How to Keep Presents from Overwhelming Christmas | Alternatives to Minimalist Christmas Gift Ideas

by Tiffany
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Hey y’all, Tiffany here.

I don’t remember very much about our oldest child’s first Christmas.

I do remember insisting we go to our church Christmas party a week or two before.  Santa was going to be there.  I was in a lot of pain from an abscess, but I refused to go to the hospital until after my baby got her first picture with Santa.

Oh, and I had to take a breakfast casserole that I had made the night before.  (Actually, Phillip made it – I felt too sick.)

We didn’t even stay for the brunch; we took pictures and went directly to the ER.  I was rushed into surgery, but by then I was already septic.  I nearly died.

While I was home for Christmas Day (and my in-laws were even in town!), I just don’t remember much other than we spoiled our little girl with toys.

The following year went much better, but now we had a toddler on our hands instead of a 6 month old baby.  She loved opening the presents, but by the fourth gift, we were all starting to burn out.  Since she was still our only child and only had one cousin, our tree was quite full.

By the end of the day, I was ready to give half of the toys back!

As our third Christmas rolled around (along with another child), I started dreading Christmas day a bit.  I knew I could limit gifts, but I didn’t really want to.  We were still building up a repertoire of toys, puzzles, and games.  I also love spoiling my kids (let’s be honest).

As I pondered on how to make Christmas Day feel more about Christ and less about gifts – without sacrificing my desire to splurge.  One day, a friend described Hanukkah to me, and I wished that we had 9 days of gifts instead of just one. Then it hit me – why not?

Why couldn’t I spread out Christmas Day by opening a gift each day as you countdown to Christmas?

So that’s what we did.  We counted up how many gifts each child had, as well as how many joint gifts there were.  Then, counting back from Christmas Day, we started opening the kids’ gifts.  Every morning, each child is allowed to open one individual gift (or they open a joint gift together).

We loved it!

Disclaimer: most of these gifts are small gifts, around $5 each.  We are not talking about $300 presents each day!

We get to see the kids’ reactions

So many times, Christmas morning is a rush of present-opening, with every kid in their own corner opening their own gifts.  It seems like it’s a race to see who can open their gifts the quickest.

When that happens, we don’t get to enjoy one another’s excitement.  We miss the wide-eyes and grin on a child’s face when the present is unwrapped and the toy is revealed.

When we open one gift a day (either one joint gift, or one gift per child), we get to enjoy the faces of each kid as they discover what that day’s present is.

The gifts are enjoyed

Most Christmas day mornings look a bit like this:

Kids open the presents at the same time, exclaim about how cool it is for 10 seconds (if that), and then put it to the side to search for the next present.

After everything is opened, kids latch onto their favorite present and play with it for a while.  However, some gifts don’t get looked at or used until several days (or even weeks) after Christmas has passed.

By opening one gift each day, the kids have time to play with them – an entire day devoted to just one toy or book (or whatever)!  We’re able to put them together without stressing, and then we get to spend all day enjoying them!

Christmas Day is calm

It probably goes without saying, but our Christmases are so calm and peaceful!  It’s wonderful to wake up in the morning, open stockings, and leisurely eat breakfast (which often comes from our stockings in forms of small boxes of cereal, fruit, and nuts.)

The only gifts (from immediate family members) left under the tree are the gifts from Phillip and I to each other, and the gifts from the kids to each other and to us.  By opening those after breakfast throughout the day, there is very little fighting or arguing about people opening faster or wondering where a certain gift disappeared to.

The kids are also excited (but patient) about these gifts because they are the gifts that they get to give.  We try really hard to make Christmas about the Savior, and by having Christmas Day be focused on what we give rather than what we get, it brings the Spirit.

Kids show gratitude for friends’ and family’s gifts

Since we don’t do gifts from Santa, the kids know exactly who is giving them their presents.  Because it is coming from a person in front of them, we are able to explain concepts like gratitude and frugal living.

One of the biggest motivations for spreading Christmas gifts out came a few years ago.  We had just opened all of the presents at once, and some extended family members wanted to Skype right then to watch the kids opening the gifts they had mailed to us.  (It was a very busy day for that extended family, and it was the only time that worked for both them and us.)

Unfortunately, the kids couldn’t be dragged away very easily from the really cool toy that Mom and Dad had just let them open 10 minutes before.  There were some tears, a quick opening of gifts, and the disinterested children ran back to their other toys since the gifts they got weren’t as interesting.

To defend my parenting skills, at the time my kids were only 4 and 1, so we were still working on the gratitude thing.

Now, I have 9 brothers and sisters.  Phillip has 3, all of them living in different states.  To save our budgets, we draw names at Christmastime so that we only give gifts to one person instead of all 20-something siblings and their spouses and kids.

As you can imagine, coordinating Skype calls on Christmas Day with everyone is a bit like trying to juggle oranges while on a unicycle.  It’s even worse when there are missionary siblings that want to call home as well.

Anyway, my point is that I felt awful for those family members.  They weren’t offended at all (they also have raised young children!), but it didn’t inspire warm, cozy feelings, either.  When we fill Christmas morning with too many gifts, they can’t fully appreciate the gifts that loving family members give from a distance.

Now, with a low-stress Christmas Day, we can focus on our loved ones with video calls and give them the attention they deserve.  They aren’t starving for time with other toys because they’ve had that time already in the days leading up to Christmas.

The best part….

As I was trying to figure out how to make a meaningful Christmas all those years ago, one thing I was focused on was being able to “spoil” my kids.  Gift-giving is one of my love languages, and I start buying items for Christmas sometime in July!  (And yes, I do stay in my Christmas budget!)

There are many suggestions out there to limit the number of gifts you give.  One popular minimalist Christmas idea is to give four gifts, in a little rhyme:

one thing they want,

one thing they need,

something to wear,

and one thing to read.

While this is a wonderful idea and works for some, I really struggle with that.  I love giving gifts; like I said, it’s one of my love languages.

Also, the gifts we give stay within a budget, and I save up all year for Christmas gifts.  For example, in June this year I found Fingerlings for around $2 each on Amazon.  I snapped up a few for the kids and have kept them in our gift closet…with the 10 or so others I’ve already purchased…. and it’s only September.

Note: at the beginning of December, we have the kids go through all of their toys that they don’t play with and either donate them or sell them on Facebook to earn money to pay for the gifts the kids want to gift to others.  This keeps us from having too many toys!

Since I have a side gig posting hot deals in a few Facebook groups, I find deals like this a few times per month.  I save them up for birthdays and Christmas, but since the kids’ birthdays are in March and July, I have a looooong stretch until Christmas!

Basically, opening a gift per day per child (unless it’s a joint gift) has made our Christmases amazing!  Each present is appreciated, and Christmas Day is calm and focused on family and giving gifts to others.  Plus, I get to still spoil my children!

It may not be a fit for every family, but it’s a great fit for us.

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1 comment

Kimberlie December 9, 2019 - 7:11 am

I love the ideas you share here. It is hard to pull children away from the awesome toys they’ve received and buying gifts for a large family is expensive. It’s probably too late for this year, but I want to implement your strategies next year.

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