Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Gift Game

I don't know about you, but one thing that drives me nuts about this time of year is the greediness it can foster, especially in little people. I don't blame the kids- the adults around are usually unintentionally fostering it with heaps and heaps of gifts. I think most gift giving is well intentioned, but at some point, all the stuff is just overkill.

I come from a big family of gift givers, and so naturally, we get lots and lots of gifts during the holiday season. When my kids were little, it could at times be overwhelming. I had to learn to spread out the celebrations so all of the relatives didn't bombard them with 12,000,000 presents in one afternoon. It's hard to appreciate what you just opened when you can't even play with it because there are a million other gifts that people are throwing at you.

But, I think one of the most important lessons we can all learn in life is gratitude. I don't just mean being grateful for the stuff we like, but also having manners when we get something we aren't so happy about. I'm always mortified when someone, usually a kid, tosses a present aside without a thank you, or worse, when they say something rude like "I wanted something else."

Along that line, I've been playing what we call the "Gift Game" with my kids for years. I don't really remember where it started- I think I read about the idea in a magazine someplace, but it really does help us all practice being gracious. What we do is, starting a few weeks before a big celebration that involves gifts, we all start packaging up random things to give each other. It can be anything- a rock, a roll of toilet paper, a half used bottle of shampoo. We wrap up the "gift" and when the receiver opens it, they have to not only say thank you, but also come up with two positive, and at least semi- authentic things to say about it. For example, for the rock: "Thanks- this is really strong- it would make a great paperweight." Or, for the toilet paper: "Thanks- This is really useful. I love how soft it is." Sometimes it's a stretch, and often it's hard to do without laughing. We really have to be creative, and it gets us thinking, that is for sure. I think the practice is a good way of helping us all get in the swing of being polite, even if we get a hot pink sequined sweater that we would never in a million years wear. "Wow- it's so sparkley and warm!"

It also gets us thinking about gift giving in general. I love to give gifts myself, but I always have to remind myself to think about who I am giving to. I shouldn't be looking for the gift "I" would want, or that "I" think they should have, but what "they" would like. Giving a basketball to a kid who hates sports is silly, and a waste of resources.

Sometimes, it's hard to know what to give to people who seem to have everything. My kids certainly don't have everything, but they have plenty. How many dolls or Legos does a kid need? I know I have relatives that seem to have so much, it's hard to think of what I could give that they wouldn't just get for themselves. I don't like to add to clutter, and I don't want to just get something that will end up being tossed aside in a month. We do a lot of homemade gifts- crafts and food, but in some cases, I'm big fan of giving experiences rather than stuff. Taking someone out for a night to a concert or show, to a favorite restaurant, or a trip to a really cool museum are all things that might be remembered and appreciated more than more stuff. Even with that though, I have to really think about the show or restaurant that "they" would like, not the one that "I" want to go to. It sometimes can take some work to come up with something we'd both enjoy together. I get the kids involved in the process for relatives, and again, it gets the creative, problem solving juices flowing as we try to come up with solutions. These are the kinds of lessons that aren't in books, but are so important in life.

I can't believe Christmas is only a week away, and we still have much to do- brainstorming, crafting, practicing...Maybe next year, I'll focus on lessons for all of us in not waiting until the last minute. If anyone has any ideas on that, please let me know.

I hope each of you has a blessed holiday season, and that you don't have to work too hard to come up with pleasant things to say about your gifts. Merry Christmas!