Christmas is less than a week away, and I don’t have a single large gift for my toddler. Instead of lots of gifts under the tree, we have three stockings, one for each of us, and that’s where the presents stop.

When we were first married, my husband and I bought into the idea that lots of presents were a necessity in order to show your love at Christmas. So the first few years, even though we had a very small income, we made sure to have gifts to exchange. While they were nice gifts, I honestly couldn’t tell you a specific one that I remember today. However, I can tell you exactly who we spent that day with since we were 3000 miles away from family. Those wonderful memories have stayed with me long past the glow of the presents themselves.

A few years later, we talked it through and decided that one present each was plenty, since we were more focused on buying a home and paying off my student loans. And then the next year we cut back to only what fit inside a stocking, and we’ve stuck to that rule since then. What started out as a way to save money has morphed into a special tradition that’s all our own.

Instead of spending time looking for that one special gift, we find little useful items throughout the year to put in our stockings. And then when Christmas comes, we spend our time making a special, fancy Christmas breakfast together.

Once we’ve finished our leisurely meal, we open our stockings, one item at a time and really savor the process. The gifts may be small and limited, but they are purposely chosen and especially wanted. Usually, half the items consist of fancier foods we wouldn’t normally splurge on (like caviar for my husband and champagne for myself). We also tend to find little gifts during our travels as little stocking stuffers and a reminder of our fun adventures together. The time is what we really crave, not things.

After opening our presents, we go outside and enjoy a long walk in the woods behind our house. Only late afternoon do we leave our house and join the rest of our family and exchange other gifts. We have a large family and love our holiday gatherings, but there is something really nice about starting the day slow and focused on time together and nature. Holidays, after all, are about people and memories, not the fleeting stuff that enters our lives on that day.

Christmas Day 2016

Once we had our son, the pressure was on to expand our Christmas present giving. When I share that we aren’t filling the base of the Christmas tree full of presents, I get major disappointment and sadness that he won’t fully get to experience the magic of Christmas (plus he doesn’t get anything from Santa, which is a whole other story – here is a great explanation as to why if you’re interested).

Christmas to us isn’t about a huge stack of presents under the tree and the holiday isn’t any less magical for the absence of a massive toy haul. Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean we have to make traditions to fit that expectation; rather, we are focused on creating traditions that matter to our family.

Regardless, our son has two grandmothers, one great grandmother, two grandfathers, and numerous aunts, uncles, and family members who gift him more presents than he could ever need. A stack of presents under our tree won’t make or break his holiday.

I do try and curb those presents to a degree, but he is the only child in our family for now and they all love to get him things, and I won’t dictate what he can receive from others.

I really, really do love Christmas.

I do tend to hold back a few gifts for his birthday six weeks later though, because there are only so many gifts a kid can appreciate in one day – and that number is much, much smaller than what is typical on Christmas morning.

I believe appreciating every gift he gets – not just wanting to open the next one – is important. He may get a number of presents from family, but each one is savored and enjoyed in its own right.

But at our home, he knows he gets one filled stocking, and that’s it. And  he is so excited for when that stocking will be filled and waiting for him on Christmas morning.

First Christmas – 2015

Just because there isn’t a huge pile of toys under the tree doesn’t mean the season is not a magical one. Our traditions just extend beyond toys – he gets to go on an adventure to pick the Christmas tree, make a gingerbread house, sing at Christmas Eve church service, bake cookies for his preschool teachers, open an advent calendar through December, read Christmas stories (from the library) every night, visit zoo lights, and have special Christmas morning traditions with mama and daddy.

When our son is a little older, we will expand these traditions to include sharing the spirit of the season with those who couldn’t otherwise afford to, but while he’s really young, our focus is on family and on what he can understand at this age.

Christmas is more than just one day to get a bunch of toys but instead a season filled with love, laughter, and adventure. 

