Back in 2010, when my kids were much younger I was asked about Christmas gifts for kids, from a reader who felt like she always overbought too many Christmas gifts. How many is too many gifts? Six years later, I think it’s time to revisit the topic.
Gift shopping definitely changes as kids become young adults. The presents get smaller and smaller, with bigger and bigger price tags. (Think cell phones and jewelry.) This is something I’m super aware of because as I plan for Christmas morning, I have a picture in my head of what I want it to look like (big! magical! high impact!), and tiny gifts can make it harder to achieve.
This is what’s on my mind when I start planning and shopping for gifts for the kids:
– On Christmas Eve, there’s usually not too much under our tree. A box of pjs for each child. A gift from a sibling for each child (for the past 4 years, my kids have drawn names). And maybe a few boxes of general family gifts from grandparents or cousins.
Every other gift they receive is from Santa and won’t appear until Christmas morning. This makes coming into the room on Christmas morning really magical — like a big reveal. The gifts seem to have multiplied overnight! And with six kids, all of a sudden there’s so much stuff!
– Gifts from Santa are placed in separate piles for each child, with some space between them so everyone has room to unwrap their gifts. The stuffed stockings are next to their pile. Even though the piles are pretty small, there’s a plentiful feeling because it’s all multiplied by six.
– Traditionally, everything from Santa is gift-wrapped, except one item per child. And that unwrapped gift is often something that’s physically big and would be hard to wrap anyway, like a skateboard or a drawing easel or a boogie board or a play kitchen. Those big items might have a big red bow, but again, no wrapping. None of the items from Santa have gift tags or names on them.
Having one gift unwrapped draws each child straight to their pile. And it feels good too — someone has been thinking of them and they have proof!
– As I mentioned, we’re really going for a magical feeling that morning, so before they kids come into the room, we have soft Christmas music playing, twinkle lights on, candles lit, and something that smells good simmering on the stove. All the kids come into the room at the same time.
– Since our kids take turns opening gifts, I like to make sure each one has a similar amount of items to open. But budgets don’t have to match up at all. Little kids gifts are simply less expensive.
– I ask the kids for wishlists in late November or early December. I tell them to go overboard. They’ll only get a few items from the list, but I like to have options.
– When Ben Blair and I start putting together an actual shopping list from their wishlists, we start with a basic framework: Each child will get something to wear, something to read, and something to play with.
But we’ve found that even with only 3 gift spots to fill, the gifts still multiply. The something to read might turn into a series of books instead of just one. The something to wear might turn into two boxes — one with new jeans, and one with new shoes — or a whole outfit that might have 4 pieces in a few different boxes. The something to play with might split into two — something from their list that’s more passive (like a stuffed animal), and something that’s more active (like an origami kit, or climbing gear).
Yet still, that basic framework really helps to keep things reigned in.
– For years, stockings were mostly filled with art supplies and things like new socks and headbands and big bottles of bubble bath. But as the kids age, it has shifted to nicer toiletries and grooming products, like a really good mascara, or cologne, and practical tech accessories like a new charger or phone cover. Socks still make it in there sometimes too. Our stockings are narrow and not too big. So there are just a few items in each one.
– As I mentioned, the gifts tend to get smaller as the kids get older, and those big physical gifts (like a new bike) that make such an impact on Christmas morning, have started to disappear. But we still have younger kids too. And I still want that big magical impact for them. So the last couple of years, we’ve had balloons (all one color, either red or white), all over the floor and around the tree on Christmas morning too. They’re very inexpensive, but make a big impact and transform the room. The impression is abundance.
– I manage the Christmas shopping list on a spread sheet where I note each child, what they’re getting in each of the 3 categories, and what they’re getting in their stocking. I also note what their siblings have bought for them so that we’re not repeating. The spreadsheet helps me get an overall picture of everything each child is getting so I can tweak it as needed. I picture each child’s face as they open their gifts. Is there a wow gift in the pile? Something they’ll be super excited about? Are there good surprises? Items not from their list, but that they’ll love? Does the pile look too small? If yes, can I wrap a tiny gift in a big box?
– I’m estimating we’ll have 3-5 more years of Santa at our house. I’d like to keep focused on creating a magical morning through those years. But after that, we’ll need to rethink our Christmas morning traditions. Already, we’ve had a couple of years where the big gift from Santa was an experience — like a trip to Venice. I can see us shifting more and more that way.
Okay, that was a long list of thoughts. Now I’m dying to hear from you! Does Santa come to your house? If yes, how do you handle it? Does Santa bring one gift, or too many Christmas gifts? Are some gifts from you as parents? Are there a lot of gifts already under your tree before Santa arrives? How do you handle sibling gifts?
And tell me about your Christmas mornings. Do the kids get up early or sleep in late? Do they make it to the tree one at a time, or does the whole family gather? Do you do a big breakfast? For many years, our kids always received Lucky Charms in their stockings (a rare treat!) and that’s what they would eat for breakfast. But I think I’m ready to shift to homemade cinnamon rolls or something like that.
What’s your take? Do you have too many Christmas Gifts in your home?
P.S. — Need gift ideas? And remember this hand-stamped wrapping?
111 thoughts on “Too Many Christmas Gifts? How Many Gifts Do Your Kids Get for Christmas?”
Christmas morning is still magical at our house and Santa makes an appearance. He usually brings one gift per child (usually something they’ve been talking about or hoping for for a while) and it’s the only unwrapped gift under the tree so they know who its from. Stockings are from Santa too but are mostly functional things (socks, toothbrush etc.) with a couple of small toys (stickers, puzzle) and some chocolate. Growing up, my family always had music playing as we unwrapped gifts, homemade cinnamon buns to snack on and coffee with Bailey’s for the grownups, hot chocolate for the kids. We always got up early so it was nice to have a warm, cozy environment to enjoy together and we always tried to stretch it out as long as we could!
We follow my childhood tradition: we open presents to each other first in mom and dad’s bed, followed by heading downstairs where stockings can be opened while mom and dad have survival coffee (stockings are usually art supplies, grooming supplies, cute socks, bubble bath… practical yet cute appreciated things), and then presents under the tree.
The NUMBER per kid is difficult to calculate. This year, for example, we made our toddler a dollhouse. Is that one present? Or is it dollhouse+doll family+accessories for various rooms?
Anyway. We try to basically hit one ‘big ticket’ gift (dollhouse), 1-2 ‘things they need’ (same kid is getting a backpack, so we can recuperate the diaper bag for the new one due in February…), a few smaller things they want (same kid REALLY wants a necklace she can wear every day. Ok, then. I made one for her), a pile of books… So probably like 6-10 wrapped packages each, depending on the number of books?
Enough to seem plentiful and provide lots of entertainment. Not enough to bust the budget (also helpful: craft skills, woodworking skills, sewing skills.) And books, because they are important.
Also worth noting: our kids get toys at their birthday and Christmas. PERIOD. There are no ‘just a small thing’ throughout the year – and we live in the country far from a store, so that’s easily enforced. So we may give slightly more during Christmas and Birthdays than other families, but considering those are the only toys that make it onto the property, it’s a decent strategy for reducing overall clutter.
Thank you for sharing. I always wonder if we are doing too much or too little for our kids. :) On Christmas Eve, we have presents from us, which include new pajamas and an ornament. On Christmas Day, Santa brings a separate pile of wrapped presents for each kid with one “wow” gift. The kids are not allowed to open any presents until the parents are awake and give the go ahead. We do have certain gift categories, like wear, read, and play, but we have added other categories, like movie, board game, and some type of craft kit or supply. The kids end up with 10-12 things, some of which are pretty inexpensive. They also receive candy, toiletries, and trinkets in their stockings. We always have some type of breakfast casserole, which I make ahead and pop in the oven while we are opening presents. I love Christmas morning!
I love Christmas morning too! (And I also love a good Christmas Day nap.)
My kids are all grown, 18, 21, 23, and 25, and they still wake me up at 5 AM to open gifts…lol
We like the magic of Santa, and try to balance ensuring the gift the kids receive from Santa is something they wanted, are excited about AND something not too expensive/elusive. We don’t want them going to school or talking with friends and saying, ‘Santa brought me a $500 Snowboard, and a trip to Paris, or ___ (fill in the blank with anything expensive); while their friends might have gotten something substantially different.
That said, because of this methodology, the magic of a gift ‘explosion’ and how exciting that transformation is for the kids on Christmas morning isn’t there or the same (I had that as a kid, and it was fun and magical to think of all these gifts just appearing!).
This is very interesting, because it’s almost the opposite of what we do. First, all our gifts are jumbled under the tree so the big job is to find a gift for each person and then we open. Second, we only have one gift from Santa and stocking items, the rest of the gifts are from us and family members.
I love the jumble of gifts. It’s pretty much a rule in our house. No organization of gifts allowed.
Yes, love the jumble! Usually the youngest child is the “elf” who choses a gift and delivers it to the recipient. We always opened our gifts one person at a time with plenty of time to admire and chat and even start to play. :)
My family has been doing this forever and a few years ago my youngest sister was so happy that her niece (my daughter) was old enough to be the elf!
The jumble sounds super charming! We may have to shift to the jumble as our kids get older and older. I can imagine us adopting this when the Santa years are done.
We did a mix of the two- family gifts were a jumble (still are!) and Santa gifts were in separate piles with each child’s stocking beside their pile. Although ‘pile’ is a generous word, Santa only brought 2-3 gifts :)
Your post gives me a lot to think about. Right now we are in a two bedroom apartment, so way I can keep the kids out of the main living area. But I remember growing up, we stayed upstairs, and if we have that option in our next house, I think I will enforce the same rule.
I haven’t really decided what to do about Santa but at the moment the kids are a bit too young to fully comprehend his role so I haven’t had to make the final decision. If I had it my way, we would give zero gifts from him but talk about him and decorate with his image. I know though that they will eventually hear about Santa at school and wonder why they don’t get gifts from Santa. Decisions, decisions!
I hated having stockings full of just candy growing up so I tend to fill them up with a mixture of toys and other little goodies. I will switch to more practical items when the kids are older. Present wise we try to keep the number small, around 3 each, plus 1 or 2 to share. With the added presents from family members, it really is all they need. We don’t set a budget but I don’t typically buy expensive things (yet anyways) for the kids at Christmas. We tend to give the bigger gifts, like bikes, for birthdays.
We also do pjs and individual ornaments each year. I almost nixed both traditions this year, wondering if they were making Christmas too complicated, but they managed to live on. I actually ended up finding an etsy seller who sold ornaments filled with sand, shells, and drift wood from local beaches and settled on those as this years ornaments since this is probably our last Christmas in Hawaii.
Well when I was a child, we were happy to receive apples & oranges & peanuts for Christmas we were really poor but we were happy.We had a real tree we pop popcorn for roaping on the tree and we had a light with different colors that would turn to show colors on the tree. I miss those days so much both my parents are gone now and I think about those years a lot I have two grown sons & two grandkids I buy them one gift a piece and one gift a piece for my sons I try to listen to what they would like to have when I’m visiting them & if it’s not to high I get that for them I truly enjoy watching kids opening there gifts on Christmas I’d rather give than receive there’s a lot of poor family’s that can’t afford to give to there children that’s why I would tell my grandchildren not to brag in school what they got for Christmas because there are kids that didn’t get anything for Christmas because there parents just didn’t have the money and believe me I’ve also been down that road many times. Thank you & I wish everyone a merry Christmas & a happy new year
I have lots of thoughts this year. This is our first year with children, and so we’ve been cautious on how to proceed with gifting especially. Our kids have some emotional baggage, and we find that holidays can be a bit overwhelming for them, so we are learning fast to rethink holidays and how gift-focused they are. For birthdays we have chosen to do four gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.
In my family’s tradition growing up, we opened our stockings one day early, on a day we refer to as Christmas Adam. (this originated back to my mom and her sister as kids, because my grandfather was a postal worker and was stuck working VERY long hours the day before the Christmas eve holiday, so my grandparents had them open stockings so they could play with all the little toys and treats and not be as desolate about him being gone for so long-and so my grandma could get some Christmas prep done while they were busy!). So, we will still do Christmas Adam, and then Christmas eve they will get new PJs, and Christmas day we are giving the kids two gifts from us, one gift from santa. They are still young (4 and 5), so we don’t need to overwhelm them too much.
Congrats on your first Christmas with children. I hope it’s a happy, sweet time for the whole family.
When all of us kids were older, we talked my mom into letting us open all our presents after midnight–so technically Christmas morning. It became a fun tradition staying up late watching movies, doing puzzles and playing games. We’d have a big “breakfast” at midnight and then open presents. My mom still did stockings for the morning (we all slept in) but we used to sneak down and fill hers with all kinds of stuff–useful and otherwise– hoping to make her laugh.
What fun traditions your family developed when you were older! How fun… I especially love that you all filled your mom’s stocking (I’ll bet she felt so loved!) I can see our family doing this when my littles become teenagers — they’d think it was awesome. Love love love this idea :)
Your family sounds very cool, Heidi. I love the after midnight tradition! I can totally see us doing that in a few years.
So, I think I might sound “way out there,” but here goes! :)
By way of context: we have two kids and another on the way. We have a 5 year old son and a 3 year old daughter and are expecting a boy in early February.
We do not do Santa. The kids know that he is not real, but have been instructed not to tell other kids. We really try to focus on the fact that Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, our Savior. We celebrate Jesus’ birthday. There is so much more I could say about this, but I’ll try to keep it brief. We’ve had this approach from the beginning. We do give gifts and explain that it’s a reflection of God’s love for us, but also that it is a time for us to give to those in need, so we try to incorporate that into our Advent celebrations. In all honesty, this last point has been difficult. Our 5 year old doesn’t really care about “poor kids.” He wants his stuff! We can’t force him to feel a certain way and I don’t want to try to make him (I think he’s probably too young to have a real sense of altruism, anyway. However, sometimes his 3 year old sister seems to get it).
Anyway, we try to keep their gifts to one want (a toy/toys), one need (e.g. new boots), something to wear, something to read, and we also try to spread it through our family (who share our sentiments). We decorate, etc. we do a Christmas tree but have explained that the tree is really more of a tradition and not something that we find in the Bible. . . it just helps us celebrate Jesus’ birthday.
Is any of this difficult? Yes! One of my main love languages is gift-giving. I really struggle with not wanting to get them a million things. I think everyone agrees that it is so fun to give gifts and to see them excited and happy with their new toys and clothes, etc.
As for gifts in general, we/I give them trinkets and toys throughout the year, so as not to inundate them on Christmas or their birthdays. And because, like I said, it’s one of my love languages. That said, we do give more on their birthdays.
As for our Christmas traditions, they get to open an ornament on Christmas Eve and we eat cookies and drink egg nog while watching Charlie Brown and/or another Christmas cartoon. Christmas morning they open the gift(s) from us and they get their stockings (tchotchkes/traditional stocking stuffers, candy, etc.). All of which has been hidden away up until Christmas morning. Then, we usually spend Christmas day with family. This year will be a bit different, though, because my mother is in the throes of chemo treatment for breast cancer :(. My parents usually host and of course, they get presents from them and the rest of our family. These presents have been vetted by me because I’m obnoxious like that.
So much more I could say about all this! I hope we don’t sound like “scrooges,” but that’s how we “do Christmas” :).
we switched to “gold, frankincense and myrrh” . There was a blog post i think “keeper of the home” about it. I try to emphasize it more but I still think we get caught up in the gifts a little too much. But my kids really love doing service around the holidays. They are on my case that we have not done nearly enough, and they are right!
I’m so glad for your comment. We don’t do Santa either. It wasn’t a conscious decision at first as much as it was my eldest constantly asking me probing questions about him. Relentless, I tell you. I couldn’t lie! If I lie about this for years will he believe me when I tell him the Bible is true and Jesus is our savior? I don’t know! I think it’s different for each child and family. I don’t think I would have come to this conclusion right away with my middle child, but here we are.
We don’t do Santa either! It wasn’t really a conscious decision because my husband and I never believed in Santa as kids and I really thought it was just a movie thing where the kids believe and watch for Santa….then I had kids and all the strangers are asking my kids if they are excited for Santa and my kids just stare blankly HA! Turns out Santa is a big deal in real life. I don’t know how people lie to their kids all day every day about Santa. I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Anyways, gifts that we are bringing to parties go under the tree a couple weeks in advance and then I slowly add in theirs. It makes the kids almost immune to the gifts, so on Christmas morning we get up like its regular day and have a breakfast and usually we are the ones that have to prompt them about what day it is. And then it’s full on excitement!! Last year we made waffles, and went for a walk in the snow, and then got home at 11am and we finally said “Hey guys, do you want to open your presents now?” And you could just see the lightbulb go off. It was great! The whole was super relaxed and full of peace.
