"Something was shining bright in the top of Laura's stocking...
And the shining thing was a glittering new tin cup. These new tin cups were their very own.
Now they each had a cup to drink out of.
Laura jumped up and down and shouted and laughed..."
Whenever I read that passage in Little House on the Prairie as a young girl, I never knew exactly what to think of it. I was aware that a tin cup, a small cake, a stick of candy, and a penny (as Laura and Mary go on to find in their stockings) would not create the same thrill for me that it did for the Ingalls' girls.
How could they be ecstatic over these common items?
Now I see the words through a new, improved mama-lens: These common items weren't common for the Ingalls--they were special!
Ironically, my own set of Little House books (the classic yellow ones for those who remember them) taught me this lesson. I had the set on my Christmas list one year, and when Nana and Sugie gave them to me I squealed with glee. Books from the library were fairly common in our house growing up, but we didn't buy them often.
To own the ones I loved was a pure joy.
How can we follow the same principle this holiday season? How can we elevate the common, so that the simple things give our kids a thrill?
We do it by intentionally designating what is common and special in our homes.
Let me illustrate with an example. I can't take credit for planning this one out, mind you, because it happened accidentally. (But I'll still take the credit if you'll give it to me. :) )
My 12-year-old daughter Trishna loves creative writing. In our home, we provide reams of paper for her to practice her craft, and she does. She staples them together into books, drawing and writing furiously in the creation of her stories.
If we gave her a ream of paper for Christmas, she'd look at us with raised eyebrows.
Paper is common, expected. Not much thrill there. (Note that this isn't bad, either. It just IS.)
Yet somewhere along the way, spiral notebooks became special in our home. Blank books or journals bound together became as treasured as gold. Yes, I'm talking the same spiral notebooks you can buy for $1 or less at back-to-school time.
If we wrapped one of these for Trishna and placed it under the tree, there would be much rejoicing when she opened it. It's the common elevated, thus it yields a big reaction at very little expense.
When we don't think this through we end up spending more energy and money, just to provide the same level of thrill for our kids.
I've learned this lesson just as much from the times we've gotten it wrong.
On at least two holidays Steve and I have gone all out, finding what we thought was the perfect gift, spending quite a bit of money on it, and having it fall flat.
Once a child even confided later that it wasn't what they really wanted--they wanted something much less grand (and much less expensive!)
Once we gave a child a huge version of the toy they wanted. Bigger equals better, right? Actually, they told us later that it was too heavy to play with. Two years later, it sits on a desk and gets looked at regularly.
I now shop differently for the kids. I look for what will yield the biggest thrill for the least amount of effort and expense.
By keeping the thrill factor low in our homes, we save money and energy. We also do our kids a big favor--one that leads them to find joy, both now and in the decades to come, in the small and the simple.
Books mentioned in this post:
"They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.
There never had been such a Christmas."