In the book, The Five Love Languages, one of them is gift giving. But, truth be told, it’s not my primary love language. With six kids and a lot of birthday and holidays, I’m getting better, though!
At Casa Whitaker we have a mish-mash of family traditions. Scott grew up Catholic and I grew up Protestant and had never heard of St. Nicholas. Well, technically I had, but that’s a story for radio. I had no idea that guy was real. Like, real real. God love Catholics. They canonize some pretty awesome people. St. Nicholas/Santa Claus visits our house twice. On the eve of St. Nicholas’ feast day, December 5, and on Christmas Eve, December 24. He never brings anything big, just small tokens of love. For his first stop, the kids usually receive chocolate coins, a candy cane to represent his crosier and a pair of Christmas pajamas. Many squeals. Much happy. The second stop is just fun trinkets and bobs in their stockings – gift cards to favorite places, art supplies, candy, perhaps a Christmas movie or something to accompany their gold gift. The big gift, the one the kids REALLY want? That “gold gift” comes from us. I’ll chat more about our three gift per kid tradition in just a sec.
And, yes, we take photos with Santa. I mean, our guy in red wears cowboy boots and you just can’t beat that.
Let’s chat gifts.
Once upon a time, we let our living room erupt in way too many gifts. That was six kids ago. I won’t even tell you how obscene our oldest child’s first Christmas was. He was the first grandchild on both sides and let’s just say we all went overboard. Personally, I think gifts and gift giving gets a bad wrap. Get it? Ok, I’ll stop. But seriously, it does.
The truth is, giving gifts is a beautiful thing. We all love to receive a gift, especially one that was carefully selected or crafted, just for us, and then wrapped and presented to us with a kind and generous heart. The problem? We gorge ourselves on the gift. Several years ago, Scott and I said ENOUGH, and we completely changed our approach to gift giving. You can read about how we initially ventured into keeping gift giving under control.
Practically speaking, here’s how we do it:
- I have a secret Pinterest board where I pin gifts throughout the year. So, rather than frantically searching for gifts at the eleventh hour, I’ve got a board for that.
- In our closet (sshhhh) I have a bin system, way up high, that allows me to stash gifts for birthdays and Christmas, well out of the kids sight and hands. That way, if I find something on sale, I don’t have to do the whole, “where did I hide that?”
- While we encourage Godparents, grandparents and other family members to purchase our children just one gift, we know that’s not always practical. But, because we’re the parents, we ultimately decide what gifts our children keep, return or donate. Sometimes a gift just isn’t appropriate, or it’s a duplicate or our children are no longer interested in that item. Just because someone gave it to you doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever. We aren’t afraid to let gifts go and I certainly don’t expect people to keep our gifts forever, either!
- Speaking of abundance. We live with much excess and our children know that at Christmas, for every toy or gift that comes in, two have to go out. No exceptions.
- We long abandoned the “everyone must be equal” rule. Let’s face it, the seven-month-old doesn’t need the same things as the teenager. To focus on equal gift giving when it comes to money just isn’t practical. Instead, we focus on the three gifts.
- Our children receive three gifts from us: gold (the gift they want), frankincense (a religious gift) and myrrh (a gift for the body). We noticed St. Nick was getting all the glory for that big gift, so we switched the focus back to family and let Santa bring some fun trinkets instead. So far, he likes the new arrangement. Makes the sleigh lighter.
- We adopt a child in need. The kids always enjoy picking out the tag from the parish Christmas tree. Honestly, I think we need to do more in this area. Each year, we work on making the season a bit more about what we give than what we get. We volunteer as a family with Brown Santa, a program of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. It is a family favorite!
- No matter who we are buying or making a gift for, we pray over their package before handing it over. And, we pray over our packages before opening them – for the people that made them, the people that bought them and our deep gratitude for both. I will forever love this photo of my Mom opening one of her gifts. Look at that happiness. Be someone’s joy!