"Unplug Your Christmas Machine"
Gwynne Spencer

Do you dread the holiday season because your kids get the Gimme Disease?  Do you fantasize about putting a bullet through your TVfrom Thanksgiving to Christmas?  Here are some ideas adapted from the perennially popular  "Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back Into The Season" by Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli ($10, Quill) now in its 13th printing, and still one of the best guides to decommercializing your Christmas.

    1.  Make an "advent" calendar with one non-shopping activity per day.  There are plenty of ideas out there--everything from making ornaments to working on family photo albums. Brainstorming the list with kids is always a great way to start to unplug your Christmas Machine.

    2,  Limit TV watching. Most kids watch 10,000 commercials a year during their twenty hours a week of tube-feeding.  Disconnecting them may produce howls of agony, but think of it as a holiday "detox".

    3.  Read out loud at least once a day.  If you start at Thanksgiving with "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Barbara Robinson, you'll have them begging for more. Every kid needs to hear "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" at least once a year. Build a family Christmas library one new title each year and keep the collection in your turkey roaster.  If you think you don't have TIME to read here are some sneaky ways to make moments: Read during the commercials. Read while you wait in the car. Read to kids in the bathtub.  With the little ones, try books like "Touch and Feel Christmas" (DK, $6.95)
with touchy feely interactives and slobberproof pages. I don't think you ever outgrow the need to be read to.

    4.  If you are really brave, make a rule that "If You See It On TV There is No Way You Will See It Under Our Christmas Tree."  This will solve 99% of the craziness that  accumulates during this frenzied time when most retailers gross 50% of their annual income!

    5.  Come up with traditions or stick to the ones you have. In a world where you can hardly count on the sun rising in the east, kids need to know that some things just won't change.

    6.  Teach kids how to give.  Find a local charity that kids can wrap and deliver gifts to and then DO it.  Help them form a concept of charity that will last all year.

Getting your Christmas back to Jolly often means making a list of things you absolutely positively will NOT do. If you hate cookie exchanges, JUST SAY NO!  If you loathe caroling, DON'T DO IT.  Guilt is the one gift you don't need more of at this time of the year.

Most importantly, be in the moment. Smell the season.  Touch your kids' cold noses. Savor the fresh snowfall.  Don't assume there will ever be another moment like this. Being present--it's the best gift of all.
Gwynne Spencer is the author of "What's Cooking in Children's Literature"
(Linworth Publishing), a new compendium of snack recipes related to
children's books.  She can be reached at PO Box 121 Mancos CO 81328 or