Gimme shelter

. October 8, 2012.

When I was little, I wanted a Lite-Brite for Christmas. I remember watching the commercial on our black and white television, transfixed. I knew it came with beautifully colored crystals because my friend Meredith had one, but she wouldn’t let me play with it. I wanted to make things with light, too! So, with all the seriousness a preschooler could muster, I told everyone who would listen that I wanted a Lite-Brite. From Santa to my mother to the priest , they all knew I wanted a Lite-Brite. I rushed past my parents that Christmas morning, eager to plug and play.  I didn’t get the Lite-Brite, that Christmas or any other.

Thinking back, I probably had a mild case of the “gimmies,” as in “gimme a Lite-Brite.” My own children have
contracted a case this time of year. While my oldest is still unsure what she would like to see under the tree, my nine-year-old keeps a notepad by the television to jot down helpful ideas. It is definitely a mild case, and part of the excitement of Christmas. Sometimes, however, I wonder if we are all too focused on the presents and not “the present” when it comes to Christmas.

Combating materialism

Barb Brahm, the Extension Educator for Family and Consumer Sciences for The Ohio State University Extension, Hancock County, says it is indeed difficult to cut through the gimmies and gotta-have-its this time of year, and focus on family and tradition. “It’s a materialism that persists in our whole country,” she says. “Parents need to look at their own attitudes and the messages they are sending. A lot of parents have the gimmies, too.”

The National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend almost $700 on the holidays, with most of it going towards gifts. To inoculate against the gimmies, Brahm advises parents to establish traditions that don’t revolve around gifts. Maybe participate in a local Adopt-A-Family charity, or ask your local social service agencies where your help is needed the most. Some families have started a three-present holiday
tradition, in keeping with the three Magi gifts the baby Jesus received in the nativity story. Others just do a stocking. Still others subscribe to a simple philosophy: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.

Giving back

Brahm’s own extended family has started a charity auction. Items such as baked goods are good-naturedly auctioned off at a get-together, with the
proceeds going to charity. No matter what route you take, according to Brahm, it’s important to make sure everyone knows things will be a little different this year. Rather than focus on the negative – fewer presents – focus on the positive of doing more things as a family and creating traditions. “It’s probably not going to happen all at once, but if you are patient and positive younger kids will catch on,” she says. “It’s not getting. It’s giving.”

You already know I didn’t get the Lite-Brite that Christmas. I did get a chalkboard, but I didn’t know at the time it was going to be the best Christmas present I ever received. My little chalkboard was set up next to that black and white television. But wait! Were those SNOWY FOOTPRINTS on the living room rug?! They traveled out of the living room and into the kitchen, where a box of chalk lay on the kitchen counter. The Lite-Brite was completely forgotten as I marveled that Santa had come, and was probably in trouble for making a mess. I was focused on “the present” of Christmas morning, rather than the present I didn’t receive. To this day, I can replay every moment of that Christmas morning in my mind and it became part of our family’s story. I might not have gotten what I thought I wanted – the Lite-Brite – but instead I got the greatest gift of all. I received the gift of belief in the impossible that year, which turned into a lifelong treasured memory of a family Christmas. And every Christmas Eve, a small part of me wonders if I’m going to wake up to snowy footprints.