Most of us who do Santa do to lie to our kids all day, everyday …..
Your comment made me laugh, Sharon.
I know what you mean when you use the word lie, Kate, but I don’t think it’s quite the right word.
Playing along with my kids imaginations is part of parenting in my experience. My kids have believed they’ll get a letter from Hogwarts on their 11th birthday, my kids have believed that if they happen upon the right armoire they’ll find a forest at the back of it, my kids have looked in spider webs for words, my kids have had imaginary friends, my kids have believed in the Tooth Fairy, my kids have believed in ghosts and unicorns, my kids have believed their dad is the strongest man in the world. Some of my kids are still in those stages. And I play along. For me Santa falls in the same category.
I certainly don’t think anyone needs to include Santa in their celebrations, but I don’t think we need to make Santa a moral issue either.
Love that you had to remind them!
Amen! I had the same experience with my oldest child, and now that she’s almost 20, we’ve never done Santa. Instead we have three gifts a la wise men, in the book, clothes, and toy category (the concept of “toy” has evolved a bit with college kids). We do Christmas pjs the night before, and everyone comes down in age order to the tree where we open our gift to baby Jesus (service/self-improvement type things we’ve been working on all month). Then we do stockings, and then breakfast. Then we go into the room with the tree and open the gifts, youngest first, one at a time to admire as we go. Usually with those three gifts plus siblings gifts for the four kids, we have a half dozen rounds of opening, which takes a while. I love our tradition and it’s a magical time even without the Santa aspect. Last year we started a new tradition where on Christmas Eve everyone presents a charity they’re donating to. With the younger kids they’re using parental funds to augment the donation, but I hope as they all grow older this will be something the kids will do instead of getting us stuff.
the other fun thing we added a few years ago was that the “camels” leave something on the back porch to open later in the day–like a puzzle, family game, etc. It’s great to have something to look forward to in the afternoon when you need a change of pace.
That is hilarious and wonderful and I am doing this for sure!
Actually,Santa is real because,me and my kids saw him out their bedroom window
We only do a few small gifts from Santa. Almost 70% of the children in our school qualify for free lunch so I never want my kids to inadvertently boast about big gifts from Santa when there will be many who aren’t as fortunate as we are. Not that we’re rolling in dough either. Our boys (8, 6, 4, 1.5) then get a few presents from us and draw names for a sibling. We give them $10 and have them pick something out that their brother will love. In all we only spend maybe $30-40 per child. We tell our children that because we take them to Disneyland almost every year, that they can’t expect loads of gifts too.
Gabby – love this topic!! Your original post came when our first child was very young and helped frame how we do Christmas gifts.
We do 1 Santa gift each year for each of our 2 kids. The oldest (now 9 – and he still believes in Santa) writes the Santa letter, and brings it to Santa when we visit him. I am always amazed at how small and simple the requests are – a red toothbrush, a specific book, a pair of Superman socks. Very sweet!
My husband and I get them each gifts, but then focus on books, something to wear, something they need, and a something they really want (not too expensive or big). We also do fun stocking stuffers of little treats they need for school/winter. Grandparents don’t have to abide by these rule – but when they ask for gift suggestions we try to frame them in these categories.
We also emphasize that not all kids have families who can provide big gifts – their parents can’t work, or they are homeless, or money is tight, or jobs are scarce, or all of the above. So, they each pick a tag off our local giving tree (and this year the 9-year-old also picked a tag off our school’s giving tree), and provide a gift for a same-age child in need. A few years ago, our oldest also started making end-of-year charitable donations from his chore money. :)
Christmas eve is with grandparents. Christmas day is all about just me, husband, and 2 kids. We eat scones, drink cocoa, open presents and play. There’s a lot of time to hang out and just be together. That’s the best gift – just being together.
We don’t “do Santa,” but I really like your approach and traditions! Your 9-year-old sounds so sweet; you should be proud :).
I’m so glad my original post was helpful!
I love that the magic of the morning is so important in your house!
Santa visits us, but only does stockings at our house. My daughter is an only child and between our close family she does not want for gifts (plus her birthday is in January, it gets overwhelming!). So I try to stick with one larger gift and a couple of smaller items – including at least one book. I use a spreadsheet too – it helps stay on budget, track previous years gifts (I do a lot of homemade consumables), donations and our daily December countdown activities!
Christmas morning my daughter wakes us up, then waits at the top of the stairs while I scoot down and turn on the tree lights (and the coffee machine!). After a few gifts (depending on how much my daughter wants to play vs. open) I’ll get some sort of pre-prepped breakfast going (French toast casserole is a fav) while dad and grama play with the kidlet.
G, I had to chuckle imagining you poring over your spread sheet! So funny and good for you for being so organized and conscientious. Ours is a family with two sons so it was much easier! Stockings from Santa all the way through college…these transitioned from trinkets and toys to iPods and a $50 bill in the toe, to gift cards for coffee, restaurants, and juice joints in their college towns. Santa also brought one big unwrapped gift for them to share. These gifts ranged from a microwave with a case of popcorn (we were the last people on earth to have a microwave and the first to get rid of it when the boys left home) to a ping-pong table, to snowboards, etc. The other presents were under the tree and were quite utilitarian and modest. When the boys were 12 and 14 we started running out of ideas and thought it might be a good idea to start teaching them about finance. Instead of a bunch of things that would soon be forgotten, we bought them X shares of a stock and wrote up a little summary about it. We continued to do that for about 10 years. A couple years in we went for a little start-up here in Seattle called Amazon. Luckily the boys held onto their portfolios and have just used them in the past few years toward the purchase of homes and to fuel their own businesses. It is very gratifying to know that so much can come from a modest amount, over time. I now have five grandchildren so I may have to get out a spread sheet myself one of these days!
Stock in Amazon?!!! What a great story, and a creative present idea.
And prescient! Could just as easily have chosen something else. :)
Loved the Amazon stock story!
Our family comes from Finland, in Northern Europe. There Christmas has features from the old All Saints’ Day celebrations, and are quite different to that in the US. First, all stores close at noon on Christmas Eve and stay closed until the 27th of December. Christmas Eve is the main celebration, and all activity is done on that day: the morning starts with rice porridge, followed by a cleansing sauna (a Finnish invention, even most apartments have their own sauna). In the afternoon, families visit cemeterys to remember their passed loved ones with candles. Many also attend church that day. The evening starts with a long dinner, where ham is the main course along with different sorts of casseroles and fish. After dinner, there is a knock on the door – it’s Santa, who visits either in person (very common in homes with small kids) or leaves a bag of presents outside the door or under the tree. We sing a few songs with Santa before he must be on his way – he has so many houses to visit, that some kids only get their gifts in the morning, and through the chimney!
As for gifts, some are from Santa himself, some are from the parents or other family members. Growing up, we never got new toys during the year, so Christmas was a really big deal. Our kids have birthdays just before December, so we try to keep it moderate, book-pjs-max 5 other gifts.
Obviously we’re weird. We generally give our son one gift, which is also what my parents did (perhaps in their case due to having 8 kids and limited means. . . ) I’m surprised that there are people who think three gifts is restraint, to be honest.
We find that once you add in gifts from grandparents and godparents, etc., there’s already more than enough. By “more than enough” I mean that however slowly we take it – emphasizing the person who gave the gift and letting him take time to play with whatever it is rather than rushing along to the next – before gift opening is done, our son’s response has turned from the genuine delight and excitement of opening the first gift or two, to barely looking at what he opens with a “What’s next? What else do I get?” Frankly, I wish I knew a way to cut back further, and not reach that point; jaded materialism seems like such a terrible thing to be inducing in a young child.
Are we just weird or something? What do other people do to avoid their kids getting a gift hangover?
I don’t think you’re weird at all. I think it’s really hard to avoid a “gift hangover” with the kids, and in general to avoid our materialistic/consumer culture.
That said, I think back to my childhood and I loved getting gifts. I can’t remember how many I got, but I know I wasn’t at all focused on the gift-giver or on what really mattered. As an adult, I think I’m pretty aware of what matters when it comes to gift-giving and receiving regardless of the occasion. I do think our culture is much more materialistic and consumerist than it was 30+ years ago, so our “fight” perhaps is more difficult than whatever our parents had to deal with. Anyway, I’m hoping my kids will get perspective as they age. That’s not to say that we should “give up.”
