Give the gift of live theater to your children this holiday season

     Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates at the Arden Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Mark Garvin)

    Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates at the Arden Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Mark Garvin)

    We’re reaching a point in our culture where buying your child an abundance of gifts for their birthday or during your family’s year-end holiday celebration is becoming an indelible stain on your parenting resume.

    Go ahead and post an obnoxious pile of gifts for your kids on social media, as one mom recently took to Instagram to do, and you’ll be crucified by the judging masses and swiftly labeled a glutton (among other too-nasty-to-print-here adjectives).

    I’m no longer interested in playing that parental judgment game, but I’d still make the case that, even though my wife and I went overboard (once again) after promising ourselves that we wouldn’t (once again), the slow and subtle shift away from buying more and more cheap plastic toys toward charitable giving, volunteerism and the gift of experiences, is a very good thing for us as adults and even better for our children.

    In our experience as parents over the past 11 years, experiences make tremendous gifts for kids; whether that means escaping to an indoor water park resort for a winter weekend (not that we are flush with that kind of disposable income) or, a bit more modestly, spending a pleasant afternoon out and about in the city to enjoy a bite to eat before or after a couple hours of live theater. If that kind of a day out with your kids sounds intriguing, you’re in luck as there’s a trio of shows on stage in and around Philly during school’s winter break that do not involve a single Nutcracker or a Sugar Plum Fairy.

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    Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, on the main stage of the Arden Theatre in Old City through January, is a retelling of a very old, but mostly forgotten about tale of woe, generosity and family. Despite a slow-moving opening 20 minutes, the production is stellar, the wintertime set bright and alive, and the acting top-notch as to be expected at the Arden.

    At the Arts Bank on the corner of Broad and South streets, the Enchantment Theatre Company delivers a vibrant ode to Beatrix Potter in advance of her 150th birthday with Peter Rabbit Tales. The story is based on the classic books, so this one is ideal for younger kids who are still firmly in the wheelhouse of Jemima Puddle-duck and Squirrel Nutkin. Peter Rabbit will leave Philadelphia on January 3 for warmer climates.

    Finally, a trip to Ambler is in order before December 27 to see the newest installment of Murray the Elf, the thoroughly original and gut-laugh-inducing play at the Act II Playhouse. Each holiday season, Murray is called upon to help solve a puzzling mystery that is jeopardizing Christmas. This year, it’s the Case of the Gruesome Gumdrop, and we have no doubt that it too will provide a full year of repeatable one-liners and highly-unique family memories.

    While these shows are for children, the beauty of great writing, acting, set design, and production is that — as is the case with the best in all-ages movies, music and books — these live theater experiences can and will be enjoyed by every single member of your family. So, instead of yet another video game or a mass-produced piece of molded plastic from a big-box toy store, think about giving the holiday gift of live theater, a good meal at a local restaurant and quality time together with your kiddos.

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