Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Faith McQuinn, my daughters Lillie and Dani will not be listing to this episode, and I believe that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living. In today’s episode of Stuff I Learned Yesterday, I share a lesson I learned about the importance of gift-giving.

Today’s Fun Fact: ince I’m going to be talking about gift-giving, I figured I would share some fun facts about the most popular Christmas gift—the Christmas card. The first commercial Christmas card was invented and published in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole in Britain. He had a hand in creating the Penny Post, so he believed the Christmas card would help relieve the burden of hand-writing seasonal greetings as well as take advantage of the Penny Post. The card cost one shilling, which was the equivalent of a day’s wages for a laborer. The cards were gilded, frosted, with accents of silk or satin, and some even squeaked. Artist John Horsley did the artwork. The first card’s side panels showed acts of charity toward the underprivileged while the centerpiece depicted a scene with a large family enjoying Christmas dinner. The first card was actually marked by controversy. Some Victorians believed the card encouraged degenerate behavior…of the spirited kind. In the family scene, a young girl in a green dress is taking a large drink of red wine, and this was viewed as a blatant depiction of underage drinking. These facts come from a wonderful book called The Physics of Christmas: From the Aerodynamics of a Reindeer to the Thermodynamics of Turkey by Roger Highfield. If you like science, history, and Christmas, this book is for you.

What I Learned Yesterday
When I was five years old, I asked Santa for a car. It’s all I wanted. A convertible to be exact. Under my Christmas tree Christmas morning was a cream-colored Rolls Royce convertible with tan interior. It was the coolest Power Wheels I’d ever seen. Santa came through! That was the last Christmas gift I ever got from Santa. After that, all my Christmas gifts came from my family, and I knew about nearly every one of them in advance because I went to the store to pick them out. I don’t actually remember my mom breaking the news to me that Santa wasn’t a real person. I’m pretty sure i just figured it out on my own—seeing as how all the gifts from “Santa” were gifts I’d just seen my mom buy at the toy store. I actually remember believing in the tooth fairy until I was about 8, but Santa. No go on the jolly man in the red suit. My mom is a people pleaser, and she loves giving gifts. She hates giving the wrong gifts, so she always wants to know exactly what I ( and the rest of the family) wants so she can get the right thing. This isn’t bad, but as a child, it kind of killed Christmas for me. I even wrapped my own presents once Mom realized I was a great gift wrapper.

As a teenager, I started finding ways around the no-surprise gifting. I would give my mom a list of things and just tell her to pick something from the list. Granted, I still basically knew but at least there was some mystery instilled on Christmas morning. When I finally had a job and could buy gifts for my family and friends, I found that I too loved the act of gift-giving. The difference, though, between my mom and I? I relished in the surprise. I worked hard (and still do) at finding the right thing to give someone. Seeing a loved one’s face completely light up when they open a gift makes my heart sing.

When my daughters Lillie and Dani came along, I vowed to keep the surprises and magic of Christmas as long as possible. At six, they still fully believe in Santa. When they open gifts, I love seeing their faces light up. So my decision to change up gift-giving this year was a big one.

I’ve decided that they will not be getting toys for Christmas this year. (Cue the intense reveal music.)

This decision was born out of two things. Number one: the craziness that is their playroom. Most of the time, I have no idea where the floor is yet they seem to only play with the same small group of toys. All the other toys get mixed into the shuffle and just lay forgotten on the floor while they happily play with the most loved toys in the hall…or in the dining room…or in the living room. You get the picture. Number two: they’ve started asking me for dance lessons and music lessons and trips to theme parks. Of course, they still ask for every toy they see on television, but the trips and the lessons are becoming more and more frequent.

My husband was on board. No new toys sounded like a win to him. The grandparents were not so much on board. My mom argued that I was taking away the spirit of Christmas. That I was denying my children the joy of opening presents if there were no toys. My in-laws were brought to literal tears by my declaration and didn’t know how they would be able to make their grandchildren happy if toys were off the list. I reassured everyone that clothes, art supplies, movies, and definitely books were still on the list. Just no toys. I also included ballet lessons, a membership to the Adventure Science Center, tickets to the Symphony, and a backstage pass to the Nashville Zoo. This helped a little, but I’m pretty sure the struggle of going toyless has affected the grandparents more than it will affect my kids.

Side note: I gave in a little. The girls really, really, really wanted American Girl dolls. I told them they could have American Girl-esque dolls (We decided on Madame Alexander.) IF they donated other toys. So, without any suggestions from Mommy, Lillie and Dani agreed to donate their Barbies and all things Barbie-related, so they could have Madame Alexander dolls. So they will have a couple of toys under the tree Christmas morning.

I’m hoping they will still have those bright-eyed, happy faces on Christmas morning even though they won’t be ripping into packages filled with toys. I’m hoping that the gift of experiences is just as fun as the gift of objects.

Over the weekend, they received one gift early—my mom took us to see the Nashville Ballet’s Nutcracker. They got new dresses and new dress coats. And they have been excited for weeks about their first trip to the ballet.

We at dinner at a sushi place (though Lillie and I were the only ones to have sushi),but everyone enjoyed their dinner. And then off to the show. They thought our seats in the front row of the Grand Tier were amazing. They could see everything on stage as well as right into the orchestra pit. The musicians were decked out in reindeer antlers and Santa hats and some had decorated their music sheet stands with Christmas lights. Once the awe of the theatre wore off, they both grew a little bored. But then the curtain rose and the show began. Lillie sat up in her seat to get just a little closer. Dani cuddled into her seat but her eyes were glued to the stage. They gasped at the decorations and the lights, and smiled at the snow on stage and the beautiful costumes. During intermission, I could tell they were getting a bit tired (I was really beginning to regret choosing the evening performance instead of the matinee.), but once the dancing began, they were enthralled. About 10 minutes before it ended, the fight with sleep was being lost. When the show was over, Lillie unfortunately got sick and threw up before we could get to a bathroom. She thought she’d ruined her dress, but I assured her we could wash it. After I got her cleaned up, I sat them both down in the lobby and asked if they’d had fun. A healthy, albeit tired, “yes” came from both of them. Dani’s favorite part: the dance of the snow queen and king because the snow was cool. Lillie’s favorite part: the sugar plum fairies because their costumes were pretty and purple.

Here’s What I Learned
Toys are cool. Experiences are better.

Even though they had bouts of boredom. Even though Dani fell asleep, and Lillie was nearly there. Even though Lillie’s tummy didn’t behave properly. My daughters said they enjoyed the show and want to go back again next year (to the matinee instead of the evening show of course). I was worried about this decision, especially after the reaction from the grandparents, but talking to my children? I think I made the right choice. My mom taught me that giving the right gift is not only wonderful for the recipient but also for the giver. When I was little, Christmas wasn’t my favorite holiday. I could never really pinpoint why until I was older and realized how much I liked surprises and the experience of giving. There are few things in the world better than bringing joy to the people you love. I wish you and yours a joyful Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Winter Solstice. May you receive gifts that bring you joy. May the gifts you give bring happiness to those you love.

I’m Faith McQuinn, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.

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