As the holiday season approaches, our family has a fun little game we like to play to help our children learn about and practice gratefulness. I'll get to that in a minute.
First, I want to share that I love Christmastime more than any other time of the year. We take the month of December off of school and spend those 4 weeks loving on others and fully embracing and celebrating the wonder of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Then, there is the part of the season that I do not like. The consumerism and materialism that sometimes seem inevitable. I try to always have our Christmas shopping completed before Thanksgiving, allowing more time for worship and less time out in the "world" during those precious weeks of advent. It's a lot easier to eliminate consumerism if you simply avoid it.
This year, we will be making many of our gifts, and I expect that we will complete a lot of them during those weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know the time spent making those gifts will be special time to focus on the absolute joy of giving and loving others, praying purposefully for each recipient as we make their gifts.
We also spend much of December serving others and showing them Christ's love through random acts of kindness and several other special Christmastime traditions that I will blog about in the months to come.
Now, back to the game!
A few years ago, I saw an article in Family Fun Magazine and was immediately intrigued. After experiencing her otherwise well behaved children having an unexpected bout of ungratefulness at Christmas, this mom created what they called The Present Game.
We call it The Grateful Game and enjoy playing it in the months leading up to Christmas (and the kids birthdays that are both within weeks of Dec. 25). This game has actually prevented our children from ever really having any gratitude issues, and for that I am grateful - thus the reason for the name change!
Let's be honest. We don't always love every gift we receive. Sometimes we receive something we already have. Other times, it might be something we simply don't care for. However, it is so important to be sincerely gracious, no matter what the gift. The Grateful Game helps teach that lesson and practice it's application.
To play the game, we each have a paper bag for each family member. We then "shop" our home for gifts for each other. Nothing is for keeps, as it is just a game. Once the "shopping" is complete, we take turns opening the gifts. When a gift is opened, the recipient is to not only thank the giver, but to express a sincere compliment about the gift. Sometimes this is easier than others, and it certainly takes practice with little ones.
Today, I gave Super Tot the cap from a bottle of Pellegrino. Initially, he said, "a Pellegrino cap?" and tossed it aside. We gently reminded him about the rules of the game and why it is so important to be gracious. He tried again and noted the pretty star on the top of the cap. Later, I gave him trash - literally. It was the top that I ripped off a package of sunflower seeds. He wasn't sure what to say when he opened it, so he just sat there. We tried again, and this time he said, "oh yay, I've always wanted trash." He actually said this quite excitedly, not sarcastically as it reads. However, realizing that we clearly needed to work on the sincerity part, I told him that I chose it for him because it was yellow, his favorite color. I said I didn't have money to buy any gifts this year, but I knew he loved yellow and thought he might be able to use the gift for a craft or something. That dialog helped him to recognize that I had chosen the gift out of love and thoughtfulness, even though it wasn't really something he would have chosen for himself. His face lit up when I explained. My prayer is that he will learn to automatically think of the love that goes into each gift, and not just about his wishes. The sincerity part will come with practice and as that automatic understanding settles in his heart, just as it has in Princess's.
We teach our children that each gift they receive is a symbol of the love the gift giver has for them. Just as the wise men gave gifts to honor baby Jesus, we show our love and honor by choosing special gifts for our loved ones. As a receiver, it is important for us to remember that, no matter what the gift is. That really helps the focus be on the LOVE, and not the actual gift.
The Grateful Game also gives our children an incredible lesson on giving. It helps when they get to choose a special gift for someone else. That is the other side of the game. It truly teaches them the joy that comes from giving. Even though it is just a game, they still experience the raw emotion and joy of choosing a special gift and giving it to their loved one. It is just as important to be a gracious giver as it is to be a gracious receiver.
This game has become a treasured tradition in our home, and I am so grateful for the life lessons being learned through play.