Rewriting the Christmas list

By Kinjal Dagli-Shah

Lee-Ann Satari and her husband Ali made a meaningful change to their Christmas tradition last year. The family decided to quit buying gifts for each other and told their children that Santa isn’t real but his spirit is. Instead, they bought Christmas Town tickets to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and spent quality time together.

“It dawned on me that the more things my kids had, the less they appreciated. I felt as though the true meaning of Christmas was lost somewhere among the expensive presents,” said Lee-Ann, a mother of two who would spend more than a $1,000 on Christmas presents. “Very quickly, it became about quantity and very few requests from our kids were under $100. That’s when we chose to tell our kids that Santa wasn’t real and that we had worked extra hard to keep up with their demands over the previous years. We weren’t harsh with our words but we explained to them that Christmas was about giving and finding a way to tell people how much you care about them and appreciate them.”

Lee-Ann, who runs a home daycare and is a Child and Youth Worker at a group home, works 10 hours a day while her husband Ali, an automotive salesman, keeps similar hours. Quality time with their two children is always at a premium so the shift from presents to experiences has made things easier. “We decided that going forward, we would all give ourselves and each other the gift of family time and making memories,” said the busy mom.

In past years, the Satari family would spend Christmas Day at home relaxing but the kids would spend time with their new items and little time as a family. Christmas morning was rushed and Lee-Ann would spend most of the day cleaning and cooking. “Last year, we went on a mini family vacation to Busch Gardens. We rode roller coasters on Christmas Eve and watched live shows. We had Christmas meals together. We did activities like swimming and bowling at the resort. Throughout our trip, we unplugged from our gadgets and plugged into each other,” said Lee-Ann, who lives in Oshawa, Ont. 

This year, the Satari family is headed to a resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee for four days over the Christmas holidays. “We plan on touring the town and enjoying the resort. We hope to have our kids appreciate the memories we make over the material gifts. Last year, we started a calendar where we have a planned way to give back to family, friends and people in the community for each day of December.”

Like the Sataris, many families are shifting the focus from presents to purpose. With rampant consumerism, holidays tend to lose true meaning and adopt a materialistic overtone. Carrie Sim, a mother of three girls from Woodbridge, Ont., noticed that soon after Christmas, the presents were relegated to the back of the closet and weren’t used or played with. “We went to Canada’s Wonderland for the first time this summer and our family loved it so much that we are thinking of buying season passes as Christmas gifts. It’s something that won’t be stuck at the back of the closet!

We are also buying them experiences related to their interests. Our 16-year-old daughter is getting tickets to the Ed Sheeran concert while our 11-year-old will be getting a weekend in Toronto to attend the Anime North convention because she wants to be an animator. Our youngest will get Monster Jam tickets,” said Carrie, who hopes to steer her girls towards experiencing things as a family.

Paulette Morey and her partner have three boys and saw that they have too much stuff. “Our kids started getting Christmas presents that were still in the box when the next Christmas came around. We are an old-fashioned family from Newfoundland and our Christmases were plentiful not with gifts but with family time and visiting. We felt that our kids should know the same thing. We couldn’t find the logic in spending money on things they didn’t need and really didn’t want just for the sake of giving them something to unwrap,” said Paulette, who lives in Barrie, Ont.

Some parents try to balance both ends by opting for a middle path. Like Samantha Lang, who has decided to buy presents as well as experiences. “This year we are ‘doing both’ by paying for experiences and getting complimentary gifts. Like a bathing suit to accompany swimming lessons, or a suitcase with a night stay at a hotel,” said Samantha, who lives with her husband and three daughters near Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Almost any experience can be tagged with a small openable gift that is practical to go alongside it. I hope that after a few consistent years of working with this approach, the kids will learn to appreciate experiences rather than things.”