It’s caused some tension in our family. For example, my sister and brother-in-law are well-off and his approach is to “give ’em whatever they want.” That is what he does with his daughters. (I do think there are plenty of people who are well-off and able to maintain perspective). It has been a little awkward for us. For our son’s 5th birthday this past summer, they asked what he wanted, so I emailed a list of suggestions (as “suggestions”). Well, she called the night before our little family get-together at my parents’ house to say that they’d gotten him “everything on the list and a few other things the girls wanted to give him.” We were like “Um, thanks.”
Keep doing what you’re doing. We should probably give our kids one gift, too. I think you’re wise.
Thanks! And I do understand it’s natural for children to be self-centered and focused on getting more than giving, etc. I guess what really bothers me is the extent to which we as adults are the ones responsible for creating the greed in this case.
Also, I’d be fine with my son being happy with his gifts rather than caring much who gave it to him; what I hate is when it turns from simple, straightforward joy in the thing he wanted to pure greed about getting for the sake of getting. And to me, once you hit that point (which as I say, we find sets in shortly after the first couple of gifts), I don’t actually see that there’s much room for joy left. Greed is a cruel master!
Completely agree. At my son’s last birthday, he ripped through his gifts, hardly looking at what he’d just opened and scanning the room for “the next gift.” It was ugly :(. My heart sank.
I remember when he was 2 years old, my parents gave him a play-kitchen from Ikea. When we were leaving their house it dawned on him that we were taking it home with us. It hadn’t occurred to him that it was his. He was so sweet, looking around all wide-eyed and asking (in his 2-year-old way) if it was ours to take home? I miss that face!
Yes – that’s just exactly it! I guess maybe it’s just one of the pitfalls inherent in a society as affluent as ours, kind of like obesity and diabetes.
Anna, to your comment about affluence, obesity, and diabetes, I would encourage you to watch this and also to learn about type 1 and type 2 diabetes. http://motherboard.vice.com/read/how-a-bmi-fallacy-convinced-the-world-that-diabetes-is-a-disease-of-excess
Wow, that’s a lot. My parents had 5 kids, very spread in ages. We got one wrapped gift under the tree. We’d also get stockings which included smaller gifts, like cozy socks, lip balm, maybe a CD or book. The stocking gifts weren’t wrapped and were left in spots around the fireplace. We were allowed to open/play with anything in the stockings, and could get up and have access to those as early as we wanted, but gifts were not unwrapped until breakfast was eaten, and adults had their coffee and read the paper. I don’t think we ever entered all at once, but that may also be due to our age range – 20 years between kid #1 and kid #5. I would sleep in until my younger siblings threatened to tell me what Santa brought. We did all sleep in one room for years, but now 3 of 5 are married and only one still lives at home. The Christmas morning frenzy has declined as everyone present is an adult – fewer presents and no early mornings. Then the grandchildren come over in the afternoon for a little frenzy!
I only have one small baby, so we don’t have a set Christmas morning tradition for kids yet. But I love your ideas of making it more magical.
One thing that a friend of mine does that I’d love to incorporate is similar to what you listed as a framework. They do: something you want, something you need, something to eat, and something to read.
So fun to read how everyone does gifts. I let the kids put gifts that they select and wrap under the tree, but I keep all the other gifts downstairs in a closet until Christmas morning. Several reasons – first and foremost we have cats that like to shred paper, but it also drives me crazy when the kids constantly paw at the boxes and taunt that mine is bigger than yours, and lastly, it makes christmas morning magical to come out to a pile of wrapped gifts.
Each kiddo gets stockings from santa with a book, their favorite candy and food item (my 10-yo daughter gets a salami, makes her insanely happy, so funny), a winter wear item (we have usually lost hats and gloves multiple times by xmas), and a small wish list gift.
Then each kiddo receives one big gift from us. We find that grandparents and other family send so much that they get overwhelmed if we do more than one or two items.
Since there are only 2 kiddos, we let them each spend about $20 on their sibling. We focus on letting them choose gifts for each other, us, our parents and the giving tree from school, trying to enforce the giving rather than the receiving aspect of the holiday as much as we can.
My husband grew up in a strictly fundamentalist family and never celebrated Christmas or birthdays before we met, so it’s been 18 years of coaxing to get this far! He’s not fundamentalist anymore, but the materialism of the season really puts him off.
Thanks everyone for sharing!
I love reading reading all the different traditions as well! So much fun to see the variations.
I am glad to see I am not the only one with a spread sheet. We did want, need, wear and read from us and one from santa. It helped us not go over board. And christmas even pj’s. I switched it to gold (the top gift from us) Frankincense (for the mind, a spiritual or learning gift- this year my oldest are getting a series of books and the littles are getting picasso magnetic tiles and a building set) and Myrrh (for the body-this is clothing or athletic- new shoes, rain jacket, knee pads etc). These are the 3 wrapped gifts from us. Santa brings a SINGLE cool gift. It was so hard for my kids to come up with 3 things they really wanted. I ended up gifting Cash for the older two’s “gold” gift and feel lame. I think Santa will bring “Gold” next year. They also exchange names with siblings. I have a big family gift (i am printing our blog and have chat books from the last few years). They will be getting a gift from grand parents (i include my parents gift on the spread sheet so I do not repeat but I do not know what their cousins or my inlaws are getting them). Our stockings aways have a chocolate orange in them. this year we have a few things from bath and body works, gum, pokemon, and what not. I love the look of my wrapping paper so our tree is FULL of gifts. Santa will sometimes send his gift early via amazon and ask me to wrap it. If he has a big gift (like a bike) it is delivered on Christmas even and left unwrapped.
Hi Gabby –
I love this post. Our family sounds pretty similar in terms of gift numbers and what we strive for (Something to read, something to wear, Something they want, something they need). So curious – how did you do the Santa gift to Venice? Plane tickets to each kid? A big poster of Venice? I would love to do something similar sometime.
Very merry Christmas to you and yours!
I’m trying to remember. I think we printed out each letter of V E N I C E on a separate sheet of paper, and then put the papers in the envelopes and put each envelope in a stocking (with other small goodies). Six kids, six letters — very lucky. : ) They opened the envelopes and had to rearrange the letters till they figured out it was Venice and looked at us questioningly. And then we told them we were packing up and heading to Venice for New Year’s. We lived in France then, so flying to Venice on the off-season was a bargain!
We just do one santa gift that so far has always been exactly what they asked for and then stockings which is stuff I get to choose for them, mostly practical stuff like mittens and a few small toys or treats. They get enough stuff from grandparents and aunts that I don’t want to add anymore.
And I think that never introducing the concept of my kids buying Christmas presents for each other or for their parents will work out well for the future as they grow up. When they stop believing in Santa they will just get presents from their parents which I think will make sense for as long as we have significantly more money than them.
I do always have them look through one of those charity catalogs and pick some things to give to people in need and I make a big deal about how that’s what we’re using our money for instead of buying each other presents.
I’ll be reading to see what other people do, as I have young children (2 and 4) and am still trying to figure out what our traditions will be. It’s a little complicated because so far we’ve spent a couple of Christmases with our children here at home, and a couple with my family across the country. I imagine we’ll continue to spend the occasional Christmas with my family, so I like to have traditions exclusive to each place plus stuff we can do on Christmas no matter where we are.
So far, we basically follow the template from my childhood. When I was a kid on Christmas Eve we went to my grandma’s house, where we had a few gifts to open from my grandparents and our aunts and uncles. Similarly, on Christmas Eve nowadays my family is always at a relative’s house. So we have a Christmas Eve dinner and then the kids get to open their gifts from whatever branch of the family we’re visiting. It usually ends up being 2-4 gifts per child. Then we head back to our own house (or my parents’ house, if we’re visiting family) and go to bed.
