“I struggle with clearing out the toys. Both sets of grandparents are educators, and their gifts are great, quality stuff.”

“Christmas is about Christ, not about a pile of presents.”

“Mom, Dad, we really want to teach the children about giving rather than getting. Please just put some money in their saving accounts.”

Have you said, or at least thought, any or all of these statements? Abundance is a struggle in many areas of our lives. The piles of toys and drawers full of clothes are just a symptom of our overindulgent culture. They can also be a symptom of a lack of self-control: our own.

We truly want our children to learn that the Thanksgiving–Christmas season is about God and what He has done for us. But if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us need to admit that we get caught up in the wave of buying during the holiday advertising blitz.

Are there any answers? I’m not sure I have them all. That said, I can give you some of the ideas that have worked in our family.

Control Yourself

Most of my gift purchases for the year are done by the end of January. I take advantage of the after-holiday sales, not just for the following Christmas, but also for birthdays during the year.

This method saves money and helps me think a little out of the box for gifts, because the selections are fewer. High-priced licensed products are rarely included in these sales promotions. I’m more apt to find products that encourage free play or creative activities.

Shopping after the holidays keeps me out of the stores during the holiday shopping blitz. Let’s face it: no matter how firm our resolve, the shopping mall does something to us that brings on overspending and overgiving! For some reason, we parents are drawn to toys that were not available when we were children. Thinking that we are providing something better, we get caught up in buying frenzies, when the underlying, often unconscious thought is of getting what we couldn’t have.

Learning to curb our own impulses is the beginning of teaching our children to be content with what they have. It also helps them to learn there’s more to the holiday season than “I want.”

Teach Giving

Giving should be a lifestyle for Christian families. Jesus teaches over and over again that we are to give rather than to receive. From very early ages, we can begin to make Thanksgiving and Christmas about thankfulness and sharing.

Start by sharing your Thanksgiving meal. You might be thinking, Well, every relative within driving distance comes to dinner. But what about a neighbor who is alone for the holiday? Your table is big enough for one more.

With your little one, go (don’t call or e-mail) to someone who might not be able to be with family. Invite that person to share your meal. No obligation, just come and share.

Nursing homes have many residents who don’t have family close by. The holidays can be the loneliest times for these elderly people. Make arrangements in advance for your family to visit. Ask the staff what type of small gift would be appreciated. One year, our children made small paper-cone angels that set on bedside stands. Even a picture for the bulletin board is a nice touch.

Many department stores and malls now have “giving trees” with gift ideas for children who are less fortunate. Pick a child’s request and have your little ones go shopping. The Marine Corps “Toys for Tots” program is another way to give to another child.

Before Thanksgiving, clean out the toy box. Spend a day with your child clearing out toys that are no longer appropriate or no longer used. You must lead the way; don’t ask your child what to give away. The answer will be nothing. Take these toys to the Salvation Army, a local women’s and children’s center, or a foster-care program for children who may not receive any gifts. But don’t just donate broken-down castaways that no longer work. In the true spirit of Christian giving, make your donations worthwhile.

The beauty of these giving lessons is that your child may not receive a thank-you. You are teaching to give because it is the right thing to do. You are implanting a giving spirit that doesn’t look for reward or accolades.

What About Granny?

Do you ever feel your efforts to teach giving rather than receiving are undermined by indulgent family members? (As a grandparent myself, I can say that. You may not be able to.)

Let me give you a little insight into a grandparent’s mind when it comes to gift giving. We often remember when we would have liked to give more expensive or wished-for gifts to our children, but it wasn’t possible. You may have the same feelings. Some gifts are just too expensive. Well, we grandparents really believe we are helping you by getting the piles of toys, books, and clothes. Few of us think we are challenging lessons you are trying to teach.

How can you let your family members know that you appreciate their efforts but you’d rather not have so many gifts coming your way? You can be proactive without being offensive. These are things my grandkiddos’ parents do to help us grandparents curb our indulgence:

Before Thanksgiving, I get a list of items, usually no more than three. I’m asked to pick one and let Mom know which as soon as possible. Since all gift-giving family members get the same list, she can tell us if a gift is spoken for.

These parents have been creative in their suggestions. For example, one of my grandchildren loves to go to a popular pizza parlor, but it’s outside her parents’ budget. A gift certificate is a delightful gift that she shares with the entire family.

Let grandparents know your child’s favorite author or book series. With this information, I’ve been able to supply books in various series. Because I’m the only one who buys these books, there’s no duplication, and it’s a special treat even for birthdays and throughout the year.

Do grandparents or special aunts and uncles live far away? Let them know several months in advance that a visit between Thanksgiving and Christmas will bring joy to everyone, rather than a box full of toys. If a visit isn’t possible, plan a time for an extended phone call or video chat.

Ask other family members to join you when you take your little one to give gifts to others. Maybe Granny or Auntie can take everyone to lunch on the special day. Remember you are teaching the joy of giving, not the drudgery of an obligation.

Traditions

Anticipated traditions can put the focus on Christ and away from the “getting” mentality.

Each of us brings traditions from our childhood, like whether to open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. You may want to carry on some of these traditions with your children. You’ll also establish new traditions for your family. As you start new traditions, you may want to include giving activities.

One family I know spends a holiday day serving meals at a homeless shelter. While that  may not be appropriate for young children, you can begin with trips between Thanksgiving and Christmas to make donations. As you give to the homeless, you can teach your children the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Many families have a birthday party for Jesus on Christmas Day, or at least a birthday cake. This might be a good time to give gifts to Jesus. Don’t just read about the birth of Christ; tell your children why He was born and what that means to them. What better gift for Jesus than the salvation of a young heart?

I like to tell the story of Christ’s birth through cookies. I have a set of cookie cutters that represent various aspects of the story: a star, angels, manger, shepherds or sheep, and other shapes that represent God’s gift to humans. You can be creative in your selection. Eventually your children will be able to repeat the story as you make the cookies.

Teaching giving may seem like another burden during an already busy time of the year, but think: do you want your children to remember the holidays as a burden of activities and spending or as the joy of serving others as Jesus did? You may find that you need to give up the Christmas play at church or a ladies tea. Twenty years from now, you will be blessed as you see your children teach your grandchildren about the gift of giving. 

Susan K. Stewart began teaching her children in 1981 and is considered a pioneer in modern homeschooling. Her latest book is Preschool: At What Cost? You can read more about early learning at her blog, www.betterthanpreschool.com.