While I am writing this article my mind wonders off to wonderful memories of celebrating Christmas. I get this warm feeling inside when I picture a cozy living room where an evergreen is decorated with lights and ornaments. There are presents underneath the tree and there are also stockings hanging on the wall. It’s cold outside and inside the smell of hot chocolate milk with marshmallows flows through the air. At the same time, the fire in the fireplace is burning and it’s keeping everyone warm. Candles are burning on different tables and cabinets, and at the dinner table the family is playing a board game together. On the table, there are a couple of different snacks presented to nibble on. In the background, Christmas music is playing on the radio.
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Gratitude vs Entitlement
Nowadays there is so much available. When you go to a store there are rows and rows of stuff waiting to be bought. However, more stuff doesn’t necessarily make you happy or happier. Do you remember the Konmari Method for decluttering, where the big question you ask yourself while holding something you own is “does this spark joy?”
Maybe you have seen the movie Trolls where the Bergens realize that happiness is inside all of us and you don’t need to do something extra to be happy.
“You are happier when you can be
thankful and appreciative
and when you want to reciprocate.”
Besides that Christmas is a cheerful season, it can also be very stressful. Who do I spend Christmas with? Are you alone or with someone? What does everybody want for Christmas? And are those presents really so important? What if you prepared a special gift, you put time and effort into the thought, and it is not appreciated?
How do you teach your children gratitude for everything they experience or get, especially around Christmas time, instead of them believing that it is their right?
After all, you are happier when you can be thankful and appreciative and when you want to reciprocate. And I think that might have something to do with an overload of presents. Firstly, I love my children and if I can, I would like to give them everything they desire. It is something that makes me happy. The gift of giving. However, my kids are on the receiving side and if they always get what they want, they feel that is normal. They start to expect that all their wishes are fulfilled and they might act spoiled.
After experiencing our first Christmas as a family with an overload of gifts, we decided that our kids wouldn’t get everything they wanted. It doesn’t make them happy. All it does is to make them want more. It is almost like an addiction. Our solution was to have a year-round wishlist for the children. Every time they see something they want, they can add it to their wishlist. They know that for their birthday, they’ll get one gift from their wishlist from us. To be able to have wishes left or that you can save for something, that adds thankfulness.
We have never been the family that would have a lot of presents underneath the Christmas tree. They don’t play a big role in the picture I painted above. Yes, they are there, but the family is playing a board game, enjoying hot cocoa and snacks. The family is enjoying the experience of Christmas. Enjoying Christmas together doesn’t have to cost much. That’s why I call it a minimalistic Christmas.
“The best present includes spending time together.“
A couple of years ago I started a new tradition regarding Christmas gifts. All the kids got 4 gifts, some were bought and some were homemade. Something they want, something they need, something to wear (almost always pj’s) and something to read. I had noticed over the years that:
- After the first gift that they are truly excited about, they aren’t really interested in the other presents;
- They do have an interest in unwrapping presents;
- More gifts doesn’t make them extra happy;
- Furthermore, they can’t play with everything at the same time;
- They already accumulated a lot of toys over the years, which they rarely play with and they don’t need more stuff;
- They’re boys and they’re happy with cars, lego’s, dinosaurs, dress-up clothes, a pencil and a piece of paper and games;
- I don’t have space for so many toys.
In fact, four gifts each was a big success. None of the kids were overwhelmed and they actually played with the toy they got. They were happy with their new pj’s and happy with their book
However, last year was different. As a family, we went through a rough time and were almost out of savings. Eventually, we had reached the point that I felt I had to share with the children what they could expect for Christmas that year. Would there be presents? I didn’t know.*
I also realized something else. Kids love predictability, routine and they love to know what to expect. This strengthens their sense of safety.
Every year we try to do the same things. We go to the Christmas tree lighting event here in town, we decorate our tree, we watch the parade, we color this giant Christmas tree, we go sledding under the moonlight in the first snow, we visit the nicely decorated houses in our area where we particularly like the one that also hands out candy canes. Also, we read the Gingerbread Man and bake gingerbread man cookies. We make multiple Parols, a Christmas Lantern, and give that away to our neighbors. We do a lot together.
Our kids know it’s the Christmas season. After all, they feel it, they can even smell it.
Books & Movies
Every Christmas season we read the same books and we have movie nights together. Because there is nothing better than snuggling up on the couch after a day exploring outside and wait in anticipation what will happen next in the story.
Books we read for this season:
A Christmas Carol (hardcover book & illustrated book)
Movies we watch for this season:
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
- Mary Poppins
- The Sound of Music
- Harry Potter
- The Polar Express
- The Snowman (on Youtube)
- Rise of the Guardians
- The Grinch
- Curious George: A very monkey Christmas
- The Wizard of Oz
- Miracle on 34th Street
- Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
We prefer to watch the original (old) version of a movie.
Christmas Together – Not Minimalistic at All
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
We realized creating memories with the kids is more important than having a lot of presents. In fact we want to provide that warm and loving home that I painted in the beginning of this article and there is nothing minimalistic about that. No matter how rich or poor we are, we can cherish these moments together. Of course, unpacking presents is the best. Especially to feel that excitement before you open a gift and I feel happy when I can give that experience to my kids. But probably the best present of all is the gift of quality time.
*Note: To clarify, in our house we discuss Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas and what their history is. I’m adding Saint Nicholas because that is a historic figure and we can talk about his life and what he did and also when he passed on. Even though our kids know all of this, the magic is still there. And they are excited when they meet Santa Claus or reindeers.
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