On Christmas morning we have cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate and play Christmas music. The kids have to wait for us so we can all enter the living room together. Santa brings one unwrapped present for each child, plus fills a stocking. The stockings are mostly stuffed with treats (candy, of course, but also stuff like Christmas-themed fruit snacks or crackers). I might throw in something small like a matchbox car or hair bows, although this year it’s just stuff to eat. Santa always brought us new calendars when I was a kid. My kids aren’t old enough to find calendars interesting yet, but I think I’ll add that tradition once they get older. Each year we go to visit Santa early in the Christmas season so that I can see what my son tells Santa that he wants for Christmas. Then I try to get what he asks for. I’m lucky because my son is a) remarkably consistent in his request each year; we can visit three different Santas at various events and he’ll tell all of them the same thing and b) so far he’s always requested really reasonable things. Last year he wanted “Halloween toys” and “Christmas cars” (so Santa brought him red and green Matchbox cars and Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown action figures). This year he has been requesting dress up clothes and Charlie Brown pajamas, something else that is easy to accomplish.
My daughter isn’t old enough yet to tell Santa what she wants. This year, she’ll be getting dress up clothes, too, and then a bunny hat (because I figure if her brother is getting a clothing item from Santa, she should, too, and she’s obsessed with bunnies).
My theory with Santa is that it doesn’t need to be extravagant at all, but should be something the child has been asking for and really wanting. When I was a kid Santa usually did bring the big stuff–bikes, scooters, etc. However, so far with my kids we’ve been giving them big stuff like that as their birthday gifts (one has a November birthday and the other a February birthday, so not too far apart or too far from Christmas). Santa brings smaller things, which is definitely easier when we’re visiting family–don’t really want to ship a bike cross-country!
In addition to the Santa gift I buy each of them two or three more things. This year they’re both getting an age-appropriate game, a couple of CDs, and one of those write-and-wipe activity books (something else my son requested). Then they get gifts from my siblings, and my mom always goes a little crazy and buys each of them 5 or 6 things (although usually at least a few of those things are clothes), plus they have two grandmas on my husband’s side that both buy them at least one gift, plus my neighbor (who is like another surrogate grandma) always buys them each a couple of things. I just don’t feel the need to buy them much when they get so much from other people. They’re lucky to have so many people that care about them. Altogether they’ll each end up with probably 12-15 gifts. I think that is more than enough!
I’m already trying to train my children that experiences are better than “stuff”. At this age they really need gifts to open, but as they get older I hope to gift them with more experiences: certificates for lessons, trips, etc.
Such a good topic. Growing up our christmas’s were always pretty small, not because our parents were opposed to big gifts and big spending, but because they weren’t in a situation where they could do that. One year was particularly tight, but my mum still put in every effort to make it special. She wrapped an orange for each of us and told a story about little orphan children that loved Christmas time because they were given an orange (which was so exotic to them!) One little boy lost his, and went to bed that night in tears. As he was lying in the dark crying, one of the children crept up and shoved a mishaped sphere into his hand. All the other children had taken a slice out of their oranges and put them together to make an orange for him.
I remember being a little sad then that there weren’t really any presents, but years later that Christmas stands out vividly to me as the warmest, most happy one. So i try to keep this in mind for my kids. We are not tight for money by any means, and I have to be careful not to get carried away in my desire to give them everything. We’ll always give them books, I love having an abundance of books in the house. I don’t like an abundance of toys though. My experience is that the more my kids have the less they play with/value them. So generally I avoid toys, unless it is something they have wanted for a long time or is replacing a much loved toy that is worn out. And I’ll get them one thing related to their interest at the time. My oldest daughter who is four loves looking at maps and using google earth on our phones, so this year I’m getting her a globe and the lonely planet children’s atlas. I know she’ll use and love them. Santa comes and only leaves something small but meaningful.
My kids have an abundance of cousins and auntie and uncles and grandparents who happily spoil them so I know they will receive lots of other things. I also know they would still be happy children even if they didn’t.
Our big Christmas meal is always the breakfast! Living in Australia, we have salads and seafood and fruit and BBQ meats. It’s awesome, and usually keeps our bellies full for most of the day!
(I would love to experience a white Christmas one day though!)
This is beautiful, Samantha! Thank you
I JUST read a blog post yesterday about this topic and really loved the author’s comments! She says 1) Kids get overwhelmed by excess, 2) The entire morning together is a gift (it’s not just about the presents under the tree, and 3) As parents, we have the power to create our family’s culture.
Our boys are 5, 4, & 2 so they are very much into Christmas and Santa. We do pjs and a book on Christmas Eve. Then in the morning we have stockings from Santa and 1 fun gift from us.
I used to say all the presents were from Santa in the morning, but why should he get all the credit for the really fun gifts? So now we fill their stockings full of all the silly little things they love. I think they will love the robot that “poops” out chocolate balls way more than anything else. Thinking about them opening that one, makes me smile.
I once heard that you shouldn’t tell your kids the big fun gifts were from Santa. Because so many families either do not use Santa in their home or Santa doesn’t bring them gifts because of finances. To me, that made sense. Why does one kid get awesome toys from Santa and someone else gets nothing? My parents didn’t do Santa growing up so I always was so curious as to why my cousins got such awesome presents from Santa and I didn’t?
Oh my goodness. My 5 year old son would flip for a robot that “poops” chocolate, or frankly, anything! From where did you get such a gizmo? :)
We are truly blessed. We do up the Christmas magic, but we are also in a position to incorporate our giving to those that are less fortunate. Our children’s school is really great at teaching empathy. The students might organize a new sock or old coat drive in addition to to their annual shoebox program through a local ministry. Your child basically mirrors a child that is the same age and sex and fills the shoebox with toiletry items, a small book, and other small toys. You fill it with at least 8 items and then wrap the shoebox. It is taken to school and each child knows that they are giving the one and only gift that another child may receive that year. Each child carries their shoebox to the moving truck. It has a huge impact on the children. We also do adopt a family programs through our work. Being able to give back to the community has been one of the greatest gifts to teach my children empathy.
With that being said, Santa brings the children their stockings, books and a smaller unwrapped gift. The “big” gift is always from us. We too wrap a few gifts beforehand but on Christmas Eve night bring out all the wrapped gifts for larger impact. We have two kids and really try to both match the number of gifts as well as type of gift. (Each will get 2 books, a cool t-shirt/pj, a building (lego/craft kit), etc.). So while I have both a girl and boy 4 years apart they will receive equal numbers although the cost is different. I purposely give the big gift from us so it will not be so terrible when Santa is not around.
I grew up in a very religious family and knew of no Santa for as long as I can remember. So with my kids it has been so much fun to have Santa as part of the magic. We do focus on the meaning of Christmas and I make a birthday cake to celebrate the birth of our Savior. I don’t know why this started really as it was part of my family traditions growing up. My kids understood this so we have kept doing it.
I try to incorporate little bits of magic throughout the season. One I do most of the shopping on Black Friday and online or tucked away gifts throughout the year. I do not take my kids to the mall once in the holiday season. My gift to us all. We read Christmas books, have hot cocoa, walk through a neighborhood known for Christmas lights, we bake cookies, listen to Christmas music, and go to local festive nights at the botanical garden or zoo. We spend time together.
I have LOVED this post and all the comments. My daughter wanted a dog for about 3 years and claimed EVERY child in her class had a dog. We did adopt a lovely dog and found out only 3 had dogs….it is nice to find out how other families celebrate. I appreciate all the comments.
It’s nice that you are so organized about it all.
I feel Christmas is becoming so much more about getting than giving, so we actually have our kids wrap gifts and give it to others. We stick with a small budget, 1 or 2 small gifts from Santa. They are still little so they get one toy and a book which they are very keen on. They are big readers, so we always get them books for b’days and Xmas.
We keep it magical by baking together, listening to music, taking walks around the neighborhood, writing letters to Santa, watching movies, making a list of things to do as a family for 25 days in Dec, etc. Kids are excited even with the wrapping paper, they don’t need much. I keep telling them – for me, they are Christmas and it’s more than enough. Luckily they feel the same way and each year their request is simple and small.
On Christmas Eve our kids get pjs and a book. Christmas morning they have stockings with a few small items (hair bows, sidewalk chalk, etc), candy and an orange in the toe. Santa also brings one gift per kid (nothing too expensive to be sensitive to other kids who might not get much from Santa). And one present from us. Of course they also get presents from grandparents, aunts, uncles and various other relations so there is usually lots to open. Their birthdays are in November and January and we have a large extended family that spoils them so we try to keep things simple.
We love doing Christmas Eve pjs too.
