Festive experiences, not gifts, are what make the holiday season so special

lantern in the snow
CC BY 2.0 Gary Robertson

Kids will remember experiences forever, long after the presents under the tree have been forgotten. That's where parents should direct their efforts.

"It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." -- Dr. Seuss

Last night my kids had an experience they’ll probably never forget. Our family was invited to a solstice party at a home in the country. The kids made crafts, including hand-dipped beeswax candles and small Mason jar lanterns decorated with Christmas-colored tissue paper. After a potluck dinner, we filled the kids’ lanterns with tea lights and headed into the forest for a walk.

It was a beautiful sight, all those little children with excited faces glowing in the light of their lanterns, eyes wide with the novelty of such an adventure in the dark. Their giddy chatter gradually subsided into quiet wonder at the night around them.

“It was kind of spooky, but I want to go again tomorrow night,” one of mine said. They were still talking about it at bedtime and I suspect the memory will stretch far beyond that, likely into adulthood, when they’ll think back on that magical night when they carried candle lanterns through the forest.

Isn’t it puzzling, though, that we as a culture spend so much time and money fretting over the quantity and quality of the wrapped gifts under the tree, while something as simple as a nighttime walk can make such an impression and give such joy? The irony is that many kids cannot even remember what they got for Christmas last year. Within weeks, the toys are lost in the toy box, either broken or dead or no longer exciting enough to merit attention. There will be a fresh round of toys presented this year that experience the same fate.

That is why it’s important to seek out experiences and give them to your children this holiday season. They don’t need designer-brand clothes, the latest gadgets, battery-powered and light-up plastic toys. What they do need are things like community band concerts, Christmas carol sing-alongs, horse-and-sleigh rides, a special date with Mom or Dad at a festively decorated coffee shop with a mug of hot chocolate, a tree-trimming celebration, a family movie night watching The Polar Express or A Charlie Brown Christmas, an afternoon spent making a gingerbread house or decorating sugar cookies.

The real fun of the holiday season lies in the atmosphere that is created by music, food, decorations, and gatherings with friends and family. Put your efforts, your creativity, and your money into that, and your kids will be grateful for the rest of their lives that you made the holidays so special for them, long after the physical gifts have been forgotten.

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