A silly tie that is so poorly sewn it’s impossible to wear. A wooden box that isn’t properly squared so it can’t actually close. Felt dolls that are falling apart from so much love. These are the Christmas gifts that our family cherishes.
We don’t have many Christmas traditions in our little family of five. There are a few things we’ve done each year, like Christmas Eve at my in-laws and the annual Dan Rory Boxing Day party in Cape Breton. We tend to make gingerbread houses and drive around looking at lights, but these things happen haphazardly, as time allows. We love new Christmas jammies and watching the Santa Claus parade. But if you ask what our traditions are, the list is modest. In fact, there’s really only one hard and fast rule for the holidays: the gifts we exchange between the five of us must be homemade.
Making our gifts isn’t an attempt to save money. We often end up spending as much or more on supplies than we would a store-bought gift. And I know we could put just as much thought into a purchased gift – and that we sometimes create something homemade that is the equivalent to a last-minute desperation purchase! What I love about our homemade gift tradition is that it forces us as a family to think deeply about each other and ourselves.
When we first embraced the idea of homemade gifts, we were focused on the simple idea of it being a lovely tradition. But the more I think about why we stick with it, the more I realize just how important this tradition is for the values it teaches our family.
First, there’s the value of embracing creativity. Each year we give ourselves the opportunity to explore a skill we might not otherwise use: sewing, woodworking, writing, drawing, or whatever else we dream up. It gives us the freedom to dream and to create. I’d like to think it will instil the importance of making time for creativity as one of children’s core values – and help us stay connected to that as well.
More and more, the importance of creativity in our daily lives is being valued and promoted by researchers and philosophers. It is creative thinking that drives innovation and economic change. Celebrating creative artistic talents draws visitors and residents alike to communities. The best classroom teachers are working to encourage individual talents and interests within the framework of their stated curriculum.
Second, the process of choosing a project and following through with its creation helps us as parents instil the idea that the value of an object is not in its price or its perfection, but in its intent. This aligns with the philosophy shared by Dr. Brené Brown, a Texas-based university professor who researches and writes about being vulnerable and the power that comes from that. (Her ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ presentation is one of the top ten most viewed TED talks.) A key element of her philosophy, and one at which my family is fantastic at experiencing when we try to create Christmas masterpieces, is accepting that we are not perfectionists at all tasks.
Showing our children that we love the unwearable tie or the uncloseable box hopefully lets them understand that we do not expect perfection from ourselves or from them. We expect effort. We expect thoughtfulness. And we accept each other for who we are, when we excel and when we simply exist. That’s not a present we can wrap, but if we give it year after year, perhaps it will be something priceless we’ve managed to gift to our children and ourselves.