When I was 7 years old, I, like every little girl in the world (and probably a lot of boys), wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid. It was the one and only thing on every kid’s Christmas list. It was non-negotiable. My sister Suzanne and I hoped and prayed we would be the lucky ones to get one.
In the wee hours of Christmas morning, I snuck into the living room and saw a huge stack of presents. At least 10 boxes! But none were short and fat like the Cabbage Patch box.
I still held out hope.
I waited for the rest of my siblings to awake and by 7:30 we were tearing into our bounty. Present by present was ripped open and thrown aside in search of the elusive Cabbage Patch Kid. I got sweaters and dresses and a glitter-filled baton and Chinese Checkers and Mouse Trap. Finally, I was down to the last box. I reluctantly opened the box, knowing it was not the shape I coveted. Inside the box was a pink haired “Lettuce Patch Doll” (it wasn’t really called that, but just go with me). It looked like a Cabbage Patch, except it wasn’t. It didn’t have the Xavier Roberts signature on the butt. It didn’t have the belly button. But it did have a birth certificate and according to it, I was now the proud Mommy of a pink haired Jeffrey doll.
Anyone who lived in 1983 knew of the Cabbage Patch shortage. Parents were scratching and clawing to get their hands on the dolls. My parents, after several attempts to obtain the coveted doll in the States, bought the next best thing in Germany. Literally. They were on a trip to Germany. And something about the fact that Jeffrey was carefully packed into their luggage and flown all the way across the Atlantic Ocean just to find his place under my Christmas tree made me love him more than anything mass-produced on an assembly line. It didn’t matter to me that other kids in my class had gotten 1, 2 or even 3 genuine Cabbage Patch Dolls that year. And, surprisingly, no one teased me for carrying around this pink haired charlatan.
To me, Jeffrey was real. I loved him because I knew that my Mom and Dad picked him out just for me. It truly was the thought that counted.
The following Christmas I did get a genuine Cabbage Patch, but Jeffrey was always my first.
Now, 30 years later, with kids of my own and I find myself trying to create a Christmas where it’s the thought that counts. I’ve told you before how we only give each child 3 presents and over the years, it’s become such a saving grace. It allows me to be very purposeful with what I buy and the kids to be very purposeful with what they ask for. I don’t have to buy presents just to “have things for them to open.” And they don’t ask for the sun, moon and stars. They don’t have piles of presents to weed through hoping to find that sought-after present. When my kids make their lists, they ask for 3 things. And that’s it.
Christmas isn’t about overindulgence in our house. I don’t want the focus to be all about the presents. I’m hoping that as my kids grow up they attach a feeling to Christmas, not a monetary value.
When I look back on my favorite memories about my childhood Christmases, most have nothing to do with tangible things. It’s the hiss and pop of the fireplace on Christmas morning. It’s the crackle of the needle on the record player after my Dad put on Johnny Mathis’s record (you know the one? With Johnny standing on a mountain with skis in his hand?) It’s my grandparents watching us open our presents. It’s getting a pollyanna gift from my brother (who I thought hated me) that actually showed he knew what I liked (and for the record, it was a rainbow colored cascading heart mobile. I wish I still had it. It was awesome, and so totally 80s!) It’s my Dad singing his silly “neh, neh, neh, neh” song while my Mom opened her gifts. My point is, very little of these memories are tied to specific presents. They are tied to feelings.
That’s what I want to recreate for my kids. So, this year, Joe and I are implementing a “Bucket Filler” Pollyanna. It’s a pollyanna with one rule: you can’t spend any money. They can write a letter or draw a picture or make a craft, but they can’t spend a dime. Their goal is to make their pollyanna’s heart smile.
In the past, the kids’ school used to do a “Kids Kastle Shopping Day” where the kids would “shop” with our money and buy little junky trinkets for each member of our family. And while the sentiment was nice, we all wound up with little junky trinkets (or, as in my case last year, large junky trinkets… I got an oversized pen with the word “Mom” on it. It broke shortly after eating our Christmas cinnamon buns). I liked instilling the idea of “giving,” but I didn’t like the idea of just giving anything. And I certainly don’t like the idea of wasting money on junk.
I’m hoping this new tradition will help the kids see that giving isnt always something you can wrap up with a bow. Giving of yourself and your time is sometimes the most perfect present of all. Making someone feel good doesn’t have to cost money and it certainly doesn’t only have to happen at Christmas. I’m hoping they will learn that, in the words of the Grinch, “Christmas doesn’t come from a store.”