December 2, 2012

Throwback Christmas presents


---- — Black Friday shopping across the country this year was marred by stampedes, bludgeonings and gunfire.

All in the name of the Christmas spirit and in hopes of getting 30 percent off “Just Dance 4.”

Our family stayed in this year, instead browsing — but not buying — during the Cyber Monday sales.

Our children, however, are well aware of the impending holiday and have begun the badgering process. Not surprisingly, virtually everything they want is electronic: tablets, cell phones, iPods, video games.

Unfortunately, research has shown that too much time staring at screens can destroy brain cells in giant, irreplaceable bunches. Also, many of these electronic items are expensive budget-busters in a time of economic turmoil.

The question has been asked a million times, but is it really the spirit of Christmas to spend more money than you can afford on an array of gifts your children will break or forget about within two weeks?

Don’t tell my children — I want to see the surprise on their faces — but my wife and I have decided to have a holiday that hearkens back to the very first Christmas, when the infant Jesus was born in a humble manger … and, um, was immediately showered with gold and expensive scents and resins from wealthy strangers.

I implore other parents to follow our lead. Not just because it will will save you money — and will save our children from being the only ones ridiculed in school after the Christmas break — but because it’s the right thing to do.

Here are some practical suggestions of gifts you can give your children that will keep them from being turned into zombies by electronic screens:

Library Card: Think of it as the world’s thinnest, lightest Kindle. Read unlimited books for free, with pages you can actually touch (and occasionally write on). Promise your child an electronic book reader as soon as they finish all the books they can get with the library card.

Socks: They come in thousands of different colors and sizes and materials. What fun! Some malls have entire stores dedicated to just socks. Kids might tell you they don’t like them, but they wear them every single day.

Education: Put money into a college fund in your child’s name. Explain how much a four-year college education will cost and how important that education will be in their getting a good job later in life. And get a tax deduction!

Coal: A plentiful American fuel with a long history of being deposited in Christmas stockings. It’s not just for naughty kids anymore! Tell your kids that they can use their holiday coal in the furnace any time during the winter and you’ll turn the thermostat up three degrees. Or tell them they can try squeezing the coal until it turns into a diamond. A great stress reliever.

Slide Rule: A calculator is really just another electronic screen. Give your children one of these useful antiques and open up the entire world of mathematics to them.

Coupon Book: Who doesn’t love the homemade coupon book? “With this coupon, Dad will pick up all the clothes I tossed on my bedroom floor yesterday.” “With this coupon, Mom will wash all the dishes I dirtied today.” “With this coupon, Dad will help me with my math homework, except for those word problems that give him a headache.”

Twenty percent off one item at Bed, Bath and Beyond: Your child can learn about value while getting their favorite kitchen utensils or linens at a discounted price.

Plants: Pets are messy and expensive. Plants provide life-sustaining oxygen. Your children can learn about caring for other living creatures by caring for some vegetation. Sunshine and fresh water are free!

Board games: Learn strategy and word skills. Scrabble: it’s just like Words With Friends, without the advertisements!

Music: Break out that old karaoke microphone you got for Christmas 2001, and compose a song just for your children. Provide a mental image that will stay with them forever, and inspire them to have a life-long appreciation of music.

Food: Kids love to eat, and food comes in all shapes and sizes. Might I suggest a 27-pound turkey? The kids will be excited by the big, heavy box, and it will take at least a couple of days of thawing before the really dangerous bacteria gets a foothold.

Tools: A good tool, and the ability to use it, will stay with your child for a lifetime. Just don’t give them anything sharp that they might use against you.

Your kids may not immediately appreciate the beauty of a practical Christmas. But they’ll thank you for it later. Definitely.

Email Steve Ouellette: