Containing Christmas Gift-Buying Craziness

Christmas is coming and the holiday fever is setting in.

Yes, its lots of fun but, to honest, its also a heck of a lot of work! For me, gift purchasing is a big part of that lots of work. There are two reasons for that.

One, I’m much better at spontaneous giving – “I saw this, I thought of you, and I really wanted to give it to you, even though it’s not your birthday or Christmas.” That works much better for me.

The second stressor is finance, especially when I was a solo parent of four. Finances still play a significant part since since those four grown-up kids have brought four wonderful kids-in-law and nine grandchildren to our family. That’s a lot of presents! And that’s just my “immediate family!”

I suppose we could agree to not exchange gifts, or to draw names, but my mom and grandma heart kind of rebels and wants to buy something for everyone anyway.

What a conundrum!

When trying to be thoughtful and engage a sense of financial responsibility gets mixed with wanting to give – to everyone –

Holiday joy can start to feel like mandatory fun!

So, take a deep breathe: here are some thoughts to try and untangle the stress and make the festive season enjoyable for you and for me!

How many are we buying for?

Some larger families draw names and buy one gift for one person.  This allows for everyone to receive a quality gift that they really want. It helps if everyone also give a list of ideas. Or, each person arrives with one generic gift – for anyone. The presents are opened one at a time and everyone can bargain or trade – which can be a lot of fun. These two are definitely more affordable overall, but for families that have, say 4 kids, they still have to buy 6 presents which can be pretty expensive.

Last year with 18 of us between 11 months and 82 years of age, one of us suggested drawing names and we could only buy from a dollar store. It was pretty fun, and the kids got to shop without limit for the person they were giving to.

What are the expectations, especially for the newest members of the family?

This can be an important question! The baby doesn’t know that it needs stuff, but they can be inundated with pressies from excited grandparents, aunties and uncles. Often it’s more than the parents really want or have room for and there are often duplications.

Maybe you could suggest practical things that will help you.

  • Gift cards – for when they outgrow all that tiny newborn stuff.
  • Housekeeping – promises or paid help.
  • Ready made meals – professional or homemade. You get the picture.

Is it Sustainable? 4 ways to think of sustainability.

Family growth sustainability

When the first 2 of our next generation arrived, someone asked how we wanted manage gifts for the kids, noting that it had to be something that we could maintain for future kiddos. One person, who had one child with intentions for three more, said, “Yeah, we should think about this because pretty soon there will be, like, eight of them.” It was a dry comment. That was 7 years ago. Now there are nine – nine little cuties!

Financial Sustainability

It is really hard to not create a mental ratio of amount spent representing amount loved!

But dollars don’t represent expressions of love, commitment, kindness, and wanting to give that moment of delight when the gift is opened.

We have to think responsibly or we risk starting the New Year feeling financially over-extended. That can be a very sad feeling, particularly if you are not sure the the gift was really needed, useful, enjoyed or appreciated.

Emotional Sustainability

We have all done it. And our kids have done it. And will likely do it again.

We finish opening a gift or gifts and say (or we think it, and its written all over our faces), “is that it?”, or “Is there another present?”

There is an addictive quality to gift opening – its like eating chocolate or potato chips – you just want more!

Unfortunately, that feeling of wanting more to to open can overshadow the gift and the love behind. Too many presents can have the capacity to spoil the event. Who knew?

Environmental Sustainability

This is tricky, and I am pointing the finger at myself first. We tend to be all gung-ho when it comes to being mindful of the environment . BUT, when it comes to an “exception,” we make one. I’m talking about when we justify putting aside our normal thoughts of environmental awareness and responsibility because:

  • “Oh, but its their first Christmas!”
  • “But its SOOOO cute! They will love it!”
  • “I have to have it!!!”
  • “It’s just this once!”

Oh dear.

Not to mention that a great deal of kid-stuff is plastic, breakable, therefore, temporary and soon heading to landfill. I’m wondering if we need to re-think this whole concept of giving something, just so that there are lots of presents. Or just because this item can be an exception. I can be guilty too, and I’d like to change that.

What will genuinely delight the recipient?

That moment of surprise and fun with the gift opening is great, but sometimes, the best gifts are ones that can be appreciated later, when the day has quieted down. Books tend to fall in this category. And clothes.

