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There’s nothing like the holidays to ramp up that sense of wonder my toddler has about the world these days. Even now that we’re into January, when he stands on his little green stool in front of the window and shouts, “Look at the Christmas lights!” at the top of his lungs, I get a little gooey. He was still watching Christmas specials right up until a day or two ago.

Not even reading/watching Frosty the Snowman for the eighty-billionth time can dampen my enthusiasm. There are the traditions that we’ve started, whether it’s just having a tree (last year it was a houseplant) or hanging up stockings. We worked hard to keep things small and manageable.

Our son is beloved, as he should be, by grandparents and great-aunts and uncles, cousins and extended family — and their natural inclination is to spoil him.

Trust me when I say this: he’s got enough. Enough clothes, enough toys, enough stuff to last him a good little while. Most of it has come to us second-hand. Among friends and family our son was the youngest for a while, so we received a lot of gently-used, happily welcomed stuff into our home. We have boxes of clothes in the basement for him to grow into. He has boots, snowsuits, trucks, musical instruments, books upon books upon books, and I just don’t think he needs any more.

He’s just as happy playing with a pile of Popsicle sticks as he is an expensive automated blinking toy. So my response to birthdays, to holidays, has been to tell my entire family, “please, no presents.”

It takes training and discipline to resist giving in to the urge to spoil. To explain that ‘buying’ doesn’t equal celebrating. This isn’t about being stingy or Scrooge-like: we’re happy to splash out for a delicious meal to thank our friends and family this time of the year. We revel in a giant, stupidly expensive organic, happily-raised and well-fed turkey. But it’s the sitting down, the talking, the enjoying one another’s company that makes the holidays special, not the stuff.

We all have too much stuff, piles of things we don’t use that we either paid too much for or regret buying, and I don’t want to raise my boy to equate stuff with happiness. Sure, he got a couple of presents from Santa, but he’s two years old. He doesn’t know the difference between a $3.00 garbage truck we found at a garage sale and the $75.00 one that came brand-new from the big box toy store.

I’m not saying this is easy for me. He’s my only child, and I have to check myself regularly to keep my own urge to spoil him under control. There are presents I buy every year that I think are important, even if he barely notices them among the whirling toy helicopter from his great-aunt or the shiny new dump truck from his beloved uncle, like adopting an animal or two from the WWF. It’s the traditions we’ve started that remain important to me — stuffing a homemade stocking courtesy of Sam Lamb, homemade gingerbread for Santa, buying a “live” tree we’ll plant at the cottage this summer. Not the stuff. Now what remains is convincing the boy as he grows older and sees more stuff and wants more toys. I think I have my work cut out for me.

Oh, and unlike this kid …

… one of his most beloved presents (again from his uncle) is a boxed set of the first ten Mister Men books. He’s so obsessed with it that it’s been in his bed non-stop since it arrived Boxing Day. Books for Christmas, how appalling.

I’m guessing my nieces and nephews are honestly curling up and crying when they take home the piles and piles of books I give them each year. I work in publishing, so books are a byproduct of life. They don’t count when it comes to spoiling kids — they are the presents that can rain down on our lives in any quantity.

Deanna McFadden is a publishing professional who lives with her indie-rock husband and her rocking son in Toronto. She writes about about life, love, books, rock and roll and living with Wegener’s Granulomatosis here


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