Astrid Lindgren’s 1963 picture book “Christmas in Noisy Village” describes the joyful leadup to Christmas in a Swedish farming village. The kids haul firewood, wrap presents, make cookies, and decorate. As one of the mothers says, “We can’t have any lazybones around in the middle of the Christmas rush. Everybody has to help.”
Finally, on Christmas Eve, the children open their gifts. The haul is significantly smaller than what most American kids expect today. Nevertheless, these children are delighted.
No matter how many gifts we buy for our family, we all want our children to experience the magic of gratitude and delight at Christmas. Yet unlike the kids of Lindgren’s childhood, our kiddos are surrounded by advertisements encouraging them to WANT EVERYTHING.
Simultaneously, we moms and dads are targeted just as fiercely with the message that burying our children in stuff is the way to make memories and feel like good parents. There is a real danger that the joyful gratitude of Christmas may vanish beneath waves of consumerism and sugary frosting. As we all know, focusing too much on stuff is a great way to cultivate greed.
The Unexpected Power of Crafting Worthwhile Gifts
American parents who want to fight the monster of greed tend to think the obvious answer lies in telling kids about other people who have much less. Parents willing to go the extra mile even turn to service projects outside the home: taking kids to work in a soup kitchen, donating mittens to the homeless, or dropping off toys to charity programs.
These are all good and useful endeavors. However, we ought not to forget something else that is also very good.
If our kids become a little less human at Christmas time, perhaps it’s because we are cutting them off from one of the most natural impulses of humanity. Humans who love each other give to each other. Shopping is one way of giving, but it’s not quite as human and personal as the action of making something.
To create a beautiful or worthwhile thing for others is to give them ourselves. Besides, few young children actually earn money, and they know perfectly well that picking out gifts that mommy will pay for is not entirely real gift-giving.
Our kids should be making gifts. Unfortunately, two obstacles lie in their way. One is that we tend not to teach modern children actual handicraft skills. Most of the “crafts” they make are—we all know this!—destined for the trash can. The second problem is a natural outcome of the first: we don’t encourage our families to value homemade things because a lot of them are junk.
This, too, is dehumanizing. Human beings need to know how to make beautiful, useful things. Learning the skills to do so is a rewarding activity all year ‘round. However, in the few days that remain before Christmas, your kiddos can still make something worthwhile. You can help them by conveying the message that their contributions are an awesome part of making Christmas special for others.
This is a great way to throw rocks at the monster of modern consumerism. Why? Allowing children put time, love, and effort into small, homemade gifts is the most effective way in the world to teach them to feel that small, homemade gifts are valuable. We all appreciate the things that cost us effort.
It is especially important that kids make gifts for each other. Even more than seeing one’s painting hung dutifully on Grandma’s fridge, giving to each other allows kids to realize that they can make other people happy with simple offerings. Besides, it’s a good thing when a child is eager to watch a sister or brother to open a gift instead of exclusively panting to rip into her own stack.
Simple Gifts Young Kids Can Make for Each Other
1. Paper Dolls or Action Figures
Last year, my three-year-old was really into gnomes. I found some printable ones online and printed them out. Her five-year-old brother colored them in, spread a self-adhesive laminating page protector over them, and cut them out. They made delightful and quite durable paper dolls who lived in a special envelope.
My daughter is conscious that her brother can color “better than she can” because he is older, and she loved profiting from his skill. This idea could easily be adapted to the interests of the recipient. Older children can of course draw the figures themselves or even make a dollhouse from a shoebox.
2. A Storybook
This year, my son dictated a story to me about Christmas ornaments that come alive. The plot is a little short, but that’s okay. He added illustrations and stapled on a cover, and the gift is ready to wrap. I’m pretty sure little sister will appreciate it.
3. A Homemade Activity Book
My children haven’t done a lot of worksheets yet, so they still think they are special. My daughter and I choose a few Christmas-related printable crossword puzzles, coloring pages, and puzzles online. We also made up some math problems. These have all been stapled into a book with a well-decorated custom cover for my son. He’s the kind of kid who will like it.
4. Fleece Scarves
This one might involve a trip to the fabric store, but it’s a way for kids to create something that feels very much like a “real gift.” If you buy your children some pieces of fleece, they can cut them into long rectangles and fringe the ends. If their scissor work is still suspect, you could cut the fringes and let them tie them off.
5. Snacks to Take to School or Other Outings
Even when the cupboard is full of food, young children seem to feel immense interest in possessing personal treats. This makes food a good gift from one sibling to another. A young child can easily mix up a customized trail mix (let them include goldfish crackers or fun breakfast cereal for a young-kid touch). Making a special batch of cookies, muffins, or baked snack mix (example 1 or example 2) is another good option.
This is a classic. If you provide some beads and a roll of elastic cord, most children will happily make far more necklaces and bracelets than anyone really needs. It’s okay, though, because a lot of little girls like wearing exactly that many pieces of jewelry at the same time.
You can even combine this idea with the previous one by letting an older child prepare a necklace of fruit loops for a young toddler. Edible attire goes over really well with the younger ones, and it’s handy to have a snack they won’t easily drop.
None of these crafts are expensive or elaborate, but they have the potential to allow your children to cultivate their humanity at Christmas time. Kids are humans, too, and they deserve to give, love, and create at Christmas. There’s still time for that to happen this year.