I love the ideas of soft Christmas music and balloons…may have to start similar traditions at our house :)
I have 2 boys, ages 4 and 6. I plan much like you do: I keep a spreadsheet to ensure a fairly equal # of gifts (impact factor is important!), and get them each something to read and something to wear. On top of this they usually get 2-3 other items–always an age-appropriate Lego kit, a toy/gift that we think matches their personality and interests but may not have been on a list, and another item they’ve specifically asked for.
On top of this we like to get a few joint/family gifts, such as a new board game or art supplies to be shared. Stocking stuffers are fun little things–kids chopsticks, wind-up toys, a flashlight, a few sweets, etc.
My husband feels this is all reasonable, but I always end up feeling like there are too many gifts. The complicating factor is that we host my husband’s brother and his family on Christmas, and they always buy TONS of gifts for their kids. Mine are now old enough to notice when someone gets significantly more than they do, but I don’t want to buy more stuff for them just to match their cousins’ haul. A tough topic I haven’t quite figured out how to approach, yet.
On Christmas morning the kids usually wake early, and we all go down together (since they’ve normally woken us up as well). Once we feel like all/most are present and the grownups have coffee, they begin unwrapping. It tends to be a free-for-all, which I also am not a huge fan of…I’d rather a more peaceful process. Perhaps I’ll work on that this year :) If our family is staying with us the tradition is to have Eggs Benedict for breakfast, although I prefer cinnamon rolls and may make some of those for myself and other non-egg fans.
I have shifted my mindset gradually over the years. I want to end the cycle of Christmas gifts and start to think about time together. My kids are older 13, 18, 20. I have a few guidelines that work for me…no electronic gifts, focus on homemade and thrift store finds, wrap with recycled wrapping paper and ribbons, set a wake time that not too early or too late (about 8:00), celebrate the solstice, ice skating, snow hike, or skiing, incorporate natural decorations, and let them take over any traditions that they want to. My 13 year old did most of the decorating this year.
Fun that she could take on the decorating!
I love this topic. Gabrielle, can I also request that you post about holiday gift-giving between couples? My husband and I have been giving each other quite big gifts over the past few years, and I’m deeply curious to know about other people’s customs.
Like many people here, my kids (9 and 12) get one present from Santa, usually exactly what they asked for, something in the ~$50 range. And they each have a stocking filled with little things. Then my husband and I give each child 3-4 gifts, and sometimes a joint gift or two. One gift is always a stack of books. We usually make each kid one gift. We love to give experiences. We homeschool, and I consider Christmas (and birthdays) to be a prime opportunity for “strewing,” so often these gifts are meant to amplify an interest or seed an interest for later in the year. All the gifts, plus whatever our faraway family sends, are under the tree on Christmas morning in a jumble. We all enter the room together, and take turns opening them. One of the kids wears the Santa hat and doles out the gifts. Stockings are always last. Then we eat brunch and go on a long Christmas hike before dinner.
I find it deeply interesting that for some people, gift-giving feels good, and for others it feels materialistic. I don’t think this aligns with how much money someone has. I definitely LOVE giving gifts and find it so pleasurable to figure out just the right thing for someone. To me, that’s what money is for!
We do balance out the season in a number of ways. We shop for a needy child in our community, and this is the only time in the entire year when we go to the mall. My kids hugely look forward to picking out socks, underwear, jeans, and toys for someone different each year. We tend a bookshelf that dispenses free books to kids at a government services building. The kids made many, many gifts, for each other and for my husband and me, as well as for all their teachers in their various homeschool programs, and for some extended family members. And one of our sacred holiday traditions is to set aside an evening in December to listen to David Sedaris’ holiday stories while cleaning out the toy/game closet and making a giant donation pile.
It feels like a creative time of year, and a time of abundance.
I love these ideas, a lot!
I like the idea of a post about couples gifting. Though I may need to bring in some other perspectives, because gifts is not a love language for me or Ben Blair. Hah!
5 Kids. Santa brings 1 gift, and that gift is ALWAYS unwrapped (Santa is a busy guy!). Our kids usually got 1 thing they really wanted and a few other gifts, plus a game to share with the family.
Everyone has to share something (a poem, a song, story, something) prior to someone (mom and dad at first, but eventually all the kids participated) read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke, then presents are opened.
Another tradition we had once the kids were older, which was hilarious, each member of the family was given a “Christmas Name” which everyone had to guess who was who correctly (and why they got that name!) before they could rip into their pile of gifts. Like, one year we were all the 7 dwarves; Sleepy, Doc, Sneezy, etc. Mom was the only one who knew the correct answer. It extended the morning and in the end was really fun.
Some sort of “surprise” every year, like the year one of the “Christmas Name”s had a HUGE pile of gifts, while every other pile was about the same small number of gifts. The anticipation of who was “getting everything!” that year was a lesson of sorts when all was revealed. Essentially the “pile of gifts” were boxes filled with 1 sock, one earring, another sock, a book jacket, the other earring, the actual book, and on… if the gift was able to be separated, it was. The idea of everything isn’t always as it seems, greed has no place in Christmas, and in the end, it’s all good!
Oh, and one last thing. Santa (and the fun of unselfish giving) lives. If someone understands the realities of the holiday and decides to brag or inform others, spoiling the magic, that spoiler gets potatoes and onions in their stocking. (Santa fills those stockings, if you don’t believe and spoil the magic, well- in SoCal coal is hard to find, so potatoes and onions do the trick just fine). All my kids are well into their late 20s with kids of their own now –and they still tell me what they want Santa to bring. : )
I love these posts. It’s so fun to get a peek into how other families handle holidays. :)
We also go by the read/wear/play philosophy. The big wow is always from Santa, wrapped in Santa paper. I also don’t put much of any thing out until Christmas eve. Oh! We also do pajamas Christmas eve, which are from Santa Mouse (not really in line with the book, but it’s a fun tradition to read the Santa Mouse story and then open the box of pj’s). Stockings are a mix of candy and fun little things – jewelry, Pokemon, loom bands, lip balm, socks, etc. I have a 10 and 7 year old. The 10 year old is a bigger believer in Santa than the 7 year old. (I suspect friends at school with older siblings are spoiling it.) This will probably be the last official Santa year. We’ll still continue to give Santa gifts, but I intend to also let them in on the secret and challenge them to be a Santa for someone in need each year. (We do a 25 days of Kindness every year with small random acts of kindness each day. We’ll just add a challenge to have the kids find someone who needs something and gift it to them without them knowing who it’s from.)
Christmas morning – breakfast is always biscuits and gravy (tradition from my family). And no one is allowed downstairs until we go together. First thing is to take a picture in front of the tree of all of us with our stockings. Then open stockings. Then presents. Then breakfast. This year will be crazy as we are leaving at noon on Christmas Day to drive to Chicago. I had hoped to do presents that would travel well, but failed miserably. My daughter is getting the robot dog she asked for from Santa. My son is getting the Mindstorm Legos. From us they are getting ice skates/helmets/hockey sticks/pucks. None of those things will travel well! To wear this year they are getting Gryffindor hats and scarves as they are HP obsessed (also handy in the Windy City). I did go overboard and they are each getting 3 books. Those at least will be great for the car ride!
We are in the thick of the Santa years. Our 4 children are 9, 6, 3 and 11 months. The 6 yo and 3 yo are true believers. Our kids get a lot of gifts from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They each get one gift from “Mom and Dad” for the older children this is a trip into NYC (we live the burbs) to see the Nutcracker. They get one gift from Santa usually large and unwrapped and then sometimes a group gift from him (walkie-talkies this year). To get the big impact Santa delivers all the gifts on Christmas night. This is also helpful because we have always had toddlers and having gifts under the tree for the entire month of December would be tough to deal with. We also have music playing and a fire in our fireplace so that things feel festive. Stockings have a little candy and a small gift like a new hat and mittens or underwear or some other bits or pieces. Santa also leave a bowl of batteries in various sizes for anything that might need them.
