Anticipating the winter holidays, a parent asked me how to handle her kids' yearly booty comparison and complaints of the inequality of the gifts they receive. It ruins the holidays for me, she lamented.
When a parent thinks back on the Winter gift giving holidays of her youth, I doubt that the first thing that comes to mind is the equality of the gifts she received or even the gifts that Santa brought each year. Most parents look back and recall how their family celebrated the holiday, whether it was Christmas or Chanukah. They fondly remember their family's special holiday rituals, the ones that came to define the holiday with so much anticipation and excitement. They also recall the years that were out of the ordinary, the times that were funny or crazy, disastrous or ridiculous. But was the gift distribution among the siblings equal? Who remembers?!
While parents may fret about guaranteeing that their children's holiday bounty is equal, it certainly isn't the most memorable part of the holiday. And if the children's complaint of inequality is honored, then a mountain will be made of a mole hill. The more attention that is paid to the protest and the more defensive the parent's responses, then the more validated the children will be in their grumblings, thinking their gift haul was supposed to have been equal.
Every child loves receiving gifts. But is gift-getting the take away you want your children to have, equal or not? There is so much more to the holidays than gifts of Chanukah or Christmas. It is up to the parents to make the whole of the holidays special and memorable, not just the gifts. These winter holidays are ripe with the stuff that makes memories, that is the glue that holds families together forever and ever. For example, every Christmas Eve of every year that our children lived at home was celebrated by piling into the car in our pj's and combing the city for the best holiday lights. Gift opening was always punctuated by the children draping their father in ribbons, as each gift was unwrapped, until the collar of colors obscured his face!
From waiting for Santa's arrival at the Village Green, to having a family cooking night for baking special holiday treats to present as gifts to friends, to a night of Dreidel playing (a Chanukah game) with family friends, to decorating the house together, to having "Secret Elves," to staying up late to watch special holiday shows... there are endless ways to make the season unique and beloved. In so doing the gifts become only one part of the holiday and will not carry all the weight.
The winter holidays will take on the meaning you create and emphasize. So go ahead and make your holidays about experiences and cherished family rituals, about sharing, giving to others, and enjoying together. You may think it is the equality of the gifts that makes your kids happy, but it will be everything else that will be etched in their memories and in their hearts.