It’s not hard to tell when the Christmas shopping season is officially in full swing because my children’s cartoons become shorter along with the days. Instead of regular programming, their 30-minute show is crammed with 20 minutes of commercials telling my kids why they absolutely can’t live without and must have a stuffed animal that magically transforms into a backpack or a bed or a three-bedroom ranch with optional den.
They watch the kids on the commercials with wide eyes and buy the hype -- hook, line and sinker. I credit these commercials with the fact that I am now the owner of a Snackeeze, a cup that also serves as a snack tray. You, too, can be on your way to childhood obesity! Buy now! Shipping and handling and trans fats not included.
So, we generally turn off the TV more between Halloween and Christmas to avoid the sales pitch. And every year, the shopping mayhem seems to get worse, making it harder and harder to focus on the thanks in Thanksgiving and the Christ in Christmas.
This year, in particular, I am disappointed that some stores are having their customary Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day. I know people shop the Thanksgiving sales for a variety of reasons: budgets, tradition, the experience. So I am by no means judging anyone who wants to camp out for a big screen or hit the mall on Turkey Day.
But there is just something philosophically so backward to me about turning a day where we are supposed to be grateful into a day to buy more stuff. Isn’t a huge part of gratitude being happy with what you already have?
Sometimes I feel like I’m losing the war against all the stuff and the sales and the commercials. But then I remind myself, this is my family. Allowing retailers to determine how we spend this one day a year set aside for gratitude is too high a price -- no matter how good the sale.
So in my home this year, I am working extra hard to fight the retail hype and make sure my kids understand the meaning of gratitude with a few steps:
De-cluttering all that stuff! We just had a huge garage sale to get rid of a bunch of stuff, and I am working with the kids to pare down even more. I started to notice that the more toys and clothes my kids have, the less they value them. Their coats were tossed on the car floor and their toys were always underfoot. So, we are cutting back on the amount of stuff we have so we can truly appreciate and value the things we actually use. We also won’t be out buying a bunch of new junk to replace the old junk this year.
Being happy with what we have: I am guilty of wanting the new thing. We all want it at some point. But a big part of gratitude for me is being content with what you have, even if it’s not the biggest or the newest or the best. At some point, what we already have is good enough, and usually more than some people will ever have. So we are talking with our kids often about why we don’t have the new phone, and when those commercials come on, we discuss the difference between a need and a want.
Verbalizing our thanks: Sometimes just saying (out loud) what you are thankful for is enough to help you remember how good your life is. A few years ago, we started the Thankful Turkey in our home, which is just a semi-lame turkey that I made out of construction paper. We all write what we are thankful for on a feather and add it to the plumage throughout November. By the end of the month, it is amazing to see what my children value -- everything from horses to doctors to freedom.
Serving others: There really is no better way to help our kids be grateful than to expose them to what it means to go without. Service is a great way to do this because kids not only have to sacrifice, but they often get a glimpse of children who are less-fortunate. One of our favorite projects is Operation Christmas Child, where we fill boxes with toys for needy children around the world. My kids love picking out the toys, and I think it helps keep Christmas in perspective when they realize that this little box is all that child will receive. (If you’re interested, shoe box drop-off ends this week and you can find out more here. Fair warning: If you go to this site, you will start crying and immediately go fill several boxes for these kids.)
(Erin Stewart is a regular blogger. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 7-year-old and 3-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.)