Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday discount codes, and gift-giving must-haves appear at every turn this time of year. As the holidays approach, this season might bring about feelings of excitement or anxiety surrounding the upcoming gift exchanging. We’re often at both ends of that spectrum, as shopping can be both enjoyable and confusing. And thus, we find ourselves in need of a clear direction as we approach this time of gift-giving. Having a path forward is key, I’ve found. Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of intentionally navigating this time. Here are some thoughts that I hope are helpful as you are navigating holiday gift-giving. These are my personal stories and answers to important questions, so take them with a grain of salt.
When I was young, we celebrated Christmas wholeheartedly. Our home was filled with happy memories, cookie-baking, Christmas carols and hymns, homemade decorations, and a twinkly Christmas tree. Somewhere around five years old, my parents decided we wouldn’t be exchanging gifts as part of our Christmas traditions. They felt that it took away from the real meaning of Christmas and that our resources could be spent much wiser. Every Christmas I can remember involved all the wonderful traditions and memories. I don’t feel that I was deprived or gypped of a complete Christmas experience in any way. If anything, it taught us kids that being different and going against the grain was OK. I love that my parents didn’t fall for the trap of materialism and consumerism. They provided so well for our needs throughout the year, and didn’t think Christmas time a time to shower their children with gifts. It didn’t mean my parents were the Grinch and didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth and other traditions.
I do believe that you can give gifts without overdoing it or taking the focus away from the true meaning of Christmas, and many families accomplish that. My parents, when they felt convicted about something, took extreme measures. So, for us, it was no gift-giving (until the kids were old enough and had their own money, and then we threw a few gifts for each other into the mix).
Joe’s family has a great system, which is basically no system, that works well! Joe is second oldest of 8 children, and there are already 18 grandchildren (with 2 more on the way), and lots more to come, I am sure. Christmas is insane at the Gallop household, to say the least. We usually have a white elephant gift exchange amongst the adults. The kids usually have some gifts thrown in – like coloring books – to occupy their attention while we open these gifts. Then, we have a time of gathering around the tree and Santa (Joe’s dad), with help from some very eager elves, passes out gifts to everyone. We wait while each person opens their gift, and we spend time talking together and not rushing through this time.
For this family gathering, Joe and I typically alternate years where we buy gifts for all the guys, and then the next year we buy gifts for all the ladies. Our gifts are not expensive and they’re usually a mix of handmade and store bought. One year, we gave all the ladies got an Amish-made cutting board, herbs de provence sea salt, and a pair of cozy socks. Another year they all got a small bundle that included homemade coconut oil hand salve.
There’s no pressure to buy anyone or everyone a gift. Everyone always walks away with something, and some people walk away with more one year than the year before. It’s really laid back, and no one feels pressure.
I think the hardest part for Joe and me has been reigning in our enthusiasm and excitement around gift giving to our children. Zoe’s first Christmas she had about 20 gifts just from Joe and me. It’s hard to resist the consumerism when you’re at the store and see a million adorable $5 gifts. And if you start collecting gifts for Christmas in January like I do, it’s easy to forget what you have accumulated throughout the year. Come December, you have 20 gifts for each child, and it’s a bit ridiculous. At least for me, since I do most of the shopping, this has been my biggest struggle – to keep gift giving more intentional and minimal, and not giving in to consumerism and materialism.
We don’t have a strict rule about who we give gifts to and who we don’t. For the holidays, each year we alternate between New Jersey (my family) and West Virginia (Joe’s family). This year, we spent Thanksgiving in NJ, and Christmas afternoon will be spent in WV. Next year, we’ll spend Thanksgiving in WV, and Christmas in NJ. We typically only buy gifts for the side of the family with whom we’re spending Christmas that year. And as an extended family, we don’t have a rule that says we have to buy gifts for everyone. We buy gifts for whomever is on our heart while shopping, and that’s that. I think our parents’ gift-giving philosophies while growing up helped us as adults to not have resentment or bitterness if we don’t receive as many gifts as someone else. I think both our families have super great perspectives there!
Joe and I decided (without ever really having a serious discussion about it) that we wouldn’t exchange gifts at Christmas. There’s never been anything we really need at Christmas time, and we just kind of passively decided we’d focus on our children. One year Joe surprised me with a gift and I was mad, because I didn’t know we were exchanging gifts that year and I felt badly. But mostly, I was surprised he thought of me and it was cute. I think Joe and I will continue with this tradition of no gifts for each other. There’s no expectation, we save money, and we truly don’t need anything. But shhh, don’t tell him…I bought him matching Christmas pajamas.
We’ve just recently started following this gift-giving philosophy: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.” So that’s just 4 gifts per child, plus their Christmas Eve pajamas. We loosely followed it last year, but to be honest, the 4-gift limit was hard. I’m going to to be much more intentional about it this year! I do not want to raise kids with a sense of entitlement at Christmastime, and it’s so easy to create monsters, because as parents, we love showering and blessing our children with gifts.
Here are some of my favorite, more intentional gifts for my children:
This year’s pajamas: red and white striped organic cotton
Toys for the girls: wooden folding dollhouse, wooden ramp racetrack, wooden legos, wooden egg set, dollhouse family, wooden mixer and cake set, tea set, wooden dishes, dust/sweep/mop set, basic wooden food set, wooden dollhouse nursery furniture
See more of my favorite gift ideas for the kiddos on Shop A Daily Something!
I *try* to be thinking about gifts throughout the year so that I don’t find myself in a mad scramble the week of Christmas. I’ll look at thrift stores, buy things on sale at my favorite shops, and generally just try to make more intentional purchases. I usually make something for people, too. Like beeswax hand salve or herbs de provence sea salt or essential oil rollers. Something that I love and use in my everyday, and that’s simple and not too expensive.
Last year, our family used an Advent Calendar to celebrate this season, and it was beautiful! Since the girls are older, I wanted to be more intentional about slowing down and truly celebrating. I’m a believer in the magic of Christmas and filling up this time of year with tradition and coziness. However, it’s so easy to get caught up in the THINGS that we lose track of what we’re really celebrating. When we keep our eyes on ourselves and produce little machines that want want want, expect expect expect.
The purpose behind the Advent Calendar was to teach the girls more about Christ’s birth and His coming again, help move their eyes away from themselves and onto others, and take time to intentionally be present as a family, making memories and traditions. For each day, we have an assigned reading along with an activity or act of kindness to celebrate. One of my goals was to connect as a family or community during this season. So we’re caroling at a nursing home, making recycled egg carton ornaments to give as gifts, baking cookies for our police department, inviting college students into our home for cookie baking, etc. Check out last year’s calendar and activities; I’m finishing up with this year’s and will share that soon!
As you are navigating holiday gift-giving, ask yourself “why?” Why am I giving gifts? We shouldn’t be doing anything out of obligation. We are not obligated because “that’s what we do as a family” or “that’s what the retail giants tell me to do” or “I’ll feel guilty if I don’t buy everyone something off their list.” We should be giving out of a sincere desire to bless others. Give because you have something beautiful or intentional to give someone. Give because you know they need something.
One of my personal goals throughout this season is to cultivate thankfulness in my children. I don’t want them to blindly proceed through life without realizing the blessings and abundance right in front of them. I don’t want them to be ungrateful or unaware of the bad things that don’t happen to us. Rather, I want to nurture an awareness for the good things in life and teach them to be thankful, in all circumstances, not just when they’re receiving.
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