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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Holiday Gifts for Children: The Invention of Tradition

Since I come from a family that was--to put it mildly--lackadaisical about gifts and gift-giving occasions, it is hard for me to understand the pressure many people feel. There's a famous book called Unplug the Christmas Machine that deals with these issues. Evidently the book alone does not suffice: there is also a workbook to use in support groups. One of my friends used to clutch a heavily annotated and dog-eared copy of this tome to her bosom year-round. No wonder: between her and her husband, the siblings numbered 10. Her husband's family of seven children each produced--on average--five a piece.

So here is the first of my modest proposals: little traditions are more important than gifts, large or small. I'm not talking about your family traditions necessarily. I'm talking about traditions you invent. If this seems like a paradox, let me defend myself by pointing to a famous academic book called precisely The Invention of Tradition.

One tradition we invented--by accident--was the little poem attached to the gift. Even though we are English teachers who love poetry, WRITING poetry is not one of our strong--or even weak--suits. Here is an example. One year, we gave Frugal Son a can of sardines and Miss Em Swedish Fish. (I know these gifts seem ludicrous, but they were much appreciated! No, this was not all they got!)

Noticing the fish theme, we wrapped them together with this poem: "Here are two gifts that come from the sea/One's sweet, one's not: what can they be?"

Well, of course, the little poem was recited with great excitement to friends and family. And thus began a "tradition" (now we HAVE to do it) whereby we must attach a poem to every gift.

Do you have any little traditions that are valued as much as fancy gifts?


Duchesse said...

One of my friends, a single mother, took her children to serve lunch at a soup kitchen every late morning on Christmas Day.

We have no unique gifting traditions, but most of our decorations are several generations old. And you always get a book!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--Tht's like the beginning of "Little Women." Ah, of course, a book!

Shelley said...

My mom collected a tree ornament for each year and put dates on them. They date back to stripped ones dated 1945, my parents' first Christmas together. One has a paper top because of the metal shortage. I still add one to the collection.

Since retiring I make my gifts. Last year it was knitted scarves. The year before the women got jewelry pouches. This year it will be either covered hangers or fabric covered boxes. Every year I make spice cakes. I have a relatively short list to make for. The Tightwad Gazette talks about the value of a cleverly worded gift tag. I'm thinking about that for this year.

Last year I bought fabric curtains in a champagne colour for wrapping gifts. Along with coloured ribbons, all re-usable, they looked very elegant.

When Bill's children gather at ours for the holiday, they get food, drink, hugs and laughter, not big gifts.

See it all at


Funny about Money said...

M'hijito and I have one tradition these days: to get together and cook something, ANYTHING, that's not turkey.

Back in the day, when my best friend and her now-ex-husband were like brother and sister to me and my now-ex-husband, we had a favorite annual ritual. We called it TGTGIO: Thank God Thanksgiving Is Over.

Both couples were besieged with relatives and gigantic meals whose centerpiece was the obligatory cardboard-flavored commercial Butterball stuffed with boxed dressing and accompanied by gummy mashed potatoes and canned Jello-like "cranberry sauce." Not that we didn't love our relatives, but...

As soon as the family chivarees were over, we would get together in the kitchen and cook a fantastic meal that did not include any "traditional" Thanksgiving or Christmas dishes. Then we would eat to our hearts' content, send the kids to the family room to play, and linger at the table over wine and brandy deep into the evening.

Those were the days!

Suzy said...

my dad got these sleigh bells a long time ago and every year he pulls those things out to wake us up. not a morning person here! But we've sorta gotten used to them after 20 something year! (keep thinking those darned bells would've fallen off by now....)

Frugal Scholar said...

@Shelley--Great ideas. I'm afraid I'm not as clever as Amy--her gift tags are wonderful. Thanks for including the links, also.

@Funny--I LOVE Thanksgiving food, esp the potatoes with gloppy gravy. But your tradition sounds great.

Frugal Scholar said...

Erghhh. Might take me longer than you to get accustomed to that "tradition."

Suzy said...

well he's started sleeping later LOL!

Miss Mary said...

Our family tradition is to give second hand gifts under $5 (bonus points for free or rescued - from the garbage). The first year, some people were dubious. Now, we mark them because the NEW tradition is to open them first. I have received AMAZING gifts (some with hand written receipts confirming the price. I have no idea what the people at the garage sale thought about writing down the price, signing and dating the receipt).

Examples, a cut crystal 8" bowl for $5, new (with tags) Lucky jeans for my dd sold by a disgruntled dad whose daughter grew out of them before they were worn $4, a collectible book of photographs (ebay for $94)for $2.


Miss Mary

FB @ said...

We don't really do Christmas tradition anything

Occasionally, we will show up once every 5 years and be a family to eat, but generally speaking.. no big deal

It used to be when we were kids in the same home and same city, but not any longer