As a kid in the early ’90s, I was dying for an Easy-Bake Oven. All my friends had them, or so I told my parents. I envisioned all the amazing, delicious treats I could make if only I had one—why, I could even set up a little baked goods shop, maybe earn some extra money! Finally, Christmas came, and under the tree was the little toy appliance of my dreams. So many fun accessories! Over the next few days, it produced a handful of really terrible muffin-like things and a wicked burn on my finger. I soon shoved it in my closet and forgot all about it, moving on to the Jones for the next big “it” toy.
While I can certainly recall some favorite toys from my childhood (I still have my BFF, a battered stuffed rabbit named Petey), most of my fond memories revolve around playing imagination-fueled games in my brothers’ bunk bed. With just a few blankets hanging down from the top bed, we created a dozen little worlds from the cozy bottom bunk. We could blast off in a space ship or go for a cross-country drive in a big rig. We also played outside a lot, the three of us zooming into the woods on our bikes. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, fishing and picking berries all summer. There were no toys at their house, yet it was my favorite place on the planet.
Today, I have a daughter of my own. While pregnant, I swore (to the chagrin of several of my co-workers) that my kid would not be one of those kids with enough toys to open their own store. Yet somehow, in less than three years on this earth, she has amassed an overwhelming collection of stuffed animals and plastic junk. It’s tempting to exclusively blame well-meaning relatives, but the truth is that I’ve bought quite a few things for her myself. I see something adorable and think, “Aubrey would love that! I have to get it for her!” Like most kids, every time she gets a new toy, she either completely ignores it forever or plays with it a few times before reverting back to her old favorites.
When it wasn’t even Halloween yet, people were already asking what my Aubrey wanted for Christmas. Frankly? She’s 2. She wants to wear my flip-flops around the house. She wants to ride the dog (desperately). But she doesn’t really want any toys, and she for damn sure doesn’t need any. She loves to read, color and run at full speed. None of those things require toys. She needs my time and attention. She needs room to play, and sometimes guidance, but she doesn’t need any more stuff.
This year for Christmas, I’m starting what I hope will be a lifelong tradition. I won’t buy my daughter toys for Christmas. I will buy her a book and some craft supplies, and together, we will read, and we will make something. I’ll take her to the store to pick out a toy for a child in need, and together, we will deliver to a toy drive. I will make a monetary donation to a charity, and together, we will talk about what that means. I want her to experience the holidays for what they should be—a time to be grateful and generous, a time to enjoy our family and the simple pleasures of being together. When she gets the inevitable glut of gifts from relatives, who will never in a million years get on board with my radical, “socialist” ideals, we will talk about what to keep and what to donate, and why we don’t need so much stuff.
Throughout her life, my child (and yours, too) will be inundated with the idea that Christmas is all about her: “What do you want for Christmas?” “Have you made your wish list?” “What is Santa bringing you?” I want her to learn to reject what the world tells her the holidays are supposed to be about: materialism, consumerism, selfishness. From this, I also want her to learn to question the media. Question advertisements. Question anyone who’s trying to sell her something. I want her to learn not to be afraid to question anything, even if it’s “tradition”—especially if it’s tradition. People use that word to maintain the status quo. I want my daughter to learn that often, going against the crowd is absolutely the right thing to do. And I want to walk through the house without stepping on brightly colored, plastic crap.