My 4-year-old daughter and I have made a New Year Tree to hang all of our ‘gift of time’ Christmas presents on for the year ahead. I sawed up an old crate and banged a few nails in. My daughter has painted it. Once the 1 year old was in bed we carved out just enough time to get it done.
Now we can hang all the excitements of 2019 on it. Like baubles. The idea is that the gift giver writes their ‘gift of time’ plan on a ‘bauble’ to hang on the New Year Tree, so it becomes a concrete thing to look forward to. We’re wrapping fairy lights around it the tree too and it will go up on the wall in the kitchen.
I think it’s important that my children don’t grow up thinking that it is normal or acceptable to consume at the rate we do and be wasteful to the extent we are. We need to be mindful of what goes into making the stuff we buy, the journeys much of our things go on to reach us, and to be aware that all inorganic material doesn’t simply ‘go away’ when the dustmen come.
In a child’s world, the stuff we buy for them is primarily toys, games, books and clothes. Beyond what is truly needed and valued, I have decided to prioritise experiences over things. I love this line from Puff the Magic Dragon: ‘Dragons live forever but not so little girls and boys, painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys’. Children do outgrow toys, others break, but mostly they gather dust and get lost amongst the others. My daughter has just as much fun with yoghurt pots, cones, coffee beans and my high heels.
But how do I get a new Christmas tradition of no presents off the ground in an era of cheap(ish) and aggressively-marketed stuff? Dress up as a present, of course. Inject a bit of humour into anything, and it’s always an easier conversation to have. When I googled ‘dress up as a Christmas present’ I should have known what I would find. Slender ladies with nothing but a bow covering their essentials. Encased in a large cardboard box meant I looked more like one of the Little Misses. Miranda Hart even retweeted my photo! I think this helped friends, particularly those with children, really receptive to the idea.
Spending time with a child, rather than giving an object, is of course more fun, more meaningful and is better for relationship-building. And it doesn’t have to cost money (though there are plenty of great days out ideas online). The joy is in the anticipation, the experience and the remembering of whatever you decide to do.
These memories can then be immortalised in photos and videos. I’ve created scrap books for my two children which I keep adding to and have setup a YouTube channel to make videos more shareable with those we’ve undertaken joint adventures with. We’re getting excited about making a ‘show’ for friends abroad that I’ll film, going fairy door hunting in the woods, baking muffins for a charity event, camping in the summer, making an insect inn.
For those items that my children really want or I think they need, like duplo or a bike, I try to buy second hand and ask the parent of the previous owner to get their child to write a note to mine. A pre-loved item is special because it arrives full of joy from fun had with another child. I want to normalise receiving hand-me-down, slightly worn-looking toys.
An additional plan for Christmas 2019 is to set aside a small amount of money for each of my children to give to charity. I’ll talk them through the work of three different charities – two local, one international – and they can choose whom to support. #DontSendMeACard has some great ideas. Hopefully it will remind my children to think of those who need a bit of support in making it ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. These choices can be added to the New Year tree too.