The holidays are upon us, a time for togetherness and traditions. But for parents of young families, this can be a stressful time as well.

Let’s face it, parents (and, unfortunately, young children themselves) are a key marketing demographic. It’s hard to go anywhere this time of year without being bombarded with ads for the latest greatest something you need to buy your child. Even family members can unwittingly get in on the act by over-emphasizing the gift-giving aspect of the holiday season.


Time together

Our commercial culture tells us the things we buy will make us happy. Research (and a bit of soul-searching on our own parts) backs up the fact that this is not true. It’s real relationships, community and spiritual nourishment, among other things, that bring a true sense of well-being. This is the case any time of year, but these qualities can be especially meaningful during the holidays.

How can you celebrate without giving in to consumerism? Below are some tips from Susan, gleaned from Sunflower family discussions over the years, to help your family minimize materialism during the holidays:

Talk about it!
Don’t want family (including well-meaning grandparents) to give your kids a pile of plastic toys for Christmas? Tell them–nicely, of course. Sometimes just sharing your point of view can make a huge difference and could open the door to further family closeness.

Give concrete gift options
If conversations about gift-giving values feel uncomfortable, talk specifics instead. Share concrete ideas for presents with family and friends in advance. Less materialistic gift options might include classes or museum memberships, books/magazine subscriptions, art/creative/building supplies, a donation to a favorite cause, or a regular date with the grandparents.


Mmm gingerbread. Smells like holiday spirit!

Some parents send links to specific items (maybe non-commercial, open-ended toys) with a note saying how much their children would enjoy them. Others might suggest that several family members chip in together for one big meaningful gift, such as a bike or a trip.

Emphasize experiences over things
Think back to the holidays when you were a child. Are your happiest memories about the specific gifts you received or are they more focused on experiences you had with your family and loved ones? Time together with family and friends is almost always most precious.

Over the course of a lifetime, the memory of an afternoon spent baking gingerbread with grandma is likely to trump the seconds it took to tear open the stash of gifts she might have brought you. So with your own family, bake, decorate, light candles, take a drive to check out the holiday lights—choose an activity that is meaningful and enjoyable for everyone and do it together.

When it comes to gift giving, think experiences over things as well. Priceless memories can come with little or no cost, like a play date with the grandparents or a family trip to the nature center. The experience of creating a homemade holiday card or making/finding a special gift applies here too. My daughter, Suzie, spent time during a recent beach trip selecting the perfect shells to wrap and give her nature-loving uncle for Hanukkah. This gift is sure to be meaningful for both of them.

Holiday "shopping" at the beach

Holiday “shopping” at the beach

Model the values you want for your children.
It’s a simple rule of parenting, but one that is easy to forget: your children learn by watching your example. If time together during the holidays is important to you, clear your schedule (and/or put down your phone and electronic distractions) and model time together. If you believe in being of service to others, model that.

Make your own rituals
If you grew up celebrating the holidays in a more commercial, materialistic way, but want something different for your kids—this is your opportunity. Create your own new family traditions (the more senses involved, the better). Emphasize to your children that the holidays are about making time and being together, and be sure to give your kids a voice in coming up with family traditions.

Some families clear the way for holiday gifts by making a big donation of old toys to Goodwill, AVDA or Faith Farm. Let the children choose so that the giving comes directly from them. Expect them to make some last-minute changes and not be able to give up a beloved toy or two after all. Sierra told me this year she wants to leave her old toys as a “present” for Santa on Christmas Eve, so he can take them to babies and kids who don’t have toys. It’s a lovely idea—and it might end up being a new Christmas ritual in our household.

Decorating together...

Decorating together…

Have realistic expectations.
We’re all only human. No matter how hard you try, the holidays are never going to be picture postcard perfect—and, really, that’s a good thing! Embrace the beauty of imperfection. Expect to compromise a bit on the small things for the sake of family togetherness. Remember, it’s the overall picture of the values you model for them and the continuity of traditions that your kids will remember as they get older.

Be true to yourself and sensitive to others
As a parent, you have every right to celebrate the holidays with your children in the ways that best fit your personal values. At the same time, it is important to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the extended family and friends with whom you might be celebrating. Take time to listen to their point of view as well. Don’t make the holidays about judging each other. Find common ground.

Remember, often the motive behind piles of presents is simply love for your kids. That is something you can all likely agree on.

By Jaime Greenberg, with Susan Caruso

© Jaime Greenberg, Susan Caruso and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2012
Photos © Jaime Greenberg, 2012