Presence over Presents


Last year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, my daughter kept asking for this little coding robot. She was persistent about it, and so I started looking into it. 

The reviews were good, the price not so much. My husband and I hummed and hawed about it for weeks, weighing the pros and cons, and in the end opted to purchase this rather expensive gift for our daughter. 

The winning argument was that it would encourage use of math and science, and it was also quite cool. 

Christmas morning rolls around and she was delighted with it, immediately installing the app on her tablet and playing with the little robot. For the next few days she played with him regularly and my husband and I were relieved to see her enjoying it so much.

But as time went on, the poor little guy was relegated to a corner where he would gather dust, be played with intermittently, and eventually be completely forgotten about.

The excitement on the morning of was not payoff enough for the cost of the toy.

On Social Media there have been several posts about waste, garbage, throw away society, and consumerism. 

There are discussions around how kids get huge, expensive toys they play with for a few weeks, dismiss under the bed or the back of the closet, and then want another expensive toy. My husband and I were getting tired of this and wanted to try something new.  Experiences instead of gifts.  Family time instead of physical items.  

I recently read this article, which highlights some of the huge benefits to "being present" instead of "giving presents.”  The article states, "Over the past decade, an abundance of psychology research has shown that experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions," and probably most of us can think of examples where that is true.

Last year for our daughter's birthday, instead of having a big party with cake and goodie bags, we encouraged her to invite one friend for an experience birthday. So instead of the pinata and piles of gifts, we went out for a fancy dinner (both girls dressed to the nines) complete with elaborate Shirley Temple drinks and decadent dessert, and then took both girls to a late movie, followed by a sleep over. 

She still talks about how that was one of her favourite birthdays.  

So, taking a cue from that experience, and the frustration of trying to buy things for our kids who already have so much, we decided to forego presents this year for Christmas and instead plan a trip. Rather than electronics under the tree we are going to go to Hawaii.  Instead of jewelry we will go snorkelling. Instead of toys we will have a marshmallow roast under the stars. The kids have known about this plan for months and are getting more and more excited as the trip nears.  

While driving my daughter and her friend to dance, I overheard her tell her friend that we weren't doing presents this year. Her friend asked, "Doesn't that make you sad, that there will be no gifts on Christmas morning?" and my daughter very matter of factly replied, "No, of course not, because, Hello, Hawaii!"  

Experience gifts don't have to be huge expensive trips. They can be theatre tickets, or tickets to go whale watching, or as one friend did, access to a community gardening plot.  The ideas really are endless.

I can't wait to get on that plane with my little family to go spend a solid week together exploring, and swimming, and learning, and just enjoying time together, because ultimately the electronics stop working, the jewelry goes out of style and the toys gather dust.   

This year, the brightly wrapped gifts under the tree may be scarce, but the anticipation and the memories are going to be plentiful.  And I can't wait!

Amber Regamey Marsh