Hot, humid summer is my least favorite season of the year, so celebrating Christmas in July makes it more tolerable (and dare I say, even fun?) During our annual Cousin Camp this year – which is a great childcare solution if it works for your family – my son and I thought it would be fun to take my two visiting nieces to Sleepy Poet Antique Mall. We could browse the aisles and beat the heat; better yet, we could turn it into a challenge: a gift-exchange one!
We set out wearing green and red. (Well, those of us who were not a.m. Grinches did. Imagine my surprise when my 13-year-old niece was all about acting silly like this.) Rules were not revealed until arriving at our destination. It turned out so well that we plan to do it again next summer. Even though July is nearly gone, you can rebrand this as a “Christmas in Summer” Secret Santa for August. This is classic fun for anyone, too: grandparents, siblings, and friends.
Here are some guidelines to consider for a smoother outing:
Set a budget. I set a $10 or under limit for each child. The question was raised if this could come in the form of multiple items adding up to $10 or just a single item. We went with multiple items. I did let the youngest child spend $1 more than the others since not every child decided to spend the full amount. Use your own discretion based on how competitive the group is. I also set a one-hour time limit as younger ones can only handle so much shopping and visual stimulation until they need to run wild and free or rest.
Decide how to draw names. Instead of a free-for-all where siblings may have wound up with each other, we had cousins draw cousins. This could be just as fun, though, done as a free-for-all if that’s preferred.
Give instructions for safety. The oldest in the group is 13, and the youngest is 9. I decided we should all stay in the same general aisle at least, remaining visible to each other at a distance. This was a good opportunity, as well, to encourage the older children to use phones in a responsible manner to help us all stay connected should a younger child get separated.
Encourage creativity. The only frustration came from a positive place: what to give the recipient. I advised them to watch one another and think about their likes and hobbies. If they noticed someone handing an object and remarking about it, maybe that would be a good pick. In the end, they each selected something special for one another, which surprised me. A ceramic mushroom was selected for my son’s gecko terrarium. A pug mug and butterfly bracelet was just what my daughter would adore. The Aquarius necklace and boho plant rope hanger were perfect scores for my nieces. I thought for sure there would be a gag gift or two. Their thoughtfulness for each other melted my heart (and even made the incessant bickering and adolescent ‘tudes fade into the background.)
Serve as Chief Elf. As the facilitator, I carried a basket to help with covert operations like tucking a ring in a pot or folding linens over a special find as we meandered the rows. When it came decision time, I found two adjoining vendor booths and had each child come in alone to show me their final selection. That way, I could check out discreetly and then call them all down when I was ready with the bagged and hidden goodies.
Make the actual exchange eventful. Instead of going from oldest to youngest as we did when drawing names, I had youngest to oldest present their gifts. It was pretty incredible to experience a little Christmas magic smack-dab in the middle of summer.
My hope is that when I’m long gone, my kids and nieces will still talk about the fun they had together as children doing this. Perhaps, they’ll even continue the tradition themselves.
Let us know if you try this out with your own crew. We’d love to know how it goes. Happy treasure hunting!