Our traditions are probably mostly from my family or that I have started rather than from my husbands family. I wanted to emphasize Santa less and Jesus more so the stocking and one small gift came from Santa. We started a tradition of choosing our tree on the Feast of St.Nicholas (Dec.6) and having our son leave his shoes out that night also (a European tradition I adopted). In the morning he would find one very small gift or candy cane from St. Nick. Also, I started a tradition of drawing or painting an Advent Calendar each year. The tiny pictures in the windows I would make representing various religious things (a shepher or sheep) or things that might be happening that day (Christmas concert)or something our son was particularly interested that year (dinosaurs or skateboards). We’ve kept them and hang them all each year. We choose a gift for a needy family for the Angel Tree at church (our son would always pick something for a boy his own age to give). On Christmas Eve we eat a feast of different seafoods at my Mom’s house (we’re of Italian descent), light luminarias (candles in paper bags lining the walkway) which my Mom always did, and go to Mass and open one small gift before bedtime sometimes. Christmas morning we open gifts one at a time so we can all enjoy the giving and receiving. Since our son’s birthday is in January and we don’t give toys during the year I buy gifts for both before Christmas and separate them. Otherwise I find I might over-buy and it is overload because of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Also, and this is still a big deal for our son, each year my sister, his godmother, gives him a new figure for his Nativity. She does this for all her godchildren and starts the year they are born. She keeps track of what each child (some now adults) has so she doesn’t duplicate. A teenager now, our son sets up the Nativity on his own (hiding Jesus in my desk drawer) and moving the Wise Men closer each day. This year they are traveling slowly from kitchen to foyer. So much fun!
I love when I happen upon luminarias on Christmas Eve. Such a gorgeous tradition.
You have some awesome traditions. I especially love your son’s traveling nativity. What a neat way to experience the days leading up to Christmas!
Great post Gabby. I have continued to refer to your 2010 post every year since then, so an update is a fantastic addition to your original thoughts, especially as all our kids are older now.
Some new things happening here this year for holidays. Since it’s just the three of us this year I wrapped our Santa gifts because otherwise it would be about 5 minutes of gift unwrapping and it would all be over. The parents are also getting more from Santa this year because it seems that while I was out shopping I did a bit of “one for them and one for me” so I have a few things coming to me from “Santa” (????) because how else am I going to explain the all the stuff I bought for myself. Haha. In my defense, kiddo and hubby always seem to have everything they need and I seem to often need stuff that I never get to shopping for. It’s a few books I’ve wanted, included DesignMom’s book (finally) and things like boot toppers, a scarf, etc. Clearly more self care needed and that’s my goal – isn’t this every mom’s goal and a continual ebbing & flowing challenge?!
Daddy & I are a little sentimental this year, because we are pretty sure this is our last year of “believing” which is sad. She’s been skeptical for a couple of years now and I think she’s just sticking with it for magic’s sake more than anything. Which is sweet. Wishing your family and all families a peaceful and happy Christmas this year! <3
So smart to make sure you’ve got some fun stuff under the tree for yourself. Ben Blair has commented that we need to be sure the kids see us giving each other gifts (even though it’s not very important to us), so that they understand this is one way to be a good spouse and partner.
I hate doing Santa. Which I realize makes me sound so terrible, especially since we have a 4 and 2 year old. My husband does not agree with me and does Santa and talks about him with our kids. And despite my efforts in telling my 4 year old that Santa is a story, and we really celebrate Christmas for Baby Jesus, he is heck bent on the fact that Santa is bringing presents at Christmas. I don’t force it down his throat that Santa isn’t real, but when I talk to other people about it, I don’t worry about whether or not he hears. I guess since we don’t do tags on the gifts, he assumes they’re all from Santa, but I think next year once he’s started kindergarten, Christmas will probably be more interesting since he’s had the santa influence from all his class mates.
Maybe it’s my age but my feelings on Christmas and gifting have really shifted. I am done with giving stuff! I can guarantee if you ask any family member what gift they received from my husband and I they probably can’t tell you. Our grand-kids have every toy (really, their dad works part-time at TRU and I think he brings a toy home after every shift) and the adult kids, nieces and nephews are into big ticket items that I can’t/won’t fund. So that being said, my goal has become to give something that is truly needed or something that I hope will leave more of a memory. For the young kids I am doing a subscription gift that is a learning/creative activity and will come in the mail with their name on it (I loved getting mail as a kid!) and for the big kids I am trying to focus on an event or activity. As well we have planted the seed that we are going to really cut back on gifting, both Christmas and Birthdays, and put money towards a family trip every few years instead as the gift of time seems to be the most precious at this point.
Now that being said I will also add that for what gifts are under the tree they are organized by person – but I don’t use name tags, rather I use one paper per person and I know who’s paper is who’s (reduces snooping and guessing .. which my sister was the worst at when we were young). Also, a good friend has always had Santa bring 3 gifts, usually small, and taught that Santa brings 3 gifts like the Wise Men and uses this as a reminder of the reason for gifting.
This was an interesting read and so outside my wheelhouse – we only have 1 son – 8 – and we don’t “do” santa either. Neither of us grew up with Santa and neither of us is very into gifts either. So I’m now still in the “oops, haven’t gotten a single present yet” mode. We never get presents for anyone in the entire family, inc each other, except our son. My parents aren’t gift givers either, so they don’t get any of the grandchildren anything. He’ll get prob 4 items, maybe 1 big ticket item, like a type of drone or something that he will enjoy. Plus we LOVE board games, so maybe a new game for the family to share.
I struggle with fitting in church around the traditions, which is funny that it wasn’t mentioned that often! Our church does a Christmas Eve service and Christmas Day (and still does normal Sunday service as well, so happy this year that it is on a Sunday, so not 3 days in a row to organize!). I’m thinking I’ll skip Christmas Eve service this year, because I have to work that morning very early. So we’ll open presents Christmas Eve (both from European backgrounds, so fits how we grew up), and watch a movie and go to church in the morning with no fuss or bother.
Thanks for pointing this out! I would love to know how other families work out the church thing too. Being LDS, we don’t have services on days other than Sunday, so it will be both nice and a little tricky to add church in to the Christmas traditions this year. The meeting is just one hour long due to Christmas instead of the usual three hours, but it does mean not hanging around in pajamas all day long… Yet of course church should be the central focus of the holiday and the reason we’re celebrating!
Annet, you may be reading a little too much into the comments. I imagine church/religious-traditions didn’t get mentioned because the focus of the post was about Christmas morning and how many gifts kids get.
For us, Christmas Eve is more religious than Christmas Day — reading the nativity story from the scriptures while the kids act it out, and having the teens go to midnight mass with their Catholic friends, reading aloud the acts of service listed on the hay in the manger — stuff like that.
Unless Christmas falls on a Sunday, my church doesn’t offer services, so going to church isn’t typically an option for me on Christmas Day. Because of that, I experience Christmas as more of a family day than a church day.
My neighbor recently brought something up that made me rethink the whole Santa gifts. Instead of having Santa give their kids a ton of presents he brings each child one gift and it’s not extravagant. Reason being kids talk at school. And frankly they wanted Santa to seem like a pretty fair guy. Ultimately not making other kids feel bad if they got an Ipad from Santa and they didnt, etc. I never thought about that and I like that idea. And so my husband and I are doing that this year, Santa brings them a toy and the rest of the gifts are from mom and dad.
This post and all of the comments are really fun to read. I have very magical memories of Christmas as a kid. It’s interesting to step back and realize how similar my husband’s family traditions were to mine, so I bet we will have the same assumptions about how to “do Christmas.”
One thing we are not settled on is how exactly to talk about Santa. I think Santa is fun. (Elf on the Shelf, however, is creepy! and does not promote behavior I’m really down with). Maybe Santa can be a fun, fictional game.
We do church late night on Christmas eve. We take a late walk to look at the lights on houses (I loved doing this as a kid while one of my parents stayed back to do the wrapping!)
I like the idea of keeping gifts for children in general really low-key. I want them to know how special and beloved they are but not only through fancy gifts. I think sibling gift-giving is a really good way to cherish the love without expecting big gifts.
Taylor, will you tell me more of your thoughts on Elf on the Shelf? What’s the behavior that it promotes that you aren’t down with? I ask because I’ve read several similar comments this month and I’m always confused. It almost seems like there’s some other Elf on the Shelf book that I don’t know about that has whole different message. Hah!
Sure! I know some people love it so I really don’t want to say this is an across-the-board judgement. I actually grew up with an elf whose calendar counted down the days until Christmas and I loved him! I just hate the idea of emphasizing good behavior for one month of the year and all for just getting presents. “Be good or you won’t get presents!” Especially since I think they are alway completely empty threats. Maybe I just need to see it done well. It just doesn’t sound effective or even empowering to me. And the whole fact that kids are simply trying not to get caught? Versus more consistent character building.
