I’ve realized the last few years that I’m not really a shopper. Shopping=work for me. And five kids is a lot of shopping, whether it’s Christmas, school supplies, clothes, food… But, it’s time to think about Christmas shopping, and since Matt and I are “getting away” over Thanksgiving, and all of us are traveling internationally for the Christmas holiday (yay!), I just can’t put it off this year. I’m starting now.
I know some people have simplified Christmas to an extreme — taking a trip instead of presents? Brilliant. Making everything and buying nothing? Doesn’t sound simple to me, but ok. Giving each person only ONE thing? Good for you. None of those ideas feels right for me, though. I guess I want Christmas morning to feel magical and exciting to my children, like it did for me, and for me, that means a big pile of presents under the tree. We are not people who go crazy overboard and blow our budget, though. (I had one friend years ago who would buy an insane quantity of toys for her kids every year, then take a bunch of things back after Christmas, because it was just too much. Huh?) We’ve always had some kind of plan.
Two Christmases ago, I had a very sad time. My formerly sweet, grateful children opened everything and then proceeded to say things like, “Is this it?” and “This wasn’t the one I wanted.” I was crushed. Not so much because I hadn’t succeeded in creating Christmas magic, but because my children had become so entitled and jaded. What had I done wrong?
I think the problem had largely to do with the age of my children — there’s just a point at which they are harder to impress. Their memories are longer, their knowledge of pop culture is greater, and unless you’re really living “off the grid” they are going to wish for things you’re (I’m) just not willing to buy (like a motorized Barbie jeep they can ride in).
Last year I came up with a plan that worked better, so I thought I’d share. Someone shared with me the rhyme, “something to wear, something you need, something to play with, and something to read” (is that new to anyone? probably not), and I used it as a guideline. Here’s the important part: I told the kids that’s what they’d be getting. Part of avoiding entitlement is setting realistic expectations for kids. It was easy coming up with gifts for each category, and since only one was something to play with, it all felt very practical.
My kids still get one (nice) gift from Santa (Santa doesn’t wrap the gifts, and it makes Christmas morning look so cute when there’s a doll or a bike amongst the wrapped boxes — am I such a nerd?). And I let them shop for each other, which is a lot of work, but not as much work as helping them make something for each other. It’s important to me to have giving be part of their concept of Christmas. So (do the math) there were plenty of packages under the tree. I even used the rhyme to shop for Matt, which was fun.
And, to avoid the let-down feeling when everything is opened, it’s fun to have one surprise that really is a surprise. Last year it was a Wii, which I had pretty successfully convinced my kids we were never getting. I guess if they start expecting a surprise, this will backfire (Sam if you’re reading this you’re old enough to keep your mouth shut!), but it’s a fun tradition. I remember my dad used to pull out some gifts just from him after everything was already open (when we got older it was sometimes just cash, which is always a good surprise) and it was fun to see what the old scrooge had come up with.
I’m thinking I need some sort of color-coded matrix to keep track of all of this for this year (told you it was work). I’m ordering it all from here and shipping it to Oregon. And p.s., as the kids get older the packages are smaller, but so much more expensive!