By Galit Breen
When my husband, Jason, and I got married at 23, him, and 26, me, he converted from Catholicism to Judaism and we agreed to raise our children Jewish. As a family of four, we welcomed Hanukkah each year with a gift for each night, latkes (potato pancakes), and sufganiyot (jelly filled donuts) overflowing on plates. Our girls’ pudgy fingers wrapped around our own as we lit candles and sang songs. It was lovely.
Whereas latkes and sufganiyot are both traditional Hanukkah foods for all who celebrate, the gift for each night was something that we decided to implement together; a new tradition for our new family. We loved watching our girls’ delight in opening books and toys and art supplies. A few years later, our son Brody was born and we continued our holidays, done our way; the girls teaching their little brother how holidays go at our house.
And then, something interesting happened.
As our children got older, Jason was hit with pangs of missing out in sharing the traditions of his youth with our three kids. He didn’t miss the religion that he grew up with; he missed the passage of memories, the viewing of old through young eyes.
So four years ago, we welcomed Christmas into our home as well. Over time I’ve learned that a tree needs to let down its branches before it is decorated, that too many ornaments never do anyone any good, and that the smell of pine never gets old.
On Sunday night, Hanukkah ended. My kids woke up Monday morning filled to the brim with this knowledge and by 7:30 a.m. they had put Hanukkah away — decorations neatly tucked around table cloths, menorahs, and candles — and had brought out the Christmas bins, turned on the Christmas music, and began decorating for our second round of holidays for this month.
Its just four years since we brought Christmas into our home, and today this is all so very normal for us.
This morning, in the slice between school drop-off and the start of my work day, I ran to the coffee shop for a morning pick-me-up, a go get ‘em today gift to myself. Outside’s chill and gray melted away when I entered the shop. The bell at the top of the door ringing as it closed behind me and the intoxicating smell of coffee beans signaled me to relax; I immediately complied.
So when I stepped up to the counter to order my chai latte and the young woman working the early shift asked how my Christmas shopping was going as she swiped my card and wrote my name in neat, boxed, upper case letters at the top of the cup, my heart was open and my defenses were down, and I launched into my own personal version of too much information, telling her how we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. “Yes, it’s very fun,” I answered. “And yes, it is a lot of work,” I added.
What happened next, though, was both surprising and refreshing.
She asked, not unkindly, if we, Jason and I, are worried about spoiling our kids, making them feel as if this time year is even more so about presents than every other parent is in danger of doing, because for us double the holidays, does, indeed, mean double the presents; I had just told her so.
I shared my answer with her right away, without MindEditing or even thinking through my thoughts. “No,” I said, quickly adding, “We don’t worry about that, at all.”
What I wasn’t sure about, though, is why I feel this way. I am no stranger to parenting worries. I keep worries clasped in between tightly clutched fingers and pursed lips to be brought out while I watch our three kids playing, while I drive them to their activities, and always—truly, always—when I lay down at night to sleep.
And yet, spoiling my kids, making them feel too gift-focused during the holiday season, isn’t on my worry list.
While making dinner, I was telling my husband about this conversation and about my (too?) quick response. “We never even know what they want,” was his answer.
And this is true. Our kids aren’t gift list makers or gift want announcers. Here’s how I think we got here, even though our kids get two holiday’s worth of gifts, in one month, every year.
It’s not about what we do on or around or for birthdays and holidays. Those days are meant to be special and different and set apart from the rest of the year. They are not the norm or the everyday, and it’s the everyday that creates character.
I don’t know how your family does holiday gifts; every family is so very different. Your family might do best by limiting gifts or they might adore filling every inch beneath the tree, every spot on the table next to the menorah, with wrapped presents tied with curly ribbons.
What I’m (gently) suggesting is that neither way is going to create spoiled kids. It’s just going to create one part of your family’s “how we do things.” What really matters in terms of gift-giving and the risk of spoiling our kids is how we do things the rest of the year, on regular days: How we treat people and we expect our kids to treat others.
When we make focusing on kindness and others’ hearts the norm, a yearly gift giving session doesn’t have a chance to make a dent in how our, and our kids’, hearts work.
Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online. She blogs at TheseLittleWaves.com and regularly tweets, Facebooks, and Instagrams to her heart’s (unspoiled!) content.