I’m realizing that I’ve never read the official Elf on the Shelf book. My feelings are a reaction to how I see elves talked about via other people. Is the book much different than what I’m seeing?
I find the Santa question fascinating. As Jewish children growing up in a mostly Christian community, my sister and I always knew that Santa gifts were actually from kids’ parents. But we were very kind and kept that information to ourselves ;) My kids seem to understand this too, even though I’m not sure I’ve ever told them. But when they’ve told me they don’t think Santa is real, I tell them not to share that opinion because we don’t want to disrupt other kids’ special traditions.
When my first son was young, we tried out giving him a gift a night for all the 8 nights of Hanukkah. The gift monster really came out – it was bad! Now I do a few nights of gifts, depending on how the nights fall and when we see friends or family members. My husband and I have also shifted to doing the bigger gift exchanges in the very early evening (really late afternoon) because we realized that giving kids gifts and then expecting them to go to sleep was tricky. ;)
I like the sibling gift idea – we haven’t done that yet, but I’d like to start doing it soon.
As parents we don’t give a lot of gifts, and they’re a combo of want + need. Our kids get gifts from family members too.
Such an interesting post and comments to see how everyone does Christmas morning in so many different ways. My husband and I actually had our first fight while dating over how to do Christmas, because our families did it so differently! (When to have the big dinner, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, how many gifts to get, etc.) Gift giving is a huge thing for his mom, and his family has a ton of presents, while in my family, we had a $50 limit for each kid (it was a large blended family – so finances were tight. Christmas and Birthdays were our only gift times as well).
Our six kids still get a ton of presents from my husband’s parents, but as the years have passed I’ve realized that I cannot change them, and have learned to accept that this is a part of our Christmas. We will never have a minimalist Christmas but relationships are more important than things – even if that means we end up with more things. We try and keep our own gift giving smaller, though, while still keeping in mind that we only give our kids gifts on Christmas and their birthday, so we do like to try and cover any gift giving we want to do between those two times.
Our kids are still young (10, 8, 6, 4, 2 , and a baby), so we only spend around $30 each on presents for them, plus another small present in their stocking. We also do a favorite food in the stocking, like Goldfish, or a Pomegranite – things they love, but don’t get very often. We don’t get our babies any gifts, since they don’t notice. For presents we give a few things, like my six year old is getting a peanuts comic book, a few my little ponies, and a stationary card decorating set (she LOVES sending letters). In her stocking she is getting some headbands, lip balm, two types of candy, nuts, clementine and goldfish. The rest of our kids get about the same from us. Their great aunt always gives each kid a few books, and since we love getting them books too, we give them each a book or two on St. Nicholas day on December 6th, to spread out the gift giving. I try and get books that I want to add to our family library (I got the idea for an intentional family library from an old post of yours, Gabby!).
In addition, we do one large experience gift (a zoo membership, a rec center membership (with a pool for my kids), a children’s museum membership, things like this) every year as a family gift. In the future as our kids get older I am sure that the older ones will have a larger gift budget, but I hope to still keep the number of gifts smaller. I would like to also look for other experience gifts as we have less little kids, so things like all going to a nutcracker performance, or going on a family vacation in lieu of most presents.
Growing up I never believed in Santa, although he wasn’t forbidden or anything – it’s just that all our presents came from my parents. We have continued that with our kids – we will watch Santa movies, and have some Santa decor, and sing Santa songs, but our kids tell us what they want for Christmas, and all of our presents are labeled with the giver. We never really have the “is Santa real or not” conversation – they grow up knowing he’s pretend (and fun) just like fairies and magic.
Christmas morning kids aren’t allowed to get up until they hear Christmas music playing, and then they can come out. We have a special angel cnadle that we light and pass around and each take a turn saying what our gift to Christ is (so, like being kinder to siblings, or praying more, etc.) and open stockings. After stockings we all get dressed and eat breakfast, and then open our presents. We each take turns opening presents, and watch to see what everyone else got. I love that it becomes more of a process we can all enjoy together.
My daughter is an only child who gets lots of presents from her aunties. We make an Amazon wish list and update it with Legos or Calico Critters or whatever she is talking about that she really wants and birthday and Christmas gifts come from that list. We get big boxes in the mail and usually open them as they arrive. We don’t go to church or do Santa so we are pretty unconventional!
Her grandparents will give her money for swim lessons and I took her to the Nutcracker for my gift. We try to focus on experiences more than big gifts. Sometimes we travel to visit family or we just hang out and do fun things like go ice skating or hot chocolate dates.
Throughout the year we will buy her things as she needs them and some times she gets a toy or book she asks for but not every time. The way my partner makes money sometimes we have more than others so she got a scooter months ago when it was not her birthday or holiday. It works better for our family this way.
We don’t give our three years old any gifts for Christmas. We do little actvities in December to give her a special feeling of the season: go for a late night walk and look at the lights, make cookies and gingerbread men or pick out winter picture books in the library. For Christmas it feels special to her to see all the family at her grandma’s house (over and over again she names everyone invited) and its the first day she sees the decorated tree ! Of course she does get small gifts from my family. But I asked them from the very first christmas (and birthday) on to give her only one small thing or an experience. Not too many things works good for us (and for our small apartment, too).
How wonderful! Love this!
Interesting and eye-opening to read the comments. Living in Norway, with a British-raised mother and Norwegian father, our Christmas has always been a hybrid of Scandinavian and British. I’m one of 8, and money was tight, so we never received more than 1 gift each from our parents – but they were really good about making Christmas more about Christ, and less about Santa. I have continued that tradition, and with our 4 children, we have limited the presence of Santa to filled stockings Christmas morning. We do the gift exchange on Christmas Eve, after a big family dinner with all the trimmings, and after we have read the Nativity. Each person has to perform something (a song, a poem, a joke, a testimony…) before they are allowed to open their first gift. We usually give our kids one ‘big’ gift each, and a couple of smaller ones in their stockings. They have learned that writing a wish list will usually get them at least one of the items on it. We usually let the youngest child choose the gifts from under the tree and hand them out to the recipients. As the children have grown older, the kids have become more and more concerned about what they are giving than what they are receiving. I love that. And I am a fan of giving experiences or trips instead of stuff.
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My husband and I both had very different traditions growing up so we worked hard to find a good balance.
First, St. Nick fills our shoes with a few goodies on Dec 6. This year it was a candy cane, a new pair of socks and an onion. The onion is the must-have tradition from my husband’s family. The size of the onion indicates how naughty or nice you’ve been – larger means naughtier – and Daddy always seems to get the largest! :)
Santa brings one un-wrapped present for each child. We live in a neighborhood with a lot of economic diversity, so we decided early-on to keep Santa gifts on the smaller side to avoid issues with classmates. Mom and Dad give the bigger gifts.
Finally, on Jan 6, the Three Kings fill our stockings. This is the tradition from my childhood and I love it! It makes the season last so much longer. Staples are a book, a pack of gum, candy, and one toy/gift – usually something that goes with a Christmas gift you received. For example, if you get a doll for Christmas you might get an outfit from the Three Kings. The best part about the Three Kings filling the stockings is shopping the after-Christmas sales. And if you know your kiddo is bummed about not getting a certain gift you have another chance!
We go for the jumble that stacks up under the tree in the weeks before Christmas–something you want, need, wear, and read. However, we have a separate wrapping paper for each child and we don’t label the gifts. On Christmas Eve morning, we put a piece of their wrapping paper in their stocking… That way, they can spend the weeks before Christmas imagining that any of them could be theirs! They love finding out which gifts are ACTUALLY for them–it seems to relieve some of the excitement on Christmas Eve!
Christmas has always been a huge deal at our house. I have 4 grown children ages 25, 23, 21, and 18. And 3 grandchildren twin 3 year olds and a 5 year old. When my kids were younger they never had less than 40 gifts from Santa, and then whatever other relatives would give them. Now with them being grown, we have scaled way back, but we still go all out. My kids each get around 20 gifts each, and the grandkids get 15 each. My husband and I buy 12 gifts apiece for each other. We normally spend around 7-10 grand per year on Christmas, but we do not go into debt for it. We will NEVER use a credit card at Christmas, but we do start a Christmas savings club each year On Dec 1st for the following year. I know many will not agree with it, but it is what makes my Christmas, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love having my kids and grandkids all together for Christmas eve dinner, we then play games, read the Christmas story, and just enjoy being together. Its my favorite day of the year.