Keeping the Holiday Magic Alive for Your Children during a Recession

Children love the holidays for many reasons - traditions, family closeness, parties, festive moods, wildly fantastic expectations, and magic in the very air they breathe. They also love presents. If the recession has hit your family's budget hard, can you still have a magical Christmas? Yes, you can.

The holidays are a magical time for children, not because of the presents, but from the gradual buildup of their expectations. You might argue, how can the holidays remain magical if there are no presents, and their expectations are dashed to the ground on Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa) morning? Or what if your children are accustomed to racing down the stairs to see piles of presents? A few paltry presents would indeed be a let-down if they are expecting mountainous amounts.

The holidays are less magical for parents, because they are in charge of creating the magic. Even when the economy is good, pulling off a great holiday season is stressful. During a recession it may seem impossible to hold up the standard.

It's not impossible. It doesn't even take a small miracle. But it will require just as much, if not more, hard work. Here's how.

1. Presents are important.

If your family's tradition is to give presents, keep the tradition! Even if you lost your job and your family is facing foreclosure on your home, make it a priority to wrap up something to give to your kids for the holiday you observe. You do not have to spend as much as you always have. Spend what you can, and put careful thought into each gift. Gifts are tokens of love. Even a small gift can go a long way to reassure your children that even though circumstances are a little scary, you will always love them no matter what.

2. Be honest and reassuring.

If things are bad financially, don't pretend otherwise. Kids have an uncanny way of figuring things out, anyway. There is no need to lie, cheat, steal, or sink further into debt to give your kids the Christmas they've always had. No matter how fragile their feelings might seem, kids are resilient and able to flex when they need to, especially if parents set the tone. Avoid whining and complaining about your situation, and they will, too. You don't have to explain all the details, but if your holiday celebrations will be trimmed down, they deserve to know why. While you are honest, reassure them that you can all work together to make the season fun and cheerful.

3. Celebrate the season, not just one day.

Holiday magic does not happen in one day. Even if you can't keep all of your normal traditions, do something every day to stir the magic in the air. Celebrations are not limited to your budget, but to your imagination.

  • Build a snowman, weather permitting.
  • Decorate early.
  • Make homemade decorations like paper chains (use the holiday shopper ads), strings of popcorn, and paper mache. Cut boughs of evergreen from your yard for wreaths or to line a fireplace mantel.
  • Play Christmas music every morning while getting ready for school and work.
  • Go caroling with friends.
  • If you can't afford your usual fresh, 8-foot evergreen, pick out a Charlie Brown tree (after you watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special, of course), and set it on a table. Even a large houseplant, like a ficus tree or a palm, will do - if you introduce the idea the right way.
  • Make popcorn and hot cocoa every night, snuggle up under blankets and afghan throws, and read to your kids.
  • Did you have to cancel your cable or DVD movie subscription? Visit the library, where you can check out a wide variety of videos free of charge.
  • If you live in a big city, drive downtown to see the moving figure displays in the department stores.
  • Attend the lighting of the town's Christmas tree.
  • Check newspapers and websites to take advantage of any free community holiday activities.
  • Make cookies and holiday treats. Sugar cookies require simple, inexpensive ingredients, and kids of all ages love to decorate them.
  • Host a cookie party - each family brings a plate of homemade cookies to share and games they like to play.
  • Buy an advent calendar. Young children especially love to count down the days, and the surprise of finding out what is hiding behind each door.

4. Focus on others.

You may be strapped for cash, but if you still have your health you can brighten someone else's holidays. Volunteer as a family at a local soup kitchen, or help an elderly neighbor with yard work. It always feels good to help someone else, and your kids will learn the magic of it is better to give than to receive. And speaking of giving, help your kids with ideas for gifts for each other. Give them supplies to make homemade crafts, or ideas for inexpensive gifts.

5. Give your kids something to look forward to.

So you sit your kids down and tell them there won't be as many presents this year, but Christmas will be just as special. How? This is not the time to whip out the parental standby line, Because I said so. Be ready with a plan that would be meaningful to your kids. Maybe it's a visit to Grandma's house, or Uncle Ben's farm. Or plan a nature outing on Christmas day: a picnic on the beach, if you live near one, or a walk through snowy woods to deliver bird seed and food for the wildlife. If your kids are older, declare a contest for who can come up with the most original and thoughtful gift at a certain price. If your family is outgoing and loves to perform, hold your own talent show on the holiday, whether it's for singing, dancing, poetry recitations, or juggling. If you can't keep your normal holiday traditions, do something fun and excitingly different. As long as you keep a few of your normal traditions for the day, this new (inexpensive) tradition will be fresh and welcome.

6. Use your circumstances to educate.

This isn't the first time people have had to struggle, and it won't be the last. Choose books or movies that outline how others made it through sparse holiday seasons, then read or watch them together.

  • Ages 4 and up: How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter, Turkey for Christmas, by Marguerite De Angeli, A Little House Christmas, Holiday Stories, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  • Mid-grades: Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson, The Christmas Orange, by Don Gillmor.
  • Teens: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, A Full House by Madeline L'Engle.

Your kids are going to learn valuable life lessons from the way you handle the holidays during a recession. Will you complain and scurry around trying to work harder for material things? Or will you make sacrifices to spend time and have fun together - which is what your kids really want for Christmas, if they can't have an iPod.

author: E. E. Kane

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