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.
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 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.
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.