If you have plastic up to your gills, or if you want to be more frugal about gifts, or even if you enjoy using what God has given you in a redeeming way, you may appreciate these ideas this Christmas:
- Gather up as many bags of used toys as possible to put into circulation. Relatives or a church friend might need some of your toys for their younger children. Local organizations like foster care associations, rescue missions, or pregnancy resource centers are often receiving slightly used toys to give away to needy children. Perhaps you can do as Jon Elliff suggests: Let each child select and keep one box of toys and one additional “big item,” like a doll-house or an indoor plastic basketball goal, then give the rest away. Kids can get used to doing this right after or right before Thanksgiving each year. It could become part of the Christmas experience.
- Teach your kids that used items are just as fun as new items. There really is little use in having to buy new items for children when you could provide them with better toys for less money by shopping at thrift stores and garage sales, or by swapping out with other parents. Kids really don’t mind this. The only thing that can spoil this is creating lust in children by exposing them to too many advertisements. The toy manufacturers know just how to appeal to kids.
- How about doing some internal recycling sometime around Christmas? Try grouping the kids’ toys into boxes and storing them. Each month (or whenever you think appropriate), rotate in a new box of old toys and temporarily retire the ones the kids have just been using. You will only need about three or four boxes for this. This will make old toys more interesting and appreciated. Perhaps you could ask the kids to select a boxful of toys for now, before Christmas, then, after they have played with their new Christmas toys awhile, do a good job of separating all their toys for the rest of the year. The kids could help you sort them.
- Parents could have a gathering with other parents in the church for a toy exchange. Each family could bring a box full of toys (or more), and swap toys for a whole “new” set that could then be wrapped and given to their children. Bring toys that are nice enough to pass on.
- Instead of having “gift exchanges” where each child brings a brand new gift to give to another boy or girl (who may not like it), have a “new to you” gift exchange where each child brings a used toy (or even more!) to give away.
- Have a “Christmas garage sale.” Involve the kids in the whole process, from cleaning the toys to setting up. It may be more enjoyable to move the sale out on your driveway. If it’s cold, be sure to have hot chocolate ready for the customers. The toys (and hot chocolate) could be free, or the kids could charge reasonable prices (cheap) for everything and use the money they make to buy gifts for others in the family. Or, the kids may be encouraged to give the money they make to help children somewhere in the world who have much less. You may enjoy doing this Christmas garage sale with other families in your church and/or neighborhood. This may be a strategic way to meet or reconnect with neighbors.
- Along with collecting food items to give to a needy family in your church or community, also include age-appropriate toys. Let your children pick out several from their own collection that they think will be especially enjoyed.
Ultimately we want to promote and provide a context for the exercise of the selflessness which can only be found in people who know Christ. Some kids especially need work in this area because of years of over-stimulation and childlike self-centeredness. In many countries of the world, children have only a couple of toys (maybe handmade). Though we should enjoy what we have, doing as much as possible to make kids grateful is a really important parental task. It is one that is not easy and demands prayer and careful planning, over time.
If our children are truly followers of Christ, they will enjoy the encouragements to think in God-honoring ways about their toys. If they are not, these ideas will provide many opportunities to preach the gospel to them. For example, as we teach them about giving up their toys for the temporary joy of others, we will be able to speak about the Christ who gave His life for the eternal joy of His people. And God may even use the sinful struggles your children have with some of the ideas above to convict them of their sin and their need of the Savior. These seven ideas will matter most if parents connect them to the gospel.