Last year I planned to write about this, but at first it seemed too far ahead of the holidays to write, then it was too close and it seemed it was too late for the suggestions, and then the holidays were over and it seemed way too early to think about the next year. This year I had the same thing happen, but I’ll share some thoughts on this now.
We keep things very non commercial. I really dislike the focus on buying, buying, buying, and feel strongly that having so much attention paid to presents shifts the focus away from the true meaning of the holiday. I think it’s unfortunate that so many people feel they need to put themselves deeper into debt to fulfill the expectations of those around them. As I try to do with other holidays throughout the year, I space the extra expenses over time so that it’s not a burden at one time (though Chanuka expenses are quite low in our house, and it’s more of a help in terms of not putting pressure on myself last minute to pull a rabbit out of a hat).
Another point that I think is important to be aware of, so you can avoid it, is that the more you spend, the more those around you come to expect, so everyone ends up less satisfied all the time. And it spirals every year as everyone comes to expect more and more.
To deal with the aspect of not getting caught up in large sudden expenses, I keep my eyes open all year round – if I see something at a great price that will make a nice gift for a family member, I get it. At the beginning of January tends to be a good time to buy gifts from retail stores, and takes the pressure off for later on in the year because you have what you need by the time the holidays are here! But you can look at thrift stores, yard sales, wherever – no one outlet has a monopoly on great deals.
I have a box in the attic where I put all of these finds during the year, and a few weeks before Chanuka go through it and get a sense of what would be appropriate for whom. But I really don’t spend a lot per person. And since I’ve too often seen how little use some gifts get, I decided this year to suggest to all of the kids that they think of gifts they can give that are either free or very, very low cost. My kids like to all get things for each other and for us, and it ends up being a lot of stuff, even when done simply and inexpensively.
What kind of things do I get my kids? Well, they have plenty of games and there’s not much to add to in that area. We haven’t found a large variety of toys useful – though there are some we have in large amounts, like K’nex, so toys are usually only for the younger kids. For the past couple of years, we gave homemade coupon books, which the kids really like. The only problem with that is that they like to save their coupons, and all of a sudden now, they’re rushing to redeem them now from a year ago, before they expire! Dh had fun taking them all out for donuts and hot cocoa this week, one of their coupons!
I try to get a mix of practical things I know they’ll appreciate, and something a little fun. My ds15 and ds9 have been letting me know they’d LOVE a membership to the JCC, and dh and I decided this will be the big family gift for everyone – a year’s membership, which I know they’ll all get a lot of use out of (we live a five minute walk away). This year I got them all new gloves, earmuffs, and scarves, but it got cold so early in the year that I gave them the gloves and earmuffs early. But I put aside the beautiful fleece scarves for my dh and ds15. I bought hot water bottles ($35 total) for everyone, to keep them toasty on cold nights, which they’ll appreciate since our nights are cold and we keep the house temps low- I’m planning to make individualized covers for each of them sometime in the next week. Even though it’s something I would have given them anyway (like the JCC membership), by saving it for Chanuka it adds to the fun.
I bought card games, a couple of board games (for the younger kids), a craft kit, science kits, alef bais cookie cutters, another Gears kit (to add to the collection we already have) and that will be distributed to whoever it’s most appropriate for. Then I have miscellaneous items – like for my husband, he told me about a video (Seabiscuit) he found inspiring that he saw at someone’s house when he was away – so I got him the book, found at a book exchange (therefore free). And he mentioned recently that he wanted to try to find some peppermint oil since ten years ago he found it soothing to add to his tea. I got two small bottles for him, which I know he’ll be quite pleased and surprised that I got.
For the 8 and almost 10 year old, who love listening to audio books together in the afternoons, and both have a very high level of comprehension and similar tastes, I’m giving an unabridged recording of the first book of Lord of the Rings (10 cents at the library sale – that’s five cents per child for 20 hours of guaranteed entertainment each!). Dd14 will get an apron, and a special lip balm (she always borrows mine and says it’s the only one that helps her chapped lips. Dd12 will get a crafting book and a special box for supplies, ds6 has a beautiful new picture book, the little ones will get that ride on solid wood airplane I mentioned. I’m thinking of baking each of them a bear bread with a ribbon around it’s neck, just as a fun little thing.
For our parents, I’ve bought nice moisturizers (that I got for free by shopping wisely and using rebates), and will give them some homemade jam and probably loaves of bread wrapped in a gift basket that they’ll enjoy. Our parents can spend much more on themselves than we ever could, so I try to think about what I could give them that they can’t buy. I think that except for the JCC membership and hot water bottles, I spent a total of less than $20 for everyone combined.
Oh, I almost forgot that all of our kids (ages 5 and up) light their own menorahs – the older kids each have their own special menorah, but the younger ones use the standard cheap ones. Right after Chanukah last year, I bought the next child in line a beautiful menorah on clearance at Target; I think it was 50% off so $12.50 (that’s not included in the above number). It’s not like they expect to be given one, because it’s not a standard gift from us, but I know the child I have in mind will be very happy to have his own unique menorah. Just unpacking the menorahs and preparing them each night is fun!
None of my kids mind if something was purchased brand new or not, or at top dollar or not – it’s more important to match their interests with the gift, and this takes more thought than just buying the newest and latest gadget. They are all very appreciative kids, but some things have been harder for them to muster up excitement about than others. A couple of years ago they received gifts that were costly from a set of relatives, but not suitable at all (like a 12 year old who got a craft kit appropriate for a 6 year old, an almanac for a child who didn’t read much, etc), and I was glad to see they were able to enthusiastically cover up their disappointment so the givers felt happy the gifts had been well received. But they told me afterwards they so much would have rather been given ten dollars that they could have spent as they wanted, than to know so much money was spent on things they got no pleasure from and would never use – they felt it was almost worse than getting nothing because they had the feeling of missing the chance to get something they wanted for the money spent. Fortunately, this is very unusual, and they are almost always happy with whatever they get, from whoever they get it from.
The kids asked me what I wanted, and I said I would appreciate something that would take me time to do/make, but would be wonderful if someone else could do so I wouldn’t have to. My oldest son has been building me something, working on it for hours – I’m looking forward to seeing the final results. I know a couple of kids started sewing something, but then the sewing machine jammed so I don’t know what’s happening with that. As I already mentioned, I encouraged them to also think in terms of doing for each other rather than buying for one another this year.
I think the reason we can get so much enjoyment out of such simple presents is that we keep the focus on our time together and on the holiday – it’s about so much more than presents. Everyone benefits by keeping expectations low – there’s more joy in giving, more joy in receiving, and more joy in just being with each other!