This time of the year certainly reminds us of the importance of “spreading good cheer” and of the need to give back. As we give thanks for all the blessings we’ve received, perhaps we can also think about ways we can make our celebrations a little more meaningful by focusing on what really matters. Here are some ideas.

Build on your family traditions.

It can be helpful to hold a family meeting and talk about everyone’s feelings about the holidays. We can ask our children about what, besides the gifts, they really like about the holidays. Often memories start to emerge: making gingerbread cookies with Grandma, taking a walk together as a family, ordering take-out Chinese and days-worth of leftovers.

From those memories, you can start brainstorming about what to establish as part of your family holiday tradition, perhaps even exploring new ways to enliven the winter season. Could a family hike followed by hot cocoa be a regular ritual? Coloring and cutting holiday-themed place settings? Decorating cookies to distribute as gifts?

Give the gift of experience.

Another approach is to focus on giving gifts that are really experiences such as a trip to the museum, a weekend family adventure, certificates for favorite excursions, cash/coupon for an outing to the arcade, or a day trip with a friend to the trampoline park. Whatever the experience, change the focus of the gift to doing something together rather than owning a thing or the object.

Work on a giving project together.

Brainstorming about the types of gifts or experiences we share with friends and family during the holiday season also helps open our children up to the idea that gifts don’t have to be an item purchased at a store or online. As you explore this idea with your children, think about giving projects you can work on together as a family such as:

  • DYI/Handmade gifts
  • Care packages for children in need
  • Video gifts or electronic messages
  • Experiential gifts
  • Gifts of quality time
  • Skill sharing gifts
  • Donation and support gifts
  • Food gifts
  • Letters to our troops overseas

Children can be involved in creating care packages or gift baskets, video collages or audio greetings that can be sent to grandparents, favorite dry goods recipes in mason jars, and coupons for activities or quality time. Make it a family tradition you can do together every year around the holiday season. Need more ideas? See this link.

Start a family giving tradition.

In discussing the holiday, you can also introduce activities that involve giving and service to others. All sorts of studies detail the mental and physical health benefits of selfless service. The term “helper’s high” refers to the chemicals released in our brains when we engage in giving behaviors. Children can be very intrigued by learning about different charities, especially those that are local or important to your family. Part of the process of gift-giving can include choosing a charity and giving a gift in your child’s name, or even having your child play a part in delivering the gift.

Children who grow up in families with strong giving traditions are more likely to carry on that tradition and give charitably as adults, according to a new study by Fidelity Charitable. They’re also reported to be happier and to have closer relationships with their families. Their research investigated how charitable giving traditions instilled in children result in a happier family dynamic and increased philanthropic activity as adults.

Provide a giving allowance.

If you have older children, allow them to save money to donate to a charity or nonprofit of their choice. This will instill an early understanding of charity and philanthropy, and the value of prioritizing it in the future. Giving back to others is one of the most important habits you can instill in your children and services like Greenlight makes it easy for children to donate part of their allowance to a non-profit of their choice right from the app on their device.

To sum it all up, we have enough things in our lives. Even if our youngest children aren’t quite ready to give up the idea of getting material presents, we can model both how gifts can take on many different forms and how we can bring more of ourselves to the holiday gift-giving experience.

Our children won’t really remember a particular toy they unwrapped in 2022, but they’ll likely recall what they did with those they love and how they felt while doing it. Perhaps just planning a different kind of giving this year can bring less stress and more joy. What better gift could be there than that?

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