Skip Piles of Presents; Pile on Love

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When your kids are born and everyone is throwing in their two cents about how best to raise them, you commit some nuggets of wisdom to memory and others you toss away.

There’s one piece of advice I kept that probably saved me as a parent: Don’t start anything with your kids that you don’t want to keep doing forever.

The idea behind this gem is that when you start something or allow something, it sets the precedent. From that moment forward, your kids will expect it. After all, if you allowed it once, you’ll allow it again. They’ve found the chink in your armor, and believe me, they’ll keep hacking at it.

So, when Christmas traditions began, those words were ringing in my ears, drowning out the commercials that were screaming at me to “buy this or your kids will be miserable for the rest of their liiiives!” Something in my ability to see into the future told me that if I propped up the Christmas tree with piles of presents, I’d be expected to do so for the rest of my liiiiiiiife!

One night over dinner, while the little ones ate spaghetti and dripped sauce down their chins, I told my husband of my plan. “How about,” I said, “if we limit our gifts to maybe five? We get them what they really want, but we keep it small. That way, they’ll never expect piles of gifts when they come downstairs on Christmas morning.”

Happily — and surprisingly — he readily agreed. He had come from the opposite type of family, the kind that had so many presents he actually got tired from opening them. Then he’d spend the next year trying to figure out how to delicately get rid of half of them. So, he was all in on the idea of placing the focus elsewhere, of not creating unrealistic expectations.

When your kids are little, they don’t know anything other than the world you create for them. From that moment, we created Christmases that focused on family, love, and fun.

When your kids are little, they don’t know anything other than the world you create for them. From that moment, we created Christmases that focused on family, love, and fun. My husband — without telling me — started a tradition of wrapping up a can of silly string for everyone. I now have epic videos and pictures of Christmas-morning silly string attacks. When I do my spring cleaning, I’ll invariably find a strand of pink string clinging to the back of the sofa or the edge of a picture frame, and I’ll smile.

My kids, as they grew older, started asking for more expensive gifts. That worked out just fine because they were accustomed to receiving only a handful of gifts anyway. When my daughter reached her teen years, she said, “What I really need is a laptop. I know that’s expensive, so you don’t have to get me anything else.” She meant it, too. We did get her some other gifts, but they were socks, not a stereo, and she appreciated them.

Our gift limit had instilled in the kids the idea of quality over quantity, of avoiding waste, and of treasuring what’s important. We took turns, and we took our time as we opened thoughtfully curated gifts. They were few, so they were special.

When you take the focus off of the presents and place it on family time and traditions, your perspective of Christmas changes. You realize that you’re unlikely to even remember what presents were under the tree last year, but you’ll always remember moments of joy and traditions that matter.

One of ours is Christmas Eve. We dress up for the Christmas Eve candlelight service at our church and find a spot for our small family of four among all the Christmas churchgoers. Then, as the end of the service grows near, we wait for the lights to dim, light candles off of each other’s flames, and sing Silent Night softly, our voices all rising together.

Last year, in the throes of COVID, we watched the service streamed to our TV in the kitchen. We dressed up even though no one would see us. My husband found a candle for everyone, and in that moment, the moment we lit our candles and sang Silent Night, I cried, desperately missing my dad, who had died earlier in the year. My now-grown kids put their arms around me. Our candles dripped wax on the tile floor. And, I can tell you that no pile of presents could have been better than that moment in time.

Tags: Developing Skills & Character, gifts, holiday season, parenting

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Written By

Rebecca Deurlein

Rebecca is a freelance writer, author of the book Teenagers 101 (Harper Collins), and a former Girl Scout. Her home is Houston, TX. See Full Bio

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