Gifts are a huge part of Christmas. Let’s just admit that, right up front. They’re not the only thing, of course. I do my best to emphasize the other important elements of the most magical time of the year – like celebrating baby Jesus or visiting with friends and family – but I cannot pretend that the wrapped boxes under the tree aren’t a big deal.
Tackling the issue of Christmas gifts when your kids are young is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, every parent I know wants Christmas morning to be a wondrous event filled with joy and gratitude and – yes – wicked cool toys. There is nothing quite like a child’s glee when they open a present to make your heart sing.
On the other hand, all those same parents are striving heroically to avoid raising the wretched, entitled monsters we read about on the news who make up words like “affluenza” to describe their experience of getting everything they’ve ever wanted and thus turning out rotten to the core.
It’s tricky, right?
Beyond the existential considerations of needs and wants and gratitude, there are logistical challenges as well. For parents of multiples, this includes the crucial question of equity. Do all the children have the same number of presents? If there is a notable disparity in quantity due to diversity of value, can this be easily and concretely explained without pulling your hair out?
(“Look, kid. Your present cost twice what hers did. That’s why she has two! No, it does not mean I love her more so stop glaring at me.”)
Then there’s the problem of secrecy. Small children are not known for their ability to keep secrets, which can make it difficult to involve them in gift-buying at a young age. Do you let your five-year-old pick out a gift for her big sister or do you just pick something yourself, wrap it, and write her name on the tag? How many times will you repeat the phrase – “Do not tell your brother about the Legos. Don’t tell him. Do. Not. Tell. Him.” – before she inevitably spills the beans?
My oldest daughter has reached the magical age where giving finally becomes as important as receiving. This year, she didn’t make out a gigantic wish list for herself, but instead has taken very seriously the task of gift-giving. This was simultaneously charming and stressful. Charming because she has a huge, selfless heart and her desperate desire to make the people around her happy is beautiful. Stressful because she’s got high standards. She wanted to give “real” gifts, not just a picture or a nice card, and she wanted them to come from HER. She wasn’t satisfied to add her name to the gift tags of things I’d purchased, but her modest allowance just didn’t allow for much independent holiday shopping.
It’s hard to be ten.
So we compromised. I gave her a budget and turned her loose in the Holiday Market at the Arts Center, where she carefully selected several items for her nearest and dearest. She then attempted to give me the change, with orders to apply it towards the construction of a back porch I’ve been talking about. The sweet sincerity of that moment – her contribution of $5.14 to a multi-thousand dollar project – may have been the highlight of the entire gift-buying season for me.
In the end, I think we found the right balance this year. No checking accounts were grievously harmed while shopping and no new closets will need to be built to accommodate the influx of toys. But it’s going to be a great day, nonetheless, because the gifts under the tree were selected with love and will be received with joy.