"Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read."
That’s it. That’s all we give our children. Four things and a whole lot of contentment. We started this tradition when our now 5 year old Alice was born. I knew beloved grandparents and doting relatives would bring gifts by the sleigh, and there was no need to add to the piles. So the Mister and I decided to keep it simple - four things. We heard the rhyme somewhere and liked the concept.
Now we've added to our tribe and continue to delight in this tradition, choosing thoughtfully and paying attention. When thinking about Alice, I knew she needed new dress shoes & tights and a hat & mittens. Those would take care of "need" and "wear." Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls has been a big favorite at our house for homeschooling, so when I saw the second volume I knew we'd enjoy it in our morning basket time. Check!
And then the "want."
The other morning while brushing our teeth, I casually asked Alice as she stood on the step stool in the bathroom, "Sweetheart, if you could have one thing for Christmas, what would it be?" Alice, foam around the corners of her mouth and a toothbrush in hand exclaimed, "Oh Mama, I’d LOVE a Paw Patrol bracelet! One with Skye on it. She's my favorite." You got it, darling. If that's the one thing you want, I will make sure your wish comes true.
And that was it. No Christmas lists. No badgering about toy aisles. No American Girl catalogs. No hint dropping. No whining. Just grateful little people who are more focused on Advent, and how we will love and serve others than the packages under the Christmas tree.
Milo was simple, too. New mittens for "need," some joggers for "wear." His "read" is a beautiful book about the magic of a snow day called Before Morning by Joyce Sidman (and illustrated by a favorite of ours, Beth Krommes). And as I thought about his want, I remembered all of the times he begs us for a flashlight. "Mama, the monsters will eat me up like a quesadilla. Can I have a flashlight?" Every. Week. But since he’s three, we settled on a glowing lantern that would serve the same purpose...and not inadvertently cause blindness. (And it's so cute with a little polar bear inside!)
I can't wait for him to open it. *Giddy smile*
Scoring 60% off at GAP on Black Friday was a huge help, as were some of our Amazon deals on Cyber Monday, but really, we're keeping it affordable by simply buying less stuff to begin with. You can save 100% if you don’t buy anything. I know that's impossible for Christmas, but I'm willing to bet the sheer volume of purchases made this time of year are not as necessary as we think they are.
Raising children to experience contentment is not only possible, but it's a gift in and of itself. Alice and Milo are not chasing after the next best thing to make them happy. They don't even know the next best thing exists.
As I was reading Joshua Becker’s The More of Less, I was struck to the heart with this question: "Don't you want to spare your children the bondage that comes from too much stuff?" Don't you? Don't you want to spare them from the lie that happiness is in the next thing? That it takes stuff to make us happy? How much more beautiful would it be if we told them the truth, that it's not about stuff at all, but that joy is in the way we love one another?
Last week we hosted some friends from out of town and they stayed in our play room which meant most of their toys were moved to our play closet. After our friends left, the room was wide open and Alice played for THREE HOURS with nothing but couch cushions. Couch cushions! She built houses, forts, slides and stables. She came into my studio to tell me about it, and I remarked that it must be lovely to have so much space to have fun in, and Alice said "yeah, maybe we should just get rid of the toys so we can play easier."
That's right, my five year old said it was easier to play WITHOUT toys. What a concept!
Playing, imagination, resourcefulness, creativity; none of these things require toys. Anything will do. And in fact, sometimes our stuff can get in the way of those invaluable traits.
The biggest testimony to this beautiful value of contentment we are instilling in them occurred last winter. Here is a story I shared from the post "Teaching Contentment in a Materialistic World":
"Last December, my parents took Alice and Milo to see Santa. When it was time to sit on his lap, Santa asked Alice the inevitable: 'What do you want for Christmas this year?' After pondering a moment, Alice finally managed this: 'I think I'd like a medium-sized toy from the North Pole.' That was it. A medium-sized toy from the North Pole. Didn't care what. Just that. She didn't even know what toys existed or that she might be missing out. She was happy with what she had and trusted Santa to bring her something nice.
Clearly something good is starting to catch on here. Contentment is ours for the taking right this minute. Living and loving the minimalist life can be challenging in a world of materialism and entitlement, but it's worth it, and I'm so relieved that it won't take my kids three decades of learning the hard way to figure it out."
So yes, we only give our children four gifts. Four gifts, and the priceless gift of contentment.