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Carolyn Hax: Best cross-religion gift for kids is time

Fri., Dec. 17, 2010

Dear Carolyn: My sister married a Muslim and converted. We live in cities several hours apart, but the family comes together for Thanksgiving, and I have brought birthday gifts for her children in years past.

I sent my sister an e-mail this year asking for gift suggestions, and she told me to not buy them anything because they celebrated two Eid holidays this fall, which is when they exchange gifts in their religion. She wanted the Eid holidays to remain extra special and the children not to become spoiled with too many gifts. My sister still plans to have a cake for them.

It was disappointing when my sister gave up Christmas, but it was understood and respected. However, I am now saddened not to experience the joy of seeing the young children’s faces as they open their birthday gifts. The passing of each of these events, which customarily brings family together, seemingly works as another step in feeling distance and disconnect from the children.

Is there anything I can do on their birthdays to show them their non-Muslim family loves them enough to buy them gifts too, without offending my sister’s wishes? – Losing my family to religion

You’re losing a gift-giving opportunity to religion. If you want to lose your family to religion, the best way to accomplish that is to rage, rage against the dying of your traditions, instead of adapting to theirs.

I understand your frustration at being denied the chance to spoil your nieces and nephews. But it couldn’t hurt to consider that spoiling with material gifts is overrated.

And gifts aren’t the only way to spend money on, or time with, these children. You can take them to movies, games, plays or concerts; go on nature walks with them; create art projects with them. Ask your sister about their interests. Feed those interests, versus their toy chests, and you’ll probably see more than once-a-year joy on their faces.

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