How We Practice Intentional Christmas Gift Giving

It is so fun to watch our kids unwrap their gifts on Christmas morning, isn’t it?! Over the past few years I’ve learned that our joy can be even greater when we practice intentional Christmas gift giving. 

My Realization

About ten years ago, when my kids were little, I remember standing in front of our tree on Christmas morning. The weak winter sun was streaming through the transom window, the tree lights were on, and beautifully wrapped presents were spilling into every corner of the room. As I stood joyfully observing my kids, I was surprised to feel an emotion I hadn’t anticipated: guilt. 

Feeling guilt one Christmas was the motivator for me to start our intentional Christmas gift giving.I felt guilty knowing that many kids around the world would wake up with far less under their Christmas trees. I felt poorly that maybe I’d overspent. Was I teaching my kids that material things bring happiness? Maybe I was making it too easy for my kids to forget the true meaning of Christmas. 

Brushing aside those feelings, I enjoyed watching my kids experience all the magic and wonder of Christmas. But I resolved then that I’d do something different and avoid that guilty feeling again.

Fast forward one year.

Because I knew I wanted a change, I developed a system to practice intentional Christmas gift giving. Gone would be the days of amassing every toy under the sun that my kids would enjoy. I would wake up on Christmas morning knowing that I’d made every effort to give meaning to the gifts my kids would receive. 

Intentional Christmas Gift Giving

I decided that we would give our kids three presents each. One gift would be a gift of love, another would be a gift of learning and the last present would be a gift of fun.

A Gift of Love

We give a gift of love, a gift of learning and a gift of fun every year.For the gift of love, I often picked something that wasn’t on my kids’ wish list. This gift often was something that represented what I love about each of their personalities. For example, my oldest is a very analytical thinker, so his gifts of love were often things like an introduction to chess like this or an electric circuits board like this. We gave a personalized jewelry box to our daughter who loves to dress up. Many of these gifts of love were often personalized – sometimes with something as simple as a handwritten dedication on the inside of a special book. 

A Gift of Learning

The gifts of learning were usually pretty easy to choose. For one child who wanted to learn the violin, we purchased his first little violin and lesson book (we don’t have any more violin players in the house anymore though!). Another year, we purchased Kindle readers for our kids. A few years ago, we bought a huge MagnaTiles set for all of our kids to learn from and enjoy. Other ideas for gifts of learning could be boxed science labs, dinosaur kits, astronomy dioramas, fun piano books, and enrollment in classes and activities. 

A Gift of Fun

We also give one Santa gift every year.For gifts of fun, we simply picked something that our kids had on their Christmas wishlists. Things like LEGOs, dolls, Barbies, character toys, games, and Hot Wheels were the norm. There didn’t need to be any significant meaning behind these gifts. In the years before we started our intentional Christmas gift giving, most of our kids’ presents would have fallen into this category. Making this purely fun gift only one third of our focus really changed the feel of our Christmas preparation.

We also gave our kids one gift from Santa every year.  This gift would typically come from their wishlists and was often a bigger purchase without being extravagant. We’d end up with four gifts total per child, and for us, that felt easily manageable. 

This intentional Christmas gift giving worked great for many years. It really helped me to think about each of our children, their personalities and current stages of life. We consulted as a couple about each gift and put a lot of thought and effort into each present we selected. 

Finally, as I wrapped each gift, I always wrote on the tag what type of gift was inside: a gift of love, a gift of learning or a gift of fun. This helped our kids remember that each gift was carefully chosen just for them. 

Giving Family Christmas Trips

Two years ago, my kids were sitting around the lunch table talking about fun vacations they wanted to take in the future. As they shared ideas, I suggested very casually that someday I wanted to go on a Christmas trip as as family instead of doing lots of gifts. I always envisioned these trips occurring when our kids were all teenagers, not when my youngest was only 2 years old. 

So I was completely shocked when my kids said, “Why don’t we start doing that now?” It was my assumption that the littlest kids would probably still really enjoy getting four gifts under the Christmas tree. But if your little ones are anything like mine, they (mostly) want to follow their older siblings, and they agreed immediately to the Christmas trip idea too. 

Our First Family Christmas Trip

Our first family Christmas trip was to Great Wolf Lodge.We went to Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas for our first Christmas trip. We went the week before Christmas, had the water park essentially to ourselves, and had such an amazing time being together. The gorgeous holiday decorations and events kept us in the holiday mood. We left feeling connected as a family, which is a gift in itself. (And I loved the chance to not cook or clean for 4 days!)

This Years’ Family Christmas Trip

This year's family Christmas trip was a cruise!This year, we took our kids on our first cruise! We sailed on the Liberty of the Seas around the western Caribbean. Everyone loved it! Again, we travelled just before Christmas, so the crowds were lower. The festive feel was in full swing, and we returned home yesterday feeling both relaxed and energized for the holidays. The memories we made together and the fun we had are the most precious gifts to me. 

Future (Surprise) Christmas Trips

In the future, it is our plan to keep our family Christmas trip a surprise until Christmas morning. Our kids will each receive a gift that they will need for the trip – perhaps tickets to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty when we go to New York City, a French beret if we go to Paris, Mickey Mouse ears if we go to Disney World, etc. After the big reveal on Christmas morning, we will travel sometime before the end of the year or just at the beginning of January. 

Because we do like to be at home on Christmas morning, we do give our kids one small present each from us, and they receive one gift from Santa. Reducing the number of gifts to purchase and wrap makes for a much easier holiday season for me! 

Giving Experiences Instead of Things

If time or circumstances don’t allow for a trip, and you still have the desire to cut down on the number of physical gifts your kids receive, giving experiences is a great idea! 

Giving experiences can be as simple as purchasing tickets online or from a vendor, putting the tickets in a box, wrapping them, and placing the gift under the tree. Here are some awesome gift experience ideas:

-tickets to a local holiday event, such as ICE! or the Nutcracker ballet

-a museum membership, such as a children’s or science museum

-movie tickets

-admission to a sporting event

-a coupon book of various favors or events

Intentional Christmas gift giving has made a huge difference for meAs we’ve tried to practice our intentional Christmas gift giving, I have felt a deeper joy in the holiday season than I did before. Taking the time to slow down, consider our children, and create opportunities to make memories has been such an incredible blessing for our family. We feel free from the amplified consumerism of the holidays and can focus on the peace of this joyful time of year. 

I’d love to hear about your intentional Christmas gift giving! Have you ever given experience gifts or gone on a family trip for Christmas?

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