When I was about 12, my parents came to the conclusion that most parents come to at some point: My three younger brothers and I had gotten too focused on the “getting” part of Christmas instead of the giving.
Their solution was to decree that while “Santa” would still be bringing us a few modest store-bought gifts, our Christmas gifts to our siblings needed to be homemade.
That first year produced some interesting results. One brother decided to make me a hat, and the final product was a hilariously tall faux-fur creation that made me look like some sort of Russian Abraham Lincoln. He, in return, received a maze made out of popsicle sticks from our youngest brother.
Over the years, as we got older and developed our wood-working prowess, sewing skills, musical talents and artistic abilities, the quality of presents improved. But that was never really the point. The point was realizing when Christmas came around that I was somehow more excited to watch my brother open a pair of zebra-striped pajama pants I had slaved over than I had ever been to unwrap the latest toy.
Eventually, as childhood turned to adolescence and adolescence turned into busy adulthood, the homemade gift tradition fell by the wayside. But the handy skills and life lessons we picked up remained.
Other parents handle the “gimme” phase of Christmas differently. They tell their kid Santa won’t bring as many presents if they’re being selfish, they ask their kids to collect some of their favorite toys to give to the less fortunate, they volunteer at a soup kitchen. Maybe they don’t do any of that, but just relish the opportunity to treat their children to joys they missed out on in their own childhood. Or maybe their children never go through a greedy phase because unexpected life circumstances have taught them early on that not every home can afford Christmas presents.
That’s all OK.
Our family made Christmas gifts to teach us about giving, but we also decorated gingerbread houses because, well, it was fun. End of story. Not everything to do with the holidays has to be tied to some greater life meaning.
The Christmas season has become rife with think pieces and judgmental Facebook posts, debating whether the “Elf on the Shelf” trend is a fun way to create some lasting holiday memories or a creepy way to normalize surveillance. They tell you playing “Baby it’s Cold Outside” for your kids is promoting rape culture, but also that not playing it is teaching your children to be oversensitive snowflakes.
Here’s what matters when you look back on this holiday season: Do your children know you love them? And are you trying to meet their needs and raise them to be good people?
From a non-parent watching with admiration as you juggle your way through whatever level of baking and decorating and buying and wrapping and caroling and serving that you felt able to manage this season: Nice work. If you’re reading this, you made it through another holiday. And I’m sure your kids got something positive out of it, even if there was the occasional sibling squabble or burnt cookie involved (trust me, we had plenty of those around my house growing up and we still turned out fine).
Now sit back and enjoy the rest of Christmas vacation.