The Child and Its Christmas Effort

This is the second article in December of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on December 12, 1909, and is a continuation of Marion’s talk on gift giving.

In this article, it is Marion’s advice that mothers should have young children learn of self-sacrifice and giving by saving money and making home-made gifts.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

The Child and Its Christmas Effort

HOW much share in Christmas have the children of today? How much are they taught to feel the true spirit of Christmas?

Consider average children, and what does Christmas mean to them? A time of holidays from school, of gay shop windows, of many gifts, of much good eating. Does it stand for much more?

We defraud our children when we give them only so much of Christmas as this. If we have never before taught them the true meaning of the most blessed holiday of the year, let us do it now. There is more in the season even than the manger and the star, the child and the shepherds. Give these to the children, but give them also the idea of the lesson that Christmas brings a self-sacrifice for others; help them to feel that the only gift worth giving is that which counts for something to the giver.

I think that as a rule children are generous, unless they have been taught to be calculating. Cultivate such generosity; and, for the love of mercy, never encourage in them that spirit of “give and take,” of keeping a debt and credit account on Christmas presents which has done so much to poison the season for older people.

As soon as the child is old enough to understand giving at all, make the gift something coming from him or her personally. The childish efforts will be weak, the childish results will be poor, but that makes little difference so long as the loving, generous spirit lies back of the gift. The book-mark worked in straggling cross stitch by baby fingers means as much to the father or mother as anything a hundred times its value could signify. If ever there is an opportunity in which will counts more highly than achievement, it is in the gifts which children make to their nearest and dearest.

As the children grow older do not abandon this line of teaching. Instruct them to make their gifts costs them something; to begin long before the holiday season to hoard their pennies; encourage them to stop the little indulgences dear to their small souls (and bodies), such as purchases of candy and peanuts and popcorn with their spending money, for the sake of laying it aside for Christmas gifts. The self-denial will do them good in more ways than one. It will teach them to give up their own pleasure for the sake of others; to make the prospective pleasure of those they love dearer to them than their own immediate enjoyment.

Let me say a word here relative to the benefit of giving allowances of spending money to children from the time they are old enough to have money to spend at all. It not only teaches them the use of money and imparts a beginning of a sense of responsibility in financial affairs, but it does more by providing them a chance to forego personal indulgence for the sake of giving to others. If from their tiny allowances they are encouraged to save for charity and for birthday and Christmas gifts, they have gained a lesson that no preaching and teaching in later years could so thoroughly implant.

Not that the best gifts are those which are procured simply by paying out money for them. Make the children understand that, and help them to make their gifts with their own hands. The way to do this has always been more or less easy for girls, who could sew and embroider and knit and crochet presents for those they loved. Of late the path has been opened for boys as well, and the manual training bestowed in our schools has been of benefit to them. By the aid of tools and pyrographic outfits and jigsaws they are able to do their share in making their Christmas gifts with their own hands.

A Guiding Hand.

I should be doing my subject little justice if I did not say that these instruments to which I have referred had also done their part toward the manufacture of some fearful and wonderful objects with which the living rooms and bedrooms of some of us are cumbered. The unassisted and unadvised child is likely to perpetrate grievous things if not aided by counsel. Apparently, the majority are born with little discrimination between good and evil so are as the works of their hands are concerned, and offer plaques and panels for alleged “decoration” with as much confidence of approval as an artist would feel in presenting a painting of his own doing.

Therefore let us guide our children when we may. There is no reason why their gifts should not be of value beyond that given them by love. Among my cherished possessions are a carved box for hairpins; another, much smaller, for collar buttons and similar trifles; a glove box and handkerchief box adored with pyrogravure; a footstool, and a hanger for my roller towel—all the work of boyish love. They might so easily have been useless horrors that I am filled with thankfulness whenever I think of them.

Encourage your children to make gifts which will really supply long-felt needs. Teach them that it is a very poor gift which is made without consideration of the wants of the person to whom it goes. To buy or to make at random is the least gracious way of manufacturing a present for any one.

The small girl will be helped by such instruction. They will probably display a tendency to buy and make certain fluffy, useless articles which commend themselves to the feminine mind in its immature stages, and sometimes later on. Guide them in their work. Teach them that it is better to make a wash cloth, or pad for a bureau drawer, or a shoe bag, or a needle book, or something equally simple, which is of practical value to the person who receives it than to break forth into all sorts of ambitious impossibilities in the line of decoration—so-called.

Never can I forget one Christmas when I received a bag of belting cloth with a filling of thistledown and a decoration of flowers in water colors, a construction of silk and chenille and cardboard to hang from the chandelier, a china plaque with a Gibson girl on it, six calendars and seven sachets. The only redeeming feature about the gifts was that love probably prompted the sending. That was the only thing they represented besides money. Not a bit of thought had gone to the selection, no planning as to what would meet my taste and my needs.

Don’t let your boys and girls grow up in that way. Let them consider as much a part of the Christmas gift as the money which goes into it a study of the preferences of the person to whom it is sent. They would not give a workbag to their grandfather, or a pipe to their aunt, but, unassisted, they would doubtless make just as absurd presents to other members of the family or to friends. Guide them in the selection until they are old enough to judge for themselves. Don’t turn the children loose to do their own shopping, but find time, no matter how busy you may be, to go out with them on their expeditions to the stores and help them learn how to buy. Don’t put this off until the last moment either, but undertake it as long ahead of time as you can.

Bear in mind always that the children ought to have a share in “making Christmas” in the household beyond the giving of presents. Entrust them with a certain amount of responsibility as soon as they are old enough to take it. Confide to them part of the preparations. It may be that to them you will delegate the collection and hanging of the greens, the decoration of the table, the preparation of the candies which are to go into stockings and fancy boxes; the painting or lettering of the cards which are to mark the place at the Christmas dinner; the putting up the parcels which are to go out of the house. If you do not, at the moment, think of something to confide to their care, study it up until you have found something. There should be no drones in the house in the midst of the Christmas preparations. While the children are still young make them understand the solidarity of the family, and that they have their own important part in helping t make the Christmas joy.

Marion Harland

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

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