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Toddling Through the Silicon Valley

By Cheryl Bac

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About this blog: I'm a wife, stay-at-home mom, home cook, marathon runner, and PhD. I recently moved to the Silicon Valley after completing my PhD in Social Psychology and becoming a mother one month apart. Before that, I ran seven marathons incl...  (More)

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Kids and Gift Giving

Uploaded: Dec 20, 2016
Our daughter is still a bit too young to understand that Christmas is right around the corner. But, as a preschooler, our son is well aware of the holiday.

I didn't want the entire month of December to be filled with questions about what toys he would receive and when. Being pregnant my patience is running a bit lower these days. And I knew that my memory was not up for keeping track of an ever-changing Christmas list. So I tried a few different ways to keep our son's focus off of the gifts he will receive this year.

First, around Thanksgiving I asked our son to write an actual list of what gifts he wanted for Christmas. Afterwards I asked him to also brainstorm a list for his sister. His list for his sister was much better than my own, and helped me immensely with my Christmas shopping. Thankfully he hasn't edited either list much.

Next, as we've done before, our son helped make a few homemade gifts and treats for relatives and teachers to enjoy. It's fun to see him get a bit more involved in the process - deciding which sweet treats to make and helping me find the ingredients at the store.

Many of our relatives live far away, so I did most of our Christmas shopping online. While convenient, I decided not to involve our son with online shopping this year. Instead, we kept it simple and took him to a couple of stores to hand-pick a few gifts for relatives coming to visit us.

Finally, I added a new tradition this year. I asked our son to choose 3 organizations for our family to donate to this holiday season. I loved chatting with him about his choices throughout the month. I hope we can keep this new tradition going year after year.

How are you helping your kids focus less on the gifts they will receive this holiday season?
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Herbie, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Dec 20, 2016 at 4:31 pm

First of all, I'm very impressed that your pre-schooler can already write! When I was growing up we didn't learn to write until the first grade. Second of all, if you're already asking your child in November to make a Christmas list, how can he not be excited and talk about the presents he wants, well ahead of Christmas time? Also, In a previous post you wrote that your kids weren't enthusiastic about Thanksgiving so you "followed their lead" and got into the Christmas spirit early (before Thanksgiving) by making a gingerbread house and singing Christmas carols. No wonder your kids aren't enthusiastic about Thanksgiving when their mommy will jump right to Christmas activities because her kids are not overly excited about Thanksgiving. They sure have your number, lol! Why not save the Christmas activities till at least December instead of getting your children all worked up about Christmas before Thanksgiving. Why not make the focus of November about all that you are grateful for and what you can do to help others instead of focusing on Christmas lists and gingerbread houses. Lastly, I think it's good for children to wait for the special holiday activities - otherwise they aren't special.

Posted by Cheryl Bac, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 20, 2016 at 9:57 pm

Cheryl Bac is a registered user.

Herbie - Thanks for commenting.

I wanted our son to write his Christmas list early so I could shop early rather than during the holiday rush. Much less stressful for me.

This year it worked out well to sing/listen to Christmas Carols a bit early. Our kids had a little more time to learn them before hearing them in the Los Altos Festival of Lights Parade (Nov 26) and the Holiday Train (Dec 3 & 4).

I agree, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to think about what we are grateful for and what we can do to help others. But, so is the entire holiday season (and the rest of the year).

I agree, some holiday events can't happen early (the Los Altos Festival of Lights Parade only happens on a certain night). But, some, like making a gingerbread house, singing Christmas Carols, making homemade gifts for relatives, can have a bit of wiggle room.

Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Dec 21, 2016 at 9:15 am

I tend to agree with the idea of keeping as much as possible until nearer the time. We put our tree and decorations up once school breaks, not before. December is the time of Advent and getting ready as far as we are concerned. We always check the trees at school and each child finds one gift we can buy to put under that tree for someone in need. Yes, each child makes a list of gifts they want but we tell them that they may not get in the calm of late December rather than in the excitement laden pre everything on the list for various reasons, it is just an ideas list. Things like making gingerbread houses, watching Christmas movies, are done Christmas rush.

