to cost money.  Maybe some of those favorite holiday activities that you’re hard pressed to find time for before Christmas could be saved for the week after, like driving around to look at Christmas lights or having a holiday movie marathon that ends with everyone sleeping in the living room by the Christmas Tree.  (We traditionally watch a favorite trilogy during this week and spend the day in jammies, munching on snacks and leftover goodies.)  Activity gifts can be printed as certificates or presented with a token.  We usually get together with friends for New Years Eve, so I may give the kids a bunch of glow sticks from the dollar store to share with their friends for playing tag in the dark!

Chances are, you’re already looking at your December calendar and wondering how you’re going to find time for everything.  Why not join me in taking a break from the pressure to party all month long and save the giving and family fun for after Christmas?  If you’re a procrastinator, you could even take advantage of after-Christmas sales this way!  The possibilities are endless.  If you have ideas you’d like to share for more cheap 12 Days of Christmas gifts/activities, please share them with everyone in the comments section below.

I wish you a blessed, joyful holiday season!

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