The Christmas Experience

As parenting traditions go the annual pre-Christmas clear out is probably my least favourite. I love a good declutter as much as the next person but heading for your child’s bedroom, black bin bag in hand, purely to make way for an incoming slew of gifts? Consumer guilt centralis.

This isn’t about being a festive Scrooge. A carefully chosen present truly is a thing of beauty (check out our Smallish gift guides for some lovely ideas) it’s just the festive excess that’s a stretch too far (for my overflowing toy cupboards).

So what if we swerved the Secret Santas, quit the Christmas Eve panic purchases and asked Auntie Joan to break with plastic tat tradition? We all know it’s experiences not things that make us happy but could we actually follow through at a time of year where gift wrap is king?

I’m not sure I dare go as far as one family I read about who presented their children with nothing on Christmas morning but an envelope from Father C saying they were going on a travel adventure (though a one-way ticket to Bali does have its appeal) but swapping a few toys for trips out, new skills or time together sounds like a great way to break away from a season of excess.

If you fancy doing the same we’ve compiled a list of suggestions below.

Family adventure
Wrap up a pen-knife, flint and steel or den-making kit and promise to take them on a camping trip or all-day outdoor adventure.

Join the club
Buy a membership that gives you free entry to a favourite local attraction (theme park, zoo, forest school, trampolining centre, football season ticket) for the year.

New Skills
This could be something you do together or a solo venture but there’s no gift more valuable than learning a new skill. How about a course of sailing lessons, art classes or family French tuition?

A subscription to a favourite magazine (we love Aquila, Anorak and The Week Junior) is a gift that keeps on giving.

Big trip
Wrap up a small souvenir to symbolise a weekend city break at home or abroad planned for 2018.

Days out
Plan a family trip to the cinema, pottery café, bowling alley or favourite local restaurant and write the details on a voucher for them to open on Christmas Day.

Stay home
Easier, cheaper and equally enjoyable is a voucher for a family board game session or movie night complete with snacks of their choice.

Give back
Choose an animal to sponsor (the WWF does a great package including a cuddly toy) or buy junior membership of a favourite charity.

Rule the roost
Only you know how far your child would take this but gifting them a day to rule the roost on everything from what’s for dinner to bedtime is the stuff of childhood dreams.

Cardboard box
The joke about small children enjoying the packaging more than the present is as old as time itself… because it’s true. Give a one-year-old their very own pack of baby wipes to yank out one by one, gift a two-year-old a tube of toothpaste and let them squeeze the whole thing into the sink, present a three-year-old with an enormous packing box and a set of felt tip pens… You’ll never set foot in Toys R Us again.

Creating an album of family photos from the last year is a lovely way to preserve memories of good times had. Another nice idea is to frame some of their art from the past twelve months to display at home. Or finally get round to sending off their masterpieces to Doodle Nest to be turned into their very own art book.

Taking your children to the theatre is an expensive business, especially in the West End, which makes a show the perfect festive experience gift. Likewise those bank-balance crucifying tickets to see Taylor Swift, Little Mix or whatever artist is currently floating their junior boat.

What is it that they’re always asking to do but you’re always trying to put off till next week? Baking cakes? Messy craft activities? Finally building that Lego castle? Give a time voucher to redeem at their leisure.