When my boys were eight and six, we gave them the choice of either having a birthday party with friends, or an adventure day with their family. I was simply tired of the whole frenzy-filled afternoon of kids hopped up on sugar, then being left with a pile of gifts neither of the boys would ever play with.
However, I knew it wasn’t my call, after all, it was their birthday so it would be their choice. If they wanted a party, they could absolutely have it. Or they could choose the adventure day.
Since then we’ve spent birthdays wandering through museums, visiting a castle, and splashing the day away at a waterpark more than a few times.
It took a few years, but in 2013 I took the plunge and decided to apply this to Christmas as well. We had been talking after dinner one evening and got on the topic of Christmas gifts. The more we talked, the more I realized they barely remembered any of the gifts they received over the years. Gifts I had sweated over, gifts we had spent hard-earned money on. Simply forgotten.
Not even a blip on their radar screen of life.
It made me question why I was spending all this money on ‘things.’ This is not to say I took away all gifts, I’m not the Grinch who stole Christmas, but that green guy was on to something. Christmas doesn’t have to come from a store, maybe perhaps, it does mean a little bit more.
What we decided to do was give them something that would create memories as their main gift, along with a few smaller items so they could still have something to unwrap Christmas morning.
If you too are leaning more towards memories as opposed to simply gifts, you might be struggling to come up with ideas. Here are a few to get you started:
Be a Local Tourist
Plan an overnight trip to explore where you live and be sure to hit the tourist spots you reserve only for when guests are in town. I once took our boys on a double-decker bus tour of Toronto and they still talk about it.
A Membership to a Museum
This is a great way to sneak in learning while having fun and it’s always the perfect way to spend a rainy weekend day. (Hint: If you live in Ontario in the GTA, your dino-fans will love a ROM membership).
A few times a year my kids pull out our photo albums and we all go through them, sharing what we remember. We live in a digital age where so many of our photos end up on a computer and are forgotten. Get your kids a camera (it doesn’t have to be expensive) and have them document holidays or even your day-to-day life and then make a promise you will actually print them out.
A Library Card
This seems like such a small gift and yet the independence your kids feel when they have their own library card is a gift in itself.
Helpful Hint: Theatre tickets can be expensive so check out local community theatres as an option.
Something That Takes Them Out of Their Comfort Zone
Last year we took our boys tree-top trekking which was an amazing experience that took all of us outside our comfort zones. But doing something outside of your child’s comfort zone doesn’t necessarily have to be adventurous. Take your sporty kid out for a night of painting, or your artsy kid bowling. It’s a good way to teach them that they can do more than they think.
Make a Date
Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Make a date to take them out for a meal at their favourite restaurant. Pro tip: Breakfast is the cheapest of the bunch but your kids don’t have to know that.
One of the highlights of my childhood was receiving a monthly magazine my grandmother got for my sister and I. I still know how to do the alphabet in sign language thanks to that magazine.
Learn Something New
Sign them up for a class they’ve always wanted to take. Music lessons, pottery, photography…the possibilities are endless and local community centres are a great place to source lessons that are limited in time (in case your kid ends up not liking it) and are relatively inexpensive.
A family game night never gets old. Add to your collection and make it a weekly event that brings you all together. Here are a few of our favourite family games: