After his first Christmas, I realized that I never needed to buy my son gifts.
Not that I didn’t want to or couldn’t, there was just no point adding to the enormity of what he already received. On my side he was the first and only grandchild and on my husband’s side, his sisters already had multiple children so they made up for us buying gifts for all of their kids, by buying him an equal amount of gifts. We never had the traditional Christmas morning at home (or our own Christmas tree) but alternated grandparents who inevitably had over flowing trees. The generosity from both sides was awesome and we appreciated it, but we certainly felt like he was receiving enough and adding or competing with it was absurd.
We had also made the decision to skip the Santa stuff, so that eliminated the need for covert gifts left incognito on Christmas Eve. By chance (although we tried to chalk it up to good parenting) our son’s natural instinct was to be giving and helpful, so when we told him that Santa was a concept created in order to give to others, he jumped on board finding joy in picking a gift for a child his own age and donating it to a giving tree.
As he’s gotten older, his Christmas wish list has varied quite a bit and the pressure was on us to provide the “big” gifts that we could not ask of our extended family members. He have also had a stronger opinion on what he wants verses what he receives. Not everything is the exact version/color/style/etc. that he may have wanted, so we’ve tried to fill in the gaps during all of the post-Christmas sales. This plan of attack on the Holidays seems to work well; we have things to return, generally have store credit or gift cards, prices are lower, items have been restocked, etc, etc.
At thirteen, he researched and priced out a tablet, saved a large portion of the money himself, and then called both grandmothers and (hopefully) respectfully asked for money toward the tablet in lieu of Christmas gifts.
On the other hand…
My son (now age 13) and daughter (now age 3) are almost exactly ten years apart and, while at the core they are very similar, they have vastly different needs and forms of expression. Like our son, we still do not feel the need to buy our daughter gifts for Christmas. There is plenty for her to open though, at three, she isn’t worried with the number of gifts she receives or if a specific toy is there or not. It’s all new and exciting for her with no preconceived notion of what to expect.
However, she is aware, somehow, of the commercialized concept of Christmas far more than our son ever was.
She asks questions about Santa. She links her behavior to the idea of receiving gifts. And recently, in a moment of low-blow parenting, I told her that if she didn’t wash her hands Santa would see and she immediately gave up the fight. When she yelled at me, “you’re not my mom anymore, baby!” (her greatest insult) because I refused to let her watch My Little Pony during dinner, I actually said, “maybe we should look into one of those shelf elf things.” I’ve also promised her more toys for Christmas than I care to count in return for… getting ready in the morning, being nice to her brother, eating her dinner, smiling at the camera, brushing her hair/teeth, using ‘please’, taking a bath… I could go on…
Looking at the holiday from the perspective of a parent with children at different ages, stages, and needs, I see how it’s easy to get tangled up in the mess of the season. For me, I need to focus on what makes the holiday special and important to us. I’m going to allow some of the Santa stuff to slide in, but I will also take my daughter shopping so we can explain to her that she can be someone else’s Santa and donate a gift to a child her age. I still won’t buy her gifts to wrap and put under a tree; I’ll let the presents she gets from loved ones she does not see daily fill the holiday for her. I’ll let her plan and think about what she needs as she gets older, what the season means to her, and how she will add to the magic of it.