I hope that as he grows up, our son’s memories of Christmas and the holidays will center around the joy and magic of having time with his family doing special holiday things. If there’s one lasting gift I can give him, I want it to be that life is about people and not stuff. You can’t buy the things in life that really matter.

44 thoughts on “Christmas Traditions Don’t Have To Be Filled With Stuff 

  1. This sounds like such a laid back and enjoyable day to spend the holidays! Every time I read about other people who focus more on being together I get this happy feeling inside.

    Here’s to enjoying close relationships! 🙂

    1. Maybe that’s what I love the holidays so much ❤️ I do love gifting, but appropriately.

  2. Oh, this is awesome! You guys are so cute. <3 I pretty much stopped giving away any toys to children, I think it is just way to much clutter in their lives anyways. I'd rather take my goddaughter to the park or for a day in the snow.. <3

    1. Exactly! I’m constantly attempting to declutter our house, so I don’t see much purpose in bringing more toys into the house. Especially when he’d rather just be playing outside or going on an adventure 🙂

  3. I agree with you. Years ago I started giving my parents an adventure trip instead of presents. I guess you’d called it “presence”, huh? When my Dad passed away, it was cool the number of excellent things I had photos of that were in his memorial slideshow. And of course in my memories and my Mom’s. These are the things that matter, and in the spirit of FI, they don’t have to cost a fortune.

    1. Such a better kind of gift. I’m glad you were able to do that for them while you could. And those memories for the two of you are worth more than any physical present you could have gotten them.

  4. My family always opened gifts slowly, enjoying the process. It totally threw me off when I started going to my hubby’s parents home on Christmas morning. People just unwrapping presents quickly, nobody seeing what other people gave! I didn’t realize that is probably more normal. But after presents are done they all make a nice breakfast together, so different traditions for different families! It’s fun learning yours!

    1. Growing up my family was like yours. With 4 kids (plus my grandma who lived with us and still with my parents now), we literally opened every present one by one, which is so much more fun. With our extended family, even with 15-20 people, we still do this, starting with the youngest. It means present opening takes HOURS but it is so much more meaningful than the free for all. And again, very different again from the Christmas morning traditions we’ve started with our family of three.

  5. We grew up pretty poor so Christmas was never about the gifts for us but spending time with the family and we’ve continued that as we all got older and got jobs and actually made some money. My family doesn’t even do gifts anymore(beyond stuff for the little ones) as we find that a much better way to enjoy the holidays without the stress and expectations that come with getting gifts for a dozen different people.

    1. I think that’s actually more impressive to keep the spending down as your income increases, but it sounds like your Christmases have been great regardless 🙂

  6. I completely agree (and also do the holding gifts back trick, as my son’s birthday is in Feb). My husband and I do a $5ish gift challenge. Sometimes it’s something funny, sometimes it’s something practical. This year’s gift is a replacement bow saw blade. He’s been getting cross with the old one, so I think he’ll appreciate that I noticed!

    1. That’s definitely a good gift (at least it would be for my husband haha). Both our birthdays bracket Christmas as well, and our anniversary is in November, so we’d have presents coming out our ears if we bought for every occasion.

    1. It definitely takes a lot more time and effort to make that the case, but I would rather not do gifts than them just be “stuff.”

  7. Oh yes… The big struggle for us is upon us. Christmas with 4 year old twins…. Not only do they have adoring relatives, but there’s the nanny who loves to spoil them too. Our struggle? Can’t let those other people outdo Mom, Dad, and Santa, now, can we???
    Trying, trying really hard…

    1. Thankfully, since we don’t do Santa in our house we don’t have to have him compete 😉 And so far, our son knows it’s Nana and Mimi (his other grandma) that spoil him, so he doesn’t expect it from us hahahaha.

