“Memories mean more to me than dresses.”
― Anne Frank
Many Parents who live with abundance struggle with the balance of indulging in the joy of gift giving with finding a way to make the giving and receiving special and memorable.
I used to teach Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Of course, as part of reading it, we would do a great deal of background on the history of the Holocaust. Very heavy subject matter, and you might wonder if thirteen and fourteen year olds can handle it. In my experience, the answer is yes. Teens at that age are looking to understand the world and their place in it. They want to know the truth about the world and, at the same time, they are imaging who they will be in that world—and how they will be.
The reality of Anne Frank’s situation is horrifying, but at the core of her diary is Anne Frank’s optimism and belief that the world is a good place.
To help sustain my students through the somber and sobering knowledge they were learning through their research and reading the diary, we would do a gift exchange inspired by Anne’s account of her family’s gift exchange while hiding in the secret annex.
With limited resources the family had to get very creative with how to give gifts for Hanukah. For example, Anne makes shampoo for her sister by saving the ends of bars of soap for months and blending them together. For another present, she erases all the answers in a book of crossword puzzles so that they can be done again.
In my classroom, each student picked a name of a classmate out of a hat. The assignment was create a present for that person only using things they could find at home. They were forbidden to buy anything for the project. On the last day of class before winter break, students would exchange their gifts and share the stories of how they solved the problem of giving an appropriate gift without being able to go to the store.
What I loved about this project was how thoroughly my students stepped into the spirit of it. They might have found it contrived. I’m sure some of them picked the name of someone they didn’t like or couldn’t relate to, but over the years this was one of the most engaging assignments I assigned.
I also loved their creativity. One student printed out pictures taken over the six years they had been in school together and created a mobile of the whole class. Another covered an ordinary cardboard box with beautiful paper inside and out and wrote out quotes from Anne Frank on each of the surfaces. Still another student took stones she had polished at summer camp and wrote on them with permanent marker words of peace and love and harmony.
Although I didn’t specify that students needed to do gifts that would echo the themes of the diary, many did. Many focused on finding the lightness in the dark, on appreciating how nature can uplift us and on the value of friendship to sustain us when life gets hard.
Students have come back years after graduation and told me they still have the present their classmate made for them—that’s how special it was.
People love to give and receive presents. A gift does not have to be handmade to be special. It does not have to be made just from items found at home. But the memory of some gifts do last longer than the memory of others.
What do you do in your family to make gift giving special and memorable? What do you do to make gift giving meaningful and not just something you do because it is expected of you? As always, I would love to hear about what works for your family. Please comment here or on Joyful Parenting's Facebook Page