It’s no secret that consumerism rules the holidays.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the thrill of a 50% off steal. Especially if it’s something I’ve been needing but just couldn’t bite the bullet. But at some point, it crosses the line of being fun and just becomes excessive. That’s why we started the 3 gifts tradition when our oldest was a toddler.
The 3 gifts of Christmas
The idea is, if 3 gifts were good enough for Jesus Christ himself, it ought to be enough for us! The gifts we buy for our kids have to fall in one of 3 categories:
Our kids know that each year they’re limited to those 3 main gifts. It works well for us as parents, so we don’t lose all self control and buy way more than we should. It also makes things easier when trying to buy equal amounts of gifts for the 3 kids (although as they get older their wants become substantially more expensive).
Naturally, most young kids think they want everything they see in the Target catalog. They circle every toy on every page and declare, “I’m done with my wish list!!” As our kids have grown up with the rule of just choosing ONE want, they have learned to be more discriminating about their selection. I hear them work through their decision…
“I want that, but I really want this more”
While it wasn’t our intention, this rule has taught them to be more disciplined. They choose 1-2 things they really want, and that tends to be their biggest gift. Typically it’s something like:
- A new cell phone
- A really exciting toy
- Art set
This gift is usually a catch-all for the wants that slip through the cracks. Often times they really want a new pair of shoes, and they also need it. This category might have things like:
- Big-girl bed + bedding
- Winter coat
- A bike that fits them better
- New clothes
- Room decor (this is a big one this year since we just moved)
We save the small needs like socks, underwear, hygiene products for stocking stuffers.
… yes, I can be a very boring and practical gift-giver.
The Spiritual Gift
This gift is usually chosen by us. It’s not typically something the kids have on their wish list. It’s a gift that we feel is appropriate for their age, to help them build a relationship with God. Here are some examples of spiritual gifts we’ve given:
- Storybook Bible
- Cozy blanket that represents the holy spirit
- Statue or Figurine
- Artwork for their bedroom
- Scripture study guide
- Meaningful poem
As I reflect on years passed, I notice that the spiritual gifts carry sentimental value moreso than the other gifts. Most of the spiritual gifts are still on display somewhere in their bedrooms, while other gifts have been outgrown or entirely forgotten.
There are plenty of extra gifts that sneak in. Don’t think for one second that my kids only have 3 gifts to open. If I had it my way, it would be that simple… but there’s always more.
- Gifts come from Grandma and Grandpa on both sides.
- Gifts come from friends at school, neighbors, and church activities.
- Gifts come at white elephant exchanges we do with family on both sides.
- Gifts come on Christmas eve when they get other traditional gifts we’re carrying on. Scott’s family always did Christmas PJ’s and my family always did an ornament collection – so naturally our kids get both of those.
The kids participate in exchanging names with their cousins, so they each get a gift from one cousin. And now that they’re older, my kids typically buy or make a gift for each other. By no means are they being deprived. And there are always far more than 9 presents under our tree. Again, if I had it my way, I’d be perfectly happy with 3 simple gifts and nothing more. But the experiences they have when participating in other gift exchanges are worth while.
How we keep christ in Christmas
By keeping our family gift-giving under control, it keeps Christmas morning more low-key. Here’s how it unfolds:
- Turn on quiet Christmas music
- Put apple cider on the stove
- The kids gather in the family room and wait for everyone to be ready
- We read the Christmas story, either from a book or straight from Luke 2
- Scott and I sip cider while the kids go through their stockings
- We hand out presents and open them 1-2 at a time, so we can pay attention to the person opening and share in the excitement
It moves slowly… on purpose. Scott and I work hard to keep the ambience one of reverence. There’s plenty of time throughout the day to get out the new things and be loud. But in that moment, the overarching mood is one of gratitude. We avoid letting the kids tear into present after present without pause. We want them to have the chance to admire it and be thankful for it.
Giving to the Needy
Another tradition we follow is the Light the World campaign sponsored by our church. It’s a daily advent calendar focused on bringing the light of Christ to others throughout the season. We often get gifts for the needy as a part of this. Sometimes we pick a family we know and drop things on their doorstep anonymously. This year, our neighborhood had a giving tree with requests from community organizations. Each of the kids sponsored another child, and made a trip to pick the perfect gifts for that child in need. Those are some of the happiest memories we have as a family.
Start Your Own Traditions
If you’re just starting your family, I encourage you to borrow some of these ideas for your own traditions. Traditions turn into memories – and that’s what keeps families close. However you choose to celebrate, I send warm wishes to you and your family this Christmas season.