Tis Better to Give…

I have seven nieces and nephews. They currently range in age from 3 to 13. Three of them were born within four months of each other eight years ago. (Sometimes I move to California and all my siblings get pregnant/have babies.)

Needless to say, Christmas is an exciting time. And a challenging one. The kids in my life are all very lucky. And while I’m sure there are things they want, one look at any of their bedrooms would tell you they have enough.

I’m not sure how I’ll reconcile this feeling when I’m a parent. I get that toys and dolls and such are fun to buy. I’ve enjoyed buying them myself, but at a certain point…it’s all too much. So how do you stay the fun aunt while not giving into crazy consumerism?

A few ideas:

Three years ago, I gave everyone books with their names in the title. These weren’t specially made. I found them using the world wide web. In case you think your little one’s name might be too difficult, dig a little bit. I have a Ned, and have found several books for him throughout the years. In 2004, I ended up connecting with an author of a series of books with Ned in the title. Here’s one of our email exchanges:

> Hi Mr. Faine!!
>
> I got the Little Ned Stories reader for my 6 year
> old nephew Ned. Ned started school this year, and when
> the teacher asked them what they wanted to accomplish,
> Ned answered immediately: “I’m here to learn how to
> read.”
>
Wow! What a great story.  I hope he learns real good,
real fast, you can tell him I said so.  And after he
becomes a good reader, he can read the second in the
series, which is entitled appropriately MORE LITTLE
NED STORIES!
It has 9 stories, each with chapters, but no pictures.
He could be ready for it next year.
It’s up on Amazon.com, with an inside-the-book
feature, so you can take a look at it.
Good luck to Ned!

PS Ned is now 13. PPS I super loved that trip down memory lane. So books. Books are always a good idea. If you’re not into the name thing – or are not comfortable giving Haleigh a book where the main character spells her name Haley (it happens!) – I suggest picking one of your favorite age-appropriate books and gifting that. Book series offer gift opportunities that keep on giving…just saying.

Two Christmases ago, I was living in Vegas. I went to the Neon Graveyard (which I would HIGHLY recommend!) and took pictures of all the kids initials individually. I then framed them accordingly. That project turned out really cool. (Unfortunately I have no pictures of the final products to prove it.) They also all got shirts that said “What happens at my aunt’s stays at my aunt’s.”

Last Christmas, I was prepping to go to Africa, so it seemed appropriate to get them all TOMS. Warning: TOMS can be super expensive when you have to buy seven pairs (plus an awesome silver glitter pair for yourself). But it’s for a good cause, and I tried to emphasize that because each of them now had a pair, so did a child in Africa.

Here are similar One for One gift ideas, including Happy Blankies (a 7 year old’s idea).

This year, I’ve signed the littles (the ones 8 and under) up to be Zoo Parents. The St. Louis Zoo is awesome and this gift encourages family time as their moms and dads (my sibs) will have to take them to check on their animals and see their names on the kiosk. BTW, the St. Louis Zoo is free and the best one I’ve ever been to. (Take that, San Diego!)

I’ll be hand making the other part of their gifts. Which is always an option.

Something else I’ve done that has been fun is one-on-one days. These, too, can get expensive tho because sometimes kids don’t realize that a movie, glow-in-the-dark putt-putt, and dinner plus snacks all has to be paid for by somebody. But you’re never going to regret quality time and good conversation. Keep in mind, spending the day baking cookies, playing a board game (Sorry and Trouble are hits in our fam), or playing in the snow are cheap, one-on-one possibilities. Never underestimate the power of telling a kid you will do whatever they want.

Another idea: magazine subscriptions. Also a gift that keeps on giving (and encourages reading!). I chose Highlights and Sports Illustrated for Kids the year I did it. I’d say go with the magazine you liked reading as a child, but 3-2-1 Contact is out of print. Turtle Magazine is another option for younger kids who might enjoy getting mail. If it’s a success, you’re in luck, as you can renew the subscription the next year. And the next…and the next…

If you’ve got really world-aware kids, or are working with teenagers whose Ipods are already well stocked (I wholeheartedly support giving the gift of music!), there are organizations that enable you to make donations in their names (or even let them choose what they’d like to donate to!). (Note: Keep an eye on the Charity Navigator to make sure your donation will be used in the manner in which you intend.) There are also sites like this one that offer fair trade gift options that donate proceeds to good causes.

Alright, so you think all of this sounds great, but that the kids you’re buying for will never go for it. If that’s the case, what about finding new kids? (jk) I mean, why not involve the child in donating the toys they have but don’t play with any more? And when it comes to new toys, sticking to things that encourage creativity, imagination and outdoor play?

Also remember: it’s not about how much money you spend, it’s how you spend it. (Read as: don’t put yourself in debt to make the stack under the tree or around the menorah look better.)

In closing, one of my favorite holiday memories was the year my entire family volunteered together for the Salvation Army Angel Tree program. I remember sitting at the mall with my mom and younger sister working our shift collecting presents. I remember seeing how much my parents loved shopping for the kids they had selected from the tree. My mom always wants to buy a baby doll so she picks a girl of a certain age and my dad always wants to buy a truck, so he picks a little boy. I also remember going to the main site with my entire family – including my brother who must have been home from the Navy? – and sorting all the gifts for the families and seeing all the rows of present piles. Christmas mornings made possible by the kindness of strangers.

I haven’t the slightest idea what I received present-wise that year, but I know it’s the only Christmas I remember from the four years we lived in Kentucky. (Eighth grade thru 11th grade, lest you think maybe I was too young to have a good memory.) Presence will always trump presents. Maybe not always in the immediate, but definitely in the longterm.

Note: I am not affiliated with any of the above-mentioned organizations.

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4 Responses to Tis Better to Give…

  1. Heather Rodecap says:

    Awesome post Mary Anne. Loved every thing you said. You are probably the coolest Aunt evah!
    Merry Christmas!

  2. Toy says:

    Love this! I have two young cousins, and this really helps! Thanks!

  3. Suzan Bargen says:

    I love reading all your blogs MAB! I love you!

  4. moonsprig says:

    Great points and ideas. I really enjoyed the memory you shared and how profound it is that this is one of your favorite holiday memories. As a mom, it makes me think.

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