As we approached the local supermarket last December, my son Parker's little ears perked up when we heard the Salvation Army bell ringer.
I pulled a quarter from my purse and handed it to him.
"Here," I said. "Do you want to put this in the bucket?"
Parker's eyes lit up. "Yeah!" he shouted, jumping up and down.
"Oh isn't he cute?" I thought, watching him run up to the shiny red bucket and slide his quarter into the slot. "He's so young, but he already wants to help others." I gave myself several mental pats on the back for my excellent parenting, shining forth so brilliantly.
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The man ringing the bell smiled and thanked Parker, who then looked at me expectantly and asked, "Where does it come out?"
It took me a minute to realize what he was talking about. Suddenly, a light came on in my brain.
Parker wanted to know where the gumball came out after he put in his quarter.
Talk about bursting my bubble. It was a moment of comeuppance to me, as I realized I had a long way to go to teach my children about the joys of giving, rather than gimme, gimme, gimme.
The holiday season has definitely become a time of overload. It all starts when the Halloween candy is forced to share the aisle with the chocolate marshmallow Santas and green and red M&Ms. Then there are the incessant commercials touting the latest toys and gadgets that you've just gotta have.
It's easy to find yourself awash in excess when the holidays roll around. So what's a parent to do? Here are a few ideas that will help tame the holiday monster that may be lurking in your household.
1. Teach your kids the importance of giving. A few years ago, my brother, sister and I, along with our children, decided that instead of purchasing presents for each other, we would donate gifts to someone less fortunate. We encourage our children to spend some of their own money to pay for gifts for the family we are helping. The best part is the doorbell ditch routine we go through when we deliver the gifts. We try to be as quiet as possible as we sneak up to the door, place the boxes and bags on the porch, ring the bell and run. "That was so cool!" and "Let's do that again next year!" are some of the responses I've heard from the backseat on the way home from our Secret Santa excursions.
2. Draw names instead of giving gifts to everyone in the family or in your circle of friends. My four children do this. It not only helps cut down on the excess, it also makes it possible for my kids to buy something a little nicer for their sibling, since they only have to buy one gift, not three.
3. Limit the gift list. Our children are allowed to ask for only one item each year. That's not all they get, but I like to have the leeway to surprise them with things I think they'll like (and usually they do). Allowing them to choose only one thing makes them really think about what they want, rather than asking for a bunch of items--many of which will be ignored or relegated to the back of the toy closet within days. (Maybe even hours!)
4. Give consumable gifts. Consider things like food, note cards, movie tickets, restaurant gift certificates and the like that people can use and do not have to find a place for in the house. Take it from me, the ultimate pack rat: Most people don't need more "things."
It is possible to reduce the excess that so easily can overtake you during the holiday season. With a few little changes, you can find yourself happily humming "Jingle Bells"--not muttering Bah Humbug! as the holidays arrive.
About the Author
Freelance writer Margaret H. Evans lives in Bountiful, Utah, with her husband and four children. She has been writing and editing professionally since 1989. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online.