How Much Is Enough for Christmas? The New Thing Parents Have to Worry About
Will our first Christmases as a family affect our child's chances of becoming a kid who cherishes what he has?
Even though you’re probably very excited about your baby’s first Christmas, that little bundle doesn’t have a clue. In fact, she probably won’t even catch on to Christmas next year either. Christmas is a slow burn for babies, and that’s probably a good thing because it takes many of us parents a good long while to feel like we’re getting it right.
This year the thing to worry about is presents. According to my own Facebook feed, parents I know and love are trying to figure it out in every corner of the globe. How much is too much? How many gifts keep it fun but don’t overshadow the rest of what’s wonderful about Christmas? Will our first Christmases as a family affect our child’s chances of becoming a kid who cherishes what he has, is generous toward others, realizes that he lives in a comfy, safe home and thanks his lucky stars for it?
When I first met my husband, I went to his family’s house in Florida for Christmas. Nestled on two couches, his parents, a paternal grandmother, a great aunt and I all watched his two young nieces, then 4 and 6, opened enough gifts to fill his sister’s entire living room floor. Santa had been generous. I was appalled. My family didn’t have a lot when I was young and when I mentioned that I only had one Barbie, his niece, still giddy from the thrill of opening gift after gift, asked a question I’ll never forget: “Why? Weren’t you rich?” I laughed. “No,” I said, thinking of my reduced lunches and hand-me-down clothes at her age. “We were not rich.”
“Oh,” she said knowingly. “We are.”
That was a seminal moment for me. I really thought this was a serious problem, in only the way that someone who hasn’t become a parent yet can. To be clear, my now sister-in-law is not rich, not in the 1 percent way. They’re middle class, regular people, but here’s the thing. Those girls are now 12 and 14, and they’re great. Not spoiled. Not uncaring. Still not technically rich.
So was the mountain of presents a problem? Certainly doesn’t seem like it.
Today I read a great little post on Momastery, a blog I adore. The author’s point of view is Christian, so to her, a mountain of presents isn’t the thing to emphasize at Christmas. It’s almost the opposite. “Tell your children that each of them will receive three gifts this year,” she suggests. “When they complain say this: Listen, Jesus only got three gifts. Are you really prepared to argue that you deserve more presents on GOD’s birthday than God got on God’s OWN birthday? If they complain again threaten to buy them only spices, like Jesus got.” I love this idea, and so do the hundreds of fans who have already commented.
They’re even offering their own spin. “Our girls get one [thing] they wear, one they read, one they want and one they need,” says Marley C. Another poster, Emily, says she gave her children a choice years ago: “They could choose a fun family experience for Christmas and also receive new pajamas and a book OR they could receive a larger number of presents. They chose the family experience, and they have all chosen the experience every year since. It has revolutionized our Christmases.” She goes on to mention service projects, big family trips and weekend excursions. All made possible by minimizing Santa’s haul.
But there’s another side to this parenting conundrum, as there always is.
Right on my own Facebook page, I was reminded of my own former childless self when a young cousin asked an open question to all of us. “Am I the only one who thinks all the parents were WAY overanalyzing Christmas presents?” She mentioned my post praising the three-gift idea and a few others.
“We never had to give up our presents or choose only three,” she explained. “We just had a budget to stay under which taught us a lot about saving and the value of a dollar. We did Santa even after we all knew he wasn’t real. And we still managed to grow up understanding the meaning of Christmas and being thankful for what we have. No crazy child psychology stuff about it, just having a family that makes a big deal about spending quality time together on Christmas every year.”
Like I did when my niece asked me about being rich all those years ago, I laughed.
She’s got a point. It’s no good to drive ourselves crazy with this stuff. With the fun stuff. I mean, we have potty training for that. But as she’ll probably know eventually if she chooses to have some of her own, kids end up with stuff. So. Much. Stuff. It’s a nuisance, it’s messy, it’s cheap and most of it is so very plastic. This is not how I want to surround myself in my home, full of junk.
I also don’t want my kids become grown-ups who chase after stuff. Always more stuff. Thinking they’ll be happy if they just get what they want. The new iPad, Xbox, crossover, kitchen remodel. That one more thing. Because that’s no good either.
Here’s what we have to remember. Christmas IS ALREADY so fun with kids because they’re the best audience ever. Those little guys get SO excited over the smallest things, especially toddlers and preschoolers. They are amazed at the size of the tree. Christmas lights! Cookies? There will be cookies? Yahoo!
Ours are really young, 4, 2 and 1, and they don’t really even connect Christmas with gifts yet. I asked our 4-year-old what she wanted from Santa and here’s what she said, “Well, if I can’t find my yo-yo yet, I guess I’d like a new one.” That. That’s what I want to preserve for many years to come. This year we just hit the order button on Amazon and got them each four presents: two toys, two books and one big thing to share. It’s a play set for the yard in our new house.
Instead of focusing on a mountain of gifts, we’ll have stockings, presents for the family our preschool is sponsoring and also the four gifts for each person in our family, a windfall as far as they’re concerned. But we’ll also have music, cookies to bake, devotions to read, candle light services to attend, Skype calls to grandparents and more.
For now, that seems like the right mix. I’m pretty sure of it.
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