Last year at this time I lost a night of sleep after my children grumbled about what they thought was a paltry Christmas. My 11-year-old son, for example, was irked that his younger sister got a slightly nicer cellphone than his. In the midst of a global recession that caused some families in our neighborhood to lose their homes to bank foreclosure, I felt my kids needed a better understanding of what was going on in the world and to temper their unseemly sense of entitlement to the latest $60 videogames, $10 first-run movie tickets and the latest stuff they see advertised on tv.
Following last Christmas, I arranged for them to make two phone calls. The first one to their 89-year-old great-grandfather in Denver and ask him about what Christmas was like for him in 1932 during the Great Depression. Then they talked to the local power company and got some stats on the number of families in and around our zip code who were having a cold, dark Christmas because they could not afford to pay their electric bill. They were instructed to ask questions and write down the answers. In the end, they actually kind of enjoyed the exercise, learned something, and understood why Daddy was making them do it. But would it stick with them? I didn’t know.
This Christmas I found out the answer.
The recession came to our doorstep last spring when I lost my job. Even with our weakened finances, we are still quite lucky and comfortable. And the best thing about being unemployed is that I have all the time I could ever want with my four children. But we had to scale back our spending on Christmas gifts. I felt guilty about that, but that is the way it is. As Thanksgiving came and went, the kids started thinking about their Christmas wish list. I wondered if they would remember last year’s lesson and voluntarily scale back their list.
It turns out my goofy gambit last year worked. Each of my three older kids gave us very modest Christmas lists and told me with a straight face that they really didn’t need anything for Christmas. They had everything they could hope for, they said to me.
And with that I, as a father, realized I too had everything I could hope for: kids that see the big picture and realize that some things are more important than the size and number of gifts you get for Christmas.