  8. What a beautiful story, and I’m sure your little one will appreciate this when he’s older too. It really is about the memories, time, and laughter. Plus you totally spend 50% of life filling your house with crap, and the other 50% trying to get rid of all the crap! Break the cycle! Hope I can convince everyone this is a good idea should little ones ever become part of our lives… Do you ever have a problem with destroying other kids’ belief in Santa though? I can imagine some awkward moments and possibly anger from other families…

    1. I grew up without Santa, and I don’t remember “ruining it” for anyone, though who knows. The best argument I’ve read in regards to that worry is that there are billions of people who follow other religions that don’t do Christmas at all, and somehow their kids don’t ruin it, so it really isn’t a concern of mine. That said, our son isn’t quite three, so I’m certain there will be new challenges as he gets a bit older.

  9. This is lovely because this is our babies baby’s first Christmas and we have been feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the people wanted to come by to drop presents off for him. We didn’t get anything either except for a small Mickey stuffed animal from Hawaii to complement the other goofy stuffed animal we gave him in Hawaii lol.

    My husband and I were trying to think of ways to decrease the presents under the tree to focus on experiences instead of gifts.

    The interesting part will be when they go to birthday parties!!!! Junk-o-Rama there!!

    1. The tough part is definitely stemming the flood of gifts from other people. Let me find the best post on the birthday present thing I’ve read.

  10. I am making my peace with the fact that some family will always want to get JuggerBaby gifts for Christmas, so instead of fighting the tide, we make a list to emphasize the things that ze can use for years instead of the latest toys and fads. We ourselves only give zir a few books for Christmas and birthday, we don’t want to encourage this toddler’s already natural acquisitive nature to be even more avaricious! We’re working on teaching zir to appreciate the abundance that ze already has but it’s kind of hard when family does believe in piles and piles of gifts under the tree.

    1. Great job on being so mindful with gifts. I’m working on the making peace bit too, and I like the idea of making a list of ideas for others that feel they simply must get a gift.

  11. I totally agree! This year we really minimized. We end up not using most of the stuff we receive anyway. Our favorite tradition is packing the whole family including the dogs into the car to see holiday lights on Christmas. Even the dogs love it. Merry Christmas!

    1. Merry Christmas! The holiday is so much more fun and relaxed when you actually have time to enjoy it. Plus I definitely don’t regret not stepping foot inside a mall or shopping center this year 😉

  12. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas morning tomorrow! I think you are starting wonderful traditions with your holiday breakfast and stockings. My kids are older now and I am sure that they hardly remember any individual gifts they’ve received. It’s the traditions like homemade ornaments and baking cookies and the love of family that they carry with them.

    1. Thank you! Have a wonderful Christmas as well. Hoping that starting early means it will stick 🙂

  13. This is my kind of Christmas philosophy — experiences over stuff, and being present with family is the best present of all!

  14. Oh boy, I can definitely relate to the inindation of relatives’ gifts. Our two girls receive a TON of gifts from family at Christmas time. Doubly so for my eldest as her birthday is Dec 30th! Thank you for the post!

    1. That’s the rub. It’s one thing to. Control your own spending, but it’s hard to curb gifts from others.

  15. Could not agree more with you on this. I think too many people get tied into the belief that without a bunch of presents aka “stuff” that there is no joy in Christmas. I actually had a conversation about this with a friend recently. Let’s just say she was offended when I said I did not like the idea of getting a bunch of gifts for Christmas. I have no kids yet but think a great idea is four pillars of presents. Which you buy one present in each of the four categories being experience, a need, entertainment, and knowledge?

    1. I like the four present idea as well, but we reduced it even further since our son gets so many presents from friends and family. If not for those, then that’s exactly what we would do.

  16. Oh – I love this. Tearing up just a little as we start to plan for the upcoming holiday. I love Christmas, but like you the people and memories are so much more important to me. My husband is a buyer, and I kind of let that go – he grew up really poor, and had very little – so to him, objects/gifts have more meaning. Every year we do manage to decrease the amount just a little bit, and I’m hoping this year since we have some big upcoming travel, I’ll get him to whittle it down even more 😉

    1. Yeah, I can imagine that it is SO much harder to let go of the material part of Christmas when you didn’t get the postcard-perfect option when you were a child.

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