As a little girl I remember Christmas always being a day I greatly looked forward to. I would spend days upon days dreaming up the greatest gifts to fill my Christmas wish list. I scoured magazines and intently watched every toy commercial to decide which gifts would make the cut. Come Christmas Eve, I used every excuse in the book to sneak downstairs and attempt to catch the big man in red coming down the chimney, only to be sent back upstairs to sleep. I remember running downstairs first thing in the morning, overjoyed by the abundance of gifts filling the living room; but to this day I can’t seem to forget that I was always worried about which sibling received the most gifts. I turned a day full of joy and giving into a competition, and now, as a new mom, I want to do everything in my power to avoid having my son ever think that way.
A few years ago, shortly after getting married, I stumbled upon an article that quickly grabbed my attention because it introduced me to something completely new: The Four Gift Rule.
Only four gifts at Christmas? I thought. OK, Scrooge…
But as I read on, it seemed like a good idea. If you’re used to getting and gifting tons of presents, the Four Gift Rule might seem crazy, but I had to ask myself, Why are we celebrating Christmas in the first place?
I grew up in a Catholic household, and my husband and I currently attend and delve deep into the community of a non-denominational Christian church. The first reason we celebrate Christmas is Jesus. We celebrate his coming to our world to wash away our sins and the sweet time of anticipating his birth. However, if you’re not Christian, the next reason we celebrate might be more up your alley: to join together with family and friends and celebrate our love for one another.
It’s easy to show our affection with gift-giving. We want those closest to us to know how much we care about them, and giving a gift is a simple way to do so. But how many gifts do you ultimately not use, re-gift, or allow to sit on a shelf or in your closet for years before you inevitably donate them? As much as I love gift-giving, this time of year always seems to build stress as we make last-minute stops to grab one. more. gift. Or we spend hours wrapping gifts only for them to be ransacked in less than 30 seconds and then tossed aside as the recipient tears through his remaining presents.
I want my gifts to have meaning, and I personally want to focus my attention on Christ and family time during this season. So I’m starting while my son is young (he’ll be 18 months just a few days after Christmas) and teaching him that presents are fun but instead of focusing on what he will receive under the tree, he should focus on how he can give to others. I want him to be excited to adopt a family at church from our “giving tree” and run into the store elated to pick out a new set of pajamas or some toys for them. I want him to think about how he can donate his time to helping someone repair their roof in preparation for the cold months to come or how he can spend time with those alone during the holidays. I want him to know that the greatest gifts don’t come wrapped in pretty boxes topped with bows, and the only way to teach him those things is to start now.
So, here is what my 18-month-old is getting for Christmas:
Something he wants: Our little man is all about doing what he sees other do. He currently loves using a rag to “clean” various items around the house and washing his hands. So we thought a little play sink would be perfect for him.
Something he needs: Just after our son was born, we bought a used Pottery Barn Anywhere Chair that was still in great condition but needed to be recovered. I decided a new cover falls into this category.
Something to wear: Because he continues to grow like a weed, it seems like we’re buying new clothes every month. But we’ll buy him a special outfit to wear to a Christmas Eve service or for taking family photos.
Something to read: It’s been a requirement in my family to read and love the Harry Potter series (my little sister required my husband to read all seven before he married me), so once the illustrated versions came out, we decided our son had to have them. We’ll buy him a book every year so that we can read them with him as he grows.
He still gets to be a kid and enjoy playing and reading without being inundated with piles of stuff. I’m sure the “something he wants” will be bigger and more expensive as the years go on, but for now, we’re starting small, being thoughtful with our selections, and working toward a mindset shift to focus on others. Now if only we can get the rest of the family on board!