We don't eat Christmassy food at home until Christmas Eve evening and we spend the time after Christmas as part of the celebration until 12th night when the decorations come down. When the decorations come down we make sure that the little ones know that Christmas will happen again and that things are put away in boxes until next year. We also spend time that day talking about our Christmas memories of what happened and quite often the children don't even mention specific gifts but rather talk about some of the fun things we did or places we went. We also pile up our Christmas cards and take them out one at a time on relaxed dinner times and read the card and talk about the people who sent them to us. Quite often they don't really know who the people are, but it is nice to remember that family during dinner.

I tend to go with the practice of leaving excitement as late as possible in Advent because as soon as the house is decorated and the food and gifts become apparent, the excitement level becomes crazy and the inability to get to sleep at night makes life miserable.

Sure let them know that Christmas is coming, but delay the craziness until there is no school at least. Then enjoy the family times after the 25th as those are the ones they will remember and cherish as much as anything they do beforehand.

At least that's my opinion.

Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Dec 21, 2016 at 9:16 am

Sorry, some of my editing came out wrong, but I hope you get the gist.

Posted by Cheryl Bac, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 21, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Cheryl Bac is a registered user.

Mother of 4 - Thanks for commenting. And for sharing what works best for your family. I like your tradition of sharing Christmas memories while putting away the decorations.

Posted by Savor the Season, a resident of Community Center,
on Dec 23, 2016 at 10:00 am

Cheryl - Kudos to you for approaching the holidays in such a thoughtful way. Our family loves having special traditions that take place throughout the month of December, and I agree with you that engaging kids in gift-giving alongside the prospect of gift-receiving is an important. I love the balanced age-appropriate way you have included your son in some of your family gift giving. I agree with you about starting early - it makes things less hectic for you (you can shop when it's less crowded and - when your kids get older - wrap when the kids are at school) and it allows your son (and eventually all of your children) to participate in making treats for teachers or other special adults in their lives. When our kids were younger, we loved going to holiday shows and events, with a balance between traditions we do every year (walking down Christmas Tree Lane together) and other things we did only one special time (Nutcracker in SF on Christmas Eve day) or occasionally (other holiday shows, like Twas the Night before Christmas, a great 75 minute ballet well-suited to young children.) I like to get out our holiday decorations early in December so that we can enjoy them (we usually leave to go skiing on Dec 26) though I do wait until the weekend after Thanksgiving because I love having my glass pumpkins out in October and November. We put out some Christmas decorations when the glass pumpkins get put away (my son has a nutcracker collection that his grandparents have been building every year, and we have other special decorations that we have collected over the years) and then wait a little longer to get our tree. This year we decorated the tree after a special family dinner on Sunday December 11. My 9th grader really appreciated the break from studying for exams. I asked her if it would be too much to do that with exams starting a few days later, but she really liked the idea of decorating the tree together that night so that she could take a break from her studies to start to savor the holiday season. For older kids, I think it's important to preserve some family time during the hectic weeks when school is wrapping up for break. Even now (we have one in high school, one in middle schooler, and an elementary student) I still don't put any wrapped presents under the tree until a day or two before Christmas, because that would place too much focus on receiving gifts. However, my kids have always been actively engaged in the process of choosing gifts for each immediate family member, and that is a process that sometimes starts very early. When they were younger I helped them, and as they have gotten older it's something they do mostly independently. It's not about the money (now that they have an allowance, they spend their own allowance money), it is about the thought and effort. Some years there have been some pretty extensive secret crafting projects underway starting in early November! Other years they walk to Town and Country (often one of the older ones helping the youngest) to choose fun small presents from Books Inc or Sur La Table. Often these presents are the most cherished, sometimes even the most practical, because they really reflect what we like and need. Thoughtful gift giving is not about the money, but it does require some time, thought and effort so it's good to start early so that you can enjoy the process rather than finding it a burden. It has been gratifying to watch this excitement about giving gifts to each other be such an important part of how our kids approach the holiday season. Also, when we give gifts to our children, there might be a few gifts they have requested, but we also enjoy choosing things (originally toys, now usually clothes or sports items) that we think they might like but that they haven't requested. This also helps to keep the holiday more about the joy on both sides of a gift exchange not about what you might ask to get.

Posted by Cheryl Bac, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 23, 2016 at 6:19 pm

Cheryl Bac is a registered user.

Savor the Season - Thank you for commenting and for sharing your family's traditions. I'm excited to see how ours change as our kids grow up.

I enjoyed reading about how your immediate family exchanges gifts - elaborate crafting and an older sibling helping a younger one shop at Town and Country. Very sweet family memories.

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