Here's one of the questions I've received: "How do you handle the commercialism and over-giving that Christmas seems to be about in our society? I love giving fun things to my children but feel like my kids always want and get more than is really good for them. I don't know where to draw the line."
Jared and I love seeing the looks of delight on our kids' faces as they open exciting gifts. But we've realized over the years that we really don't need to buy much for our kids in order for them to have what feels like a very abundant Christmas. They get a present from Grandma, one from Grammie and Grandfather, one from one of their Loosli cousins (the cousins all draw names), and a small gift from each other (often a dollar store gift but this year, the older kids have more money and have decided to give nicer gifts - read more about kids giving to each other HERE). Plus of course, they get a gift from Santa (we explain that Santa has a LOT of kids to give gifts to and many of those kids don't have other people giving them gifts so it's nice to request a pretty modest gift worth about $50 from Santa to enable him to have enough time and materials to make higher quality and quantity toys for kids who need them more - and they've been great about embracing this philosophy). So that's 8 presents they get each year without us giving them anything at all.
I used to do the tradition a lot of families do and get the kids "something to wear, something they need, something they want, something to read." Plus I'd end up buying several games or group gifts for all the kids. That was adding up to way too many presents. As we like to open the presents one at a time on Christmas and play with each thing for a while before opening the next round of presents, we found that each year, we were running out of time to open everything on Christmas. It was just too much and we felt rushed to get to everything. Plus I found that the effort involved in wrapping up clothes and other basic needs was just silly. My boys didn't view clothes or underwear or socks as a special gift no matter how beautifully they were wrapped and Eliza didn't care much either. So I gave up on wrapping up things that they needed and that I was going to buy them anyway as we had too much to unwrap as it was.
So now this is all we buy our kids for Christmas:
- new winter Sunday clothes - we give them the clothes (unwrapped) to wear on the first Sunday of December (plus we do Christmas photos that day usually - not my kids' favorite thing but it the photos are worth it...).
- new pj's that I do wrap and that they're excited to open as the one gift they can open on Christmas Eve night.
- a fun new family game or activity
- we help Santa with the special toy each child requests from him and stocking simple stocking stuffers.
With less presents, we can really savor and enjoy each gift and focus on the joy of giving and receiving. And I've found that my kids - especially my younger ones - actually enjoy presents more when there are less gifts and more pomp and ceremony around opening them plus more time to actually open and play with the gifts.
Last year, we added one more special family gift that we gave our kids - a Family Activity Jar. I got the idea from my friend Becky. On Christmas afternoon, we brainstormed all the activities that would be fun to do together as a family during the upcoming year - sledding, bowling, ice skating, swimming, arcade games, game night, camping, hiking, bike rides, all sorts of possibilities. Then each child wrote down one activity they'd most love to do as a family on a slip of paper. We each read what was on our slips of paper and came up with a new choice in the case of a repeat. We all folded up our slips of paper and put them in a jar then decided on a few extra activities we were all excited about that hadn't made the jar. In all, we put 10 activities in the jar. We explained that our big gift to our kids for this year is that we'll draw out one activity from the jar at the beginning of each month and put that activity on the calendar for that month (of course, if we draw "camping" in January, we'll put it back for another month and draw something else). We only did activities for 10 months in the jar because we've already got several major family activities we do in December and we're always at Bear Lake for July.
The kids were SO excited about this gift that will keep on giving all year long and give them the chance to do a lot of activities they love but that we often don't make time for. It's nice that the expenses involved in these activities will be spread out over the course of the year and we can find coupons and save up to make everything quite affordable - plus they picked stuff that was pretty cheap or free - hiking, picnic in a park, bike ride...
So the Family Activity Jar was a hit and I think it'll be something we do every year.
*** For more thoughts on managing holiday giving, check out my sister Shawni's blog post on the subject HERE.
*** To learn about our favorite holiday tradition that gets kids focused on giving to those who need rather than focusing on their personal desires, read about our Children for Children Christmas Concert HERE.