Recently, I included nail-polish (Yikes! Not sure how good that is for the environment!) with a birthday gift for a four-year old granddaughter. It wasn’t what I meant to buy, but I saw it – clear with hundreds of tiny, multi-coloured polka-dots – and I knew she’df love it.

She liked the other stuff, but when she saw the polish,

this little four year old went silent, stood up, walked over, and threw her arms around me.

I knew I’d nailed it. (Pun intended!)

We’re still enjoying time together painting each other’s nails (I’m typing this with polka-dot nails), so it has had longevity too, which I think is pretty awesome.

This little guy LOVED this ball from IKEA (about $7), even though he was only eight months old. He repeatedly clutched it, shook it, and squealed and smiled at it!


I worked hard to teach my own kiddos that not everything will feel even or fair. But in the back of my mind, I really tried, and still do, to balance things reasonably well when there is the possibility of comparison.

This can be represented by dollars spent – which could mean something physically small for one and big for another. But little ones resonate most with perceived value. “Theirs is big and yellow and mine is small and blue.” You know your crew and what you need to do to satisfy their little hearts!

Does it have to be brand new?

It’s hard to get over the stigma of giving second hand things: it can be perceived as cheap, uncaring, lacking in thought, and unoriginal. But what if we assigned, or recognized, the opposite qualities?

Buying 2nd hand

  • is affordable,
  • it’s caring – we bring it home and spruce it up to make it shine,
  • it thinks creatively about the person who will receive the gift, and
  • it thinks outside the box.

There is a fun article in Today’s Parent about buying second hand toys for Christmas presents. This past summer, I bought a school bus at a second-hand shop for $2.00 (it was $29.99 brand new) for a little grandson’s birthday present. It had some crayon marks on it, so I scrubbed it clean it and the birthday boy was delighted!

I haven’t quite got to doing that for Christmas yet – this might be the first year!

Give experiences.

This is becoming popular but when I gave the gift of going to a theatre production to a grandchild, they really couldn’t wrap their head around how it was a present!  It seems to work better with older people, lol!

For little ones, the event needs to be in the very immediate future and might involve a tiny (used?) something to unwrap.

Pace the Gift Opening

Little ones don’t know that they’re supposed to tear into everything – we tend to teach them that! When they open a gift, if they like it, they want to play with it. But no, we say, “You can play with that later. Here, open your present from Grandma and Grandpa.”

Next. Next. Next.

I know a family who has paced the gift opening, sometimes over days, to allow the child to enjoy the gift just received. I think, too, that this makes thankfulness a bit easier and more genuine.

If this is your first Christmas with a baby,

I would like to encourage you to think through your best wishes. Try to imagine what you would like gift giving to look like 3-5 years down the road, and start there. I’ve heard parents say over and again about many things, “I wish I had done (fill in the blank) differently from the start. Now they expect/ want/require/ what we’ve always done.”

If this is not your first Christmas with kiddies,

and you would like to make changes – nothing is written in stone, even if it feels like it is. If you have a partner, think through together what you would like to change. We all grow and as we grow our priorities shift. This often affects what we have come to expect as normal and can generate a desire for change.

We could feel trapped or we could be big, strong, and brave and make a change.

Whatever your circumstance – these are your children, and you get to teach them what you want, what you feel is important, and maybe, you can be the trailblazer in your larger, extended family!

It’s good to keep in mind that change is a process.

It’s not a light switch that we can flick and suddenly be living breathing expressions of a whole new set of thoughts and practices. For example, I may not buy nail polish 10 years from now! Who knows?

But the holidays have become a season that ramps us all up to dizzying heights requiring us to join in so we don’t ruin our kiddo’s childhood, and making us forget what we really value! That alone makes me want to step back and have a second look!

I hope it does for you too.

May your holidays be full of how you want to express them!

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2 thoughts on “Containing Christmas Gift-Buying Craziness”

  1. This is a lovely guide – thanks for sharing so much wisdom! What has worked well for me this year is to set some “mental parameters” with a clever rhyme for the gifts I picked for my kids, since I find it easy to go overboard! We chose:
    Something cool (a toy that will “wow” them)
    Something for “school” (something to help them learn – books in our case)
    Something to wear (pyjamas on Christmas eve)
    Something to share (a few thrifted dressup items)
    A similar trend is the want/need/wear/read rhyme.

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