At my son's elementary school, the question is on everyone’s lips these days: What are you getting the kids for the holidays?
My answer: Nothing.
The gift list for my two boys is still empty. It’s not that I don’t have any ideas on what to get them. I know that my 4–year-old would love a Buzz Lightyear toy, and that the little one could use a new puzzle or two. My list is non-existent for another reason: We are skipping the gifts this year.
Don’t get me wrong, we have nothing against gifts. They get birthday gifts, simple “I love you” gifts and little trinkets my husband brings back from business trips. We live in the UK, separated from both our families by a lot of water, and there is always a little something arriving in the mail from the boys’ grandmas and grandpas, not to mention suitcases full of boxes to unwrap when they come to visit. These kids are hardly hurting for presents.
This is probably the first year that my eldest is old enough to really understand and remember for next year that the winter holidays and presents go hand and hand. While he has learned all about Hanukkah in school, he has yet to ask what he's getting. He comes home singing song after song, excitedly tells me about the menorah they are making in class and even gives me a brief outline of the Hanukkah story. He asks me each night, "How many more sleeps before we can light the candles and sing together?"
For him, that’s what the holiday is about. Not eight nights of presents, or comparing his take vs. his friends’. For a precious few years before he grows up and learns better, the holiday is a true holiday, a time to celebrate together, bond over latkes and pig out on jelly donuts.
My husband and I ask ourselves how many more years we have left until he catches on to what some of his friends have doubtless discovered. The answer is probably not many. But while it lasts, we want to preserve his innocence and let him enjoy the holiday as it was meant to be celebrated.
Rachel Elbaum is a London-based writer who secretly stocks up on gifts months before her kids' birthdays.
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