This Christmas, Think Outside the (Toy) Box!


Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.  ~Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby

And no doubt, too much sugar

I thought of something very interesting, and very telling, yesterday as I was journaling. Are you ready for it?

Looking back on all my childhood Christmases, I can’t remember a single toy I received as a gift. Not one.

I vaguely remember something about a dinosaur, and there was another year with some ill-fated Breyer horses, but the memories are faint at best. The one thing I really remember, and it wasn’t even Christmastime, was the homemade “bunker” I constructed out of a riding lawn mower crate, stocking it with canned food supplies and making it “alien-proof” with aluminum foil. Yeah…I was one of those precocious kids.

But as for toys, well, I’m sure all the toys from my childhood, with the exception of a precious few gently worn stuffed animals, are sitting in the middle of a landfill somewhere. I’d like to think that’s not true, but what was I going to do, take everything with me when I moved out of the house? Go all Toy Story? No, it doesn’t work that way.

We're not kidding

I do have a huge problem with the annual, largely artificially created, frenzy that goes along with Christmas shopping every year. Look at videos of people lined up early for bargains on toys, Wiis, big-screen TVs. It looks less like shopping and more like a modern re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille. All for what? So you, or your children, can get whatever “must have” item the media has told you is the season’s hottest new thing.

I guarantee you in a year, if you’re lucky, the “shiny new” will be yesterday’s news. If you’re lucky. And have you noticed that half the time, kids, much like cats, find a great deal more interest in the box than the actual toy?

America got where it is today largely through our unchecked desires for more “big shinys,” the cheaper the better, and our lack of consideration for their impact on the economy. Where do American jobs go when corportations decide things can be made by slave labor, often children themselves, in China or Mexico or Vietnam? And are we really any happier in the end, or, like the mythical King Midas, do we just want more and more and more?

This Christmas, as I myself struggle with faith, I offer the following non-commercial, non-Big Shiny ways to celebrate the season. Though I don’t have children myself, these are mostly for families with children. Remember: Madison Avenue does NOT want you to read the following, so consider it subversive.

The real meaning of Christmas

Keep a year-long journal for your kids and let them read it every Christmas.

 The saying “they grow up so fast” really is true. Even if you’re not a writer, jot down your reactions to your kids’ successes and setbacks, their moments of happiness, their likes and dislikes. Toys may come and go, but this is a gift that will keep on giving. They’ll thank you when they get older. Include lots of photos.

Let the kids clean out their own closet or toy box, and give the toys to someone in need.

There’s no gift like the smile from a child or older person or wounded veteran who might not have otherwise received a Christmas present. It’s important to teach the maxim “’tis better to give than receive,” and I can think of no better way to put it into action.

Instead of toys, consider gifts of service or Family Coupons.

I used to make these a lot growing up: little coupon books for things like “one TV-free night” or “one home-cooked dinner” or “whole-house vacuuming.” Make it last beyond Christmas morning, like “one free non-sick sick day from school” or “one spontaneous trip to the zoo.” Like Christmas itself, it gives the kids something to anticipate.

Ralphie and his Red Ryder

Start an Every Year tradition.

Kids love this too, even if they never admit it. Whether it’s baking gingerbread cookies, or singing carols around the piano, or digging out How The Grinch Stole Christmas or A Charlie Brown Christmas every year, it’s that elusive thing called “quality time.”

Make as many homemade gifts as possible.

I may not remember the Big Shinys of years past, but I do remember the gloves my grandmother once made for me and my mom’s scrumptious Trifle Bowl every year. Some of the best gifts cost little or no money.

Consider a monthly gift, like a subscription to a kid-friendly magazine or book club.

I also remember getting Highlights every year for Christmas, and how much I looked forward to its delivery. There’s no better way to instill a love of reading in a child than by reading together and discussing. (It’s a proven fact that kids are most likely to enjoy reading when their parents do.)

 Enjoy the beauty of the natural world together.

Winter may be much colder, but it has a beauty all its own. Bundle up and enjoy the sights and sounds of the forest at Christmas, or break out a telescope and marvel at the night sky.

Even cats love Christmas

 The real gifts of the season, love and peace, can’t be put into a box or bought at any store. You won’t find the hordes of shoppers fighting one another to find them. Like snowflakes, they are precious and rare, and can be appreciated by those who look for them. And isn’t that what Christmas is really supposed to be about?

Merry Christmas (I can’t say Happy Holidays, because what holidays are we talking about? Festivus? Arbor Day? Lincoln’s birthday? C’mon.)

Merry Christmas to all, and Happy Festivus too

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on December 11, 2010.

One Response to “This Christmas, Think Outside the (Toy) Box!”

  1. Beautiful, Heather.

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