Sending the right messages at Christmas

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, you are faced with the yearly dilemma of deciding how much is too much to spend on your children. A recent study revealed that parents spend an average of $100-$200 on each child, with some spending as much as $500. If you have more than one child, your Christmas bills could be quite hefty with that kind of payout.

Hearing these statistics made me wonder: In a country where most of us live better than the entire rest of the world, is it necessary or even proper to spend a lot of cash on holiday giving? Does it detract from the true meaning? Or is it important to blend in with American culture and give our kids all that we can afford?

My family has always had a policy of moderation when it comes to gifts. I was struck in a crystal clear moment when my children were very young with the following thought – if I start giving my kids piles of presents at Christmas, they will come to expect that year after year. But if I give them just a few well-chosen items, that’s all they’ll ever expect. God must have been smiling down on me that day, because it was one of the greatest realizations I’ve ever had: Don’t start something with your kids that you don’t want to continue doing forever. This applies to virtually everything, including how you respond to temper tantrums, what you allow your children to do, and what kind of behavior you accept. It’s so much harder to change those behaviors long after they first began than to nip them in the bud early on or prevent them all together. That’s what we did with Christmas. And our kids have never questioned it.

Now that my children aren’t children anymore, we usually exchange one nice present on Christmas Eve from each other, and one nice present on Christmas morning from Santa. There’s usually a couple of small things just to have a few packages to open up, but that’s it, and we’re all thrilled with this system. No one goes into hock to buy presents for family members; no one greedily rips open packages, barely acknowledging them; and most of the focus of the holiday stays where it should – on the reason for the season. We worship at a candlelight service, we eat traditional holiday meals, and we spend time together as a family.

What are your thoughts on holiday gift giving? Do you love to indulge your kids as much as possible, or do you prefer a toned-down Christmas or Hanukkah? I’d love to hear about your family traditions.

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4 thoughts on “Sending the right messages at Christmas

  1. Spot on !!! I agree with you completely. It is so important to keep the focus on the holiday and family. We are slowly trotting toward becoming a society where people expect to receive regardless of their work or behavior, and sadly Christmas has become part of this. I want my kids to grow up appreciating small things and striving toward positive change and social action. Thank you!!!

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    • It’s fantastic that you’re teaching your kids to get involved in making our world a better place. My kids still talk about the one Christmas when they were pre-teens when we exchanged one present and then spent the day serving dinner at a shelter. They remember singing Christmas carols with about 100 homeless people and being so touched by that day. That’s what makes memories – not mounds of “things” that they quickly discard.

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  2. Rebecca, I am with you on everything you say. I grew up in a house where Christmas gifts were a “big thing.” That is likely because that was the only time of the year, aside from birthdays, where we were given gifts. I struggle with letting go of that philosophy a bit. As much I would like to pare down, we do let our kids “take care of their needs” for most of the year, so I tend to indulge a little at Christmas. In the years to come, as the kids become more “on their own” I know we will simplify. Until then, it’s my fault and only my fault they get indulged. On a good note, though, they really do appreciate everything. (I hope!)

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  3. I’m sure they do! I think that when you temper that big giving day with a general philosophy of taking care of needs and not indulging every want, it makes Christmas the special treat it should be.

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