The 4 or 5-gift Christmas challenge for your family part 1

“Hey, kid! Hurry up, the store’s closing!” If you could see my inner thoughts, I’d be muttering this every time I open a wallet, add items to an online shopping cart, or browse a book/candy/toy store aisle.

Consumerism has already affected my 3-year-old son. It starts too early, a never ending list of wants. When my son desires something and I say “no”, he tells me very matter-of-factly to “go buy it” or “go to the ATM”. I know – it’s shocking and sad.

Many toys and learning games promote the love of money, e.g. play money, cash registers, etc. Your kids will always want more – more suckers, more toy cars, more stuffed animals, you name it. More, more, more! Me, me, me!!

I’ve never enjoyed shopping and that includes Christmas shopping. (I have other forms of therapy.) I think Christmas shopping steals some Christmas spirit.

I grew up with the false belief that the holidays, an interminable period stretching from Thanksgiving Day through New Year’s Day, inspire wonder and dread. You simply must “get through” the season and endure. Yes, the holidays are “…the most wonderful time of the year”, but they’re also the most stressful. And why? Well, because you spend money you don’t have on gifts no one needs or wants.

I can’t be alone in my belief.

One of my favorite holiday movies has always been A Christmas Story (1983) precisely because it shows the not-so-wonderful aspects of the holidays, e.g. waiting in long lines at the mall, brutally cold weather (Northern Hemisphere readers, you can relate!), decking the house with Christmas decorations, scrambling to cook holiday meals, etc. I like how A Christmas Story presents the holiday season as it actually is, not how it should be.

A Christmas Story stars Ralphie, a precocious and tenacious 9-year-old boy, who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The adults in his life (including Santa) admonish him: “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Though the 1940s era flick was made over 35 years ago, the irreverent cult classic still resonates with modern viewers today.

Each year I reunite with fellow TBS A Christmas Story marathon viewers, finding solidarity with my Christmas cynic comrades. It’s comforting to know others share my occasional dreary drearies rather than cheery cheeries.

For Ralphie, and for many children like mine growing up in America, Christmas is about one thing and one thing only: presents. Rather than ponder the miracle of Christmas (Jesus’s birth), Ralphie contemplates how to obtain his coveted gift. It’s as if the movie’s iconic leg lamp, belonging to Ralphie’s father, is powered not by electricity or batteries, but by Ralphie’s Christmas gift lust.

If you’re anything like me, you worry there won’t be enough gifts under the tree. It’s a veritable “keeping up with the Joneses'” Christmas tree. What if your child compares his loot with a friend’s haul? What if your child wonders if he’s been demoted to Santa’s Naughty List when he receives a tin of candy while his friend gets the newest electronic device?

How do you start a new Christmas tradition where less is more? What if there’s a way to feel like the wholesome Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Santa rather than the wholly unwholesome A Christmas Story (1983) Higbee’s Department Store Santa?

Here’s ho, ho, how to have a minimal-ish 4-gift Christmas.

You’ll be helping Santa (wink wink) make or buy four total gifts*. Ho, ho, hurray!

  1. Something(s)** You Want…Gift #1: This category is open to interpretation. My preschooler wants Hot Wheels cars, a rocket ship,, and a personalized can for his trash. His ideas, not mine!
  2. Something(s) You Need…Gift #2: toothbrush, hair product, nightlight, alarm clock, music/soothing sounds box for nighttime, bedding, school supplies (e.g. pencils, washable crayons, washable markers, washable paints, writing paper, kiddie scissors), lunchbox/insulated lunch bag, etc.
  3. Something(s) to Wear…Gift #3: hat, gloves/mittens, coat, shoes, jewelry, makeup, hair accessories, underwear, socks, pajamas, shirt, pants, dress, make believe outfit (e.g. pretend firefighter, police officer, ballerina, doctor, etc.), sportswear, art smock, book bag, personalized clothing or accessories, etc.
  4. Something(s) to Read…Gift #4: print or e-books, magazine subscriptions, spiritual or biblical texts, devotionals; educational/learning games, puzzles, and toys

*If you wish to buy a few more gifts, I suggest getting four big boxes. Put a reusable “Something(s) You Want…” (etc.) tag on each box. Wrap a few little gifts and tuck inside the appropriate gift box.

If you wish to buy a lot more gifts (because you have really little kids), I recommend laying out four big piles. Each category of gift could be wrapped in a different colored or patterned wrapping paper.

**I’m adding an optional “(s)” to pluralize “Something(s)…” in case you can’t conform to the one gift per category. A very dear and clever college friend gave me the brilliant idea!

Parent Gift – Optional

I know, I know, I’m breaking the four gift rule, but the oddball in me prefers odd numbers.

  • Something(s) to Share…Gift #5: I’ve also seen “Something to Do” as a slight variation on this category. Aim to buy one big showcase gift. Or maybe a pet. Ideally, it’s a gift that can be shared with a sibling or the whole family. The gift doesn’t have to be a thing; it can be an experience like going to a drama performance or concert, taking a weekend trip together, going to an amusement or water park, etc.

Stocking Stuffers – Optional

  • Someone to Feed**: candy, chocolates, fast food gift card (Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, etc.), tea/coffee/Bailey’s (just kidding) in your stocking, clementines, apples, nuts, fruit snacks, cereal/granola bars, cookies, etc.

**When your children are old enough, volunteer at a soup kitchen on Christmas Day or find a time during their school’s winter break. Alternately, ask your kiddos to donate a portion of their allowance to a charity of their choice, an organization that feeds a person’s body, mind, or soul.

Here’s what you need:

  • Wish List:  Once your child can write, have him make out a list for you and post on the refrigerator. Some parents dislike wishlists. And I can see why. They can potentially encourage a consumerist mindset. Idea: Save their wishlists in a Christmas time capsule of your choice. For instance, store or display the list in a hollow ornament. Collect an ornament for each year of your child’s life. Don’t forget to date the lists!

  • Reusable Tags:  Make or buy a set for each child. Just remember where you stash the tags, so you can use them next year! Check out Etsy for DIY printables or premade tags that fit your Christmas home decor.
  • Reusable Boxes: Ditto to the above.
  • Wrapping Paper (or just get decorative boxes when the kids are older/grownup and you’re spending more and more time in bed):  Use a different wrapping paper for each gift category. Idea: Save scraps of meaningful or memorable wrapping paper to add to your Christmas time capsule. For instance, use the paper as backing for photo mounts in a childhood scrapbook. Or incorporate the scraps into homemade Christmas ornaments.

Gift giving is not my love language. Sorry, kids. (Touch is not my love language either. Sorry, husband.) This Christmas you’ll have to settle for Words of Affirmation and Quality Time, my primary love languages.

A Final Thought – From the Pillow

Get more with less.

So “have yourself a merry little Christmas.” And have a jolly good laugh while you’re at it:

Mall Santa | A Christmas Story

What choices have you made about how you and your family will give and receive gifts?

Do you set a money limit or determine a certain number of presents for your children’s gifts?

I’m still trying to work out how I will “do Christmas” and would love to hear your thoughts!

3 thoughts on “The 4 or 5-gift Christmas challenge for your family part 1

Add yours

  1. Best method ever! The girls always get 4 presents – sometimes the “somethings to read” are shared and I refuse to limit myself on books.
    I actually told Miss A this year that I find buying stuff, esp of the plastic variety at Christmas depressing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I adore you and your “something(s) to read”. I may have to edit this blog post to include a “(s)” for each gift category. I already bought three books for Master B (whoops), so I love the “something(s)” idea. You’re brilliant!

      I hope you, A., and Miss A and Miss B. have the happiest of holidays!


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