A Holiday Offering

The holidays can be hard times for children--and for their parents. When we most want them to put some thought and love into giving, their attention keeps sliding toward getting. With all the hopes and expectations of the season up, disappointments have more room to play. I think we need an extra stock of patience, for ourselves and for our children. And we can use all the help we can get to make it truly be a season of love and joy for our families. Here is my offering for the season:

Make gifts. As the children grow older, this gets easier for them to do, but there are possibilities right from the start. Art work is great for parents and grandparents. Clay sculptures are a hit. If a child has one particularly stunning painting that you're not willing to part with, color copying is now easily available, and well worth the cost. Once I took an unusually delightful drawing of my son's and made it into postcards, using colored card stock at the copy store, and his father, grandparents and aunts were thrilled.

A friend of mine set her four-year-old up with white t-shirts and that new kind of fabric paint that bubbles up; her daughter had a great time and produced beautiful original gifts. Another friend and his son do wall-hanging sculptures out of odd bits of hardware, caulk and spray-paint. And I still remember a paper-weight that my father had on his desk all through my growing up, made by an older sister when she was very young. It was a smooth, round stone with lots of bright colors (paint? melted crayon?) dripping down the sides. When children make gifts, they get to feel like legitimate and valued players in the giving department--and the whole tone of the holiday can shift dramatically.

Head for the hills. While a trip to the lights and displays and department store windows in Center City can be a treat, that's not the only option for holiday adventures. I've had success turning our family's attention toward the open spaces at the edge of the city. Rather than immersing ourselves in the glitter and glitz, with lures on every side to buy, buy, buy, we have explored fields and marshes and woods, collected pinecones and seeds, then come home to spend a quiet evening together tying them up with bright ribbons and putting them on the tree. There are many ways that we, as a family, can make our own pleasures.

Be of use. My mother gave the children an Advent calendar one year with an activity for each day. Along with "learn a carol" was "feed the poor." This was a great impetus to think about how the children can participate in this part of the tradition--packing baskets of food, sorting through their toys for ones that another child would love, collecting aluminum cans to make money to share. We and our children need this part, as much for ourselves as for those with whom we share.

Explore other traditions. It was a breakthrough for me to realize that I could claim traditions that weren't mine as a child. Our family has had a wonderful time getting to know Chanukah. There are some great books about it, and the children love lighting the candles. We have all learned to play the dreidel game, and have been introduced to Hebrew in the process. And I--who am no cook--got intrigued by a Spanish Jewish holiday recipe for a deep-fried spiral sweet, which was an adventure for the whole family. I'm looking forward to getting to know Kwanza and the Puerto Rican Kings Day. What a perfect season to expand our horizons and reach out beyond our own traditions to embrace the rest of the world.