Every holiday season parents ask me, as their child’s therapist, to give gift recommendations for their child.  I struggle with this question because I truly believe there is only one answer: “Have a fun and relaxing day hugging, laughing, crying over the beautiful mess of family togetherness.”  As for specific toy recommendations, I will address that in another post; but today, I wanted to share my family’s Christmas story to help you understand my perspective.

Some History

Several years back, Christmas time looked very different for me.  It was the opposite of relaxing.  I agonized over the perfect presents for each of my 6 children.  Wrapping presents into the wee hours of the morning and making last minute shopping trips while still juggling the daily mom routine, my work, and a schedule bursting with holiday parties, concerts, and family gatherings.  I felt pressured to buy more and more each year.  I was caught in the current of consumerism.  The True Joy of the season was slipping away.


A Much Needed Change

But then, four years ago, we made a drastic change.  We stopped giving presents on Christmas.  Yes, you heard that right!  There are no presents in my house on Christmas morning.  My children were initially shocked, and, well….mad.  But it was the beginning of a new season for our family.  One in which we focus on just belonging together.


Every year, my kids check with me just to make sure- “Still no presents this year?”  The answer has not changed.  My soul is relieved, as is my pocketbook.  The pressure of buying, the worry of disappointment, and the burden of debt is gone.  And my family, I dare say, is coming around.  Every year the looks of disappointment get less and less, and the attitude of Advent is displayed by my teenagers.  What a joy for a parent to see your children content with what they have not with what they don’t have!


I won’t lie and say this was a completely easy transition for us.  And I get that this isn’t for everyone.  But if you too, feel burdened by consumerism and are looking for a change, I would urge you to consider adopting a new normal for your family on Christmas morning.


The Plan

Here are some strategies I recommend if this is an idea you are considering:

  1. Inform the kiddos in September and prepare for nagging.  Let your yes be yes and no be no.
  2. Celebrate their birthdays like it’s Christmas.
  3. Talk about the historical significance of Christmas.  Whatever your religious beliefs, the history of Christmas centers around the birth of Jesus.  So it’s his birthday and not ours.  Educate their hearts and minds.
  4. Allow presents from relatives that choose to do so.  These are like gold now, and I find I no longer have to worry as much that my children won’t show gratitude for these gifts.
  5. Fill stockings- yes it’s cheating but will soften the blow from the mass hysteria of piles of gifts.  I still sweat it out and feel rejected by my children who have lived a decade with decadence of gifts. But when we sit down to open the stockings the gift-flying mayhem is sweet and happy.
  6. Consider allowing homemade gifts.  I have a daughter with multiple special needs who just loves to open presents.  So we give fun homemade gifts, which I find to be much more joy-filled.


Fireplace on ChristmasThe advertising world would have us believe that there is indeed a present-quota to meet, lest our parenting fall under the scrutiny of our kids and those around us.  And the lists from our kids come rolling in as advertisements and the Christmas culture around them knock on their hearts and minds.  Lift your family out of consumption and begin the process of creativity and communion.  Our Advent season is a true celebration now.
Not everyone will take such extreme measures, but even small shifts can have a huge impact.  I would love to hear your own stories of how your family has “taken back” the Advent season.

By Caryanne Tanis

Edited By Annie Burdine

About Author:

Annie Burdine is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition, and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist. She has worked with pediatric populations for over a decade in the Lehigh Valley.

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