four gifts for christmas

We’re doing gift-giving a little bit differently this year.

Usually, we call Christmas an excuse to buy our kids a whole load of things they want and things we want them to have. We don’t go completely overboard, but with four kids and a handful of gifts each, our tree is usually overflowing with festively-wrapped presents. Christmas morning is a whirl of torn paper and squeals of delight and new clothes tossed to the side – because, who am I kidding – no six year old boy cares about a new tshirt.

We have really great kids who are {mostly} kind and thoughtful.

But they are not always grateful.

I don’t blame them; it’s hard to be grateful when you have no idea what it means to do without.

Jami wrote about it so beautifully and convicting-ly last year after Christmas. I remember laying in bed reading her post and just crying because even though she was writing about her family, she was writing about mine, too.

We are spoiled beyond measure and yet we still want more.

So, we are changing things up this year with the hope that by reducing the number of gifts, we’ll be more grateful for ones we receive.

I saw this idea on Britt’s blog and love it. Each of the kids will be receiving four gifts:

It’s going to be different.

It’s going to be really hard {how many times have I wanted to buy a little something for one of the kids and then realize that if I buy it, it has to be one of the four items they receive.  It’s creating restrain in me, and hopefully will make our gifts more meaningful}.

But I think it’s going to be great.

Most importantly, I hope it will move our hearts a little closer towards gratitude during this season of overindulgence.

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82 Responses to four gifts for christmas

  1. Darlene December 1, 2012 at 8:51 am #

    I love this idea. I have been struggling with what to get my adult children this year and now I know. I wish I would have done this when they were small.

    • Collette December 20, 2012 at 11:02 am #

      Thank you, thank you, thank you!

      After seeing your idea of ‘four gifts for Christmas’ my family have decided to join you. It appeals to our sense of focusing on Christ at Christmas and not to worry endlessly about what’s under the tree. With such a demand for a consumer society it is so easy for us (not to mention our children!) to lose focus on why we celebrate His birth.

      In fact, I loved it so much that I decided to share it with friends who live here at Ripon College Cuddesdon. The college is a Theological College for Oxford University in England which trains people for ministry within the Church of England. The families who are here have taken to it with great enthusiasm to say the least.

      With much love and our Lord’s blessings from afar. God bless you and keep you well this Christmas and every day there after. xxx

  2. Kelky December 1, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    I truly love this idea! Thank you for sharing this idea… I will spread the word.

  3. Kristel December 1, 2012 at 9:52 am #

    I LOVE this idea! I grew up with very few things, and they usually came from the flea market, so needless to say, I want my kids to have everything I couldn’t, plus more, but you are absolutely right, I can see that they don’t truly appreciate things when there is just so much. I would love if my husband would agree to do this, but i know he will be hard to convince. Great idea though.

  4. Kyla December 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    I love this idea, even though we don’t have a young family of our own yet. This year my husband and I made a deal with all of our siblings, parents and grandparents that we will not be buying gifts for or accepting gifts from any of them. Instead, we are taking all the money we would have spent on all of them and using it to “adopt a family” and have asked that they take the money they wold have spent on us to donate in whichever way they choose. The family we are buying for now is a single mother with a 2.5 year old, 1.5 year old and a new baby due right before Christmas. We get to put together gifts (and I’m following the 4 gift rule you are) plus creating a food hamper and a supply of all kinds of daily essentials (diapers, toiletries, etc).
    I have had more fun and excitement in shopping for this hamper than any of the previous years where I’ve been stressed out about what to buy for our family members, who really don’t need anything. The hardest part about this kind of giving is figuring out where to stop, because there is just so much they need!

  5. Niki December 2, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    I have been doing things a bit differently for the past 8 years or so. I read someone else’s idea and I took it to heart. We buy 3 gifts – a family gift, a want gift and a need gift. This reflects the 3 wise men and the gifts they brought baby Jesus. Gold is the family gift and the other two are frankincense and myrrh. (I don’t remember which is which) The gifts are much more meaningful!

  6. Julie H. December 3, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    We have done this and we LOVE it! We add “Something to watch” because we are a BIG movie family. Our focus for the month is on the Savior and giving service to others. Something else we’ve done to keep the meaning of the season is that “Santa” only bring our kids stockings. Therefore they learn to give and receive from each other and it means more than Santa just stuffing a bunch of gifts under the tree. Good luck, I hope it works out for your family.

  7. Emily W. December 3, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    We have decided to do something similar with our son. We got him one “big” gift and several small things to unwrap to go with the big gift. We draw names with our extended family so everyone has one gift to open when we celebrate with everyone. It’s really nice to focus on spending time with one another instead of creating the stress of having to purchase gifts for everyone!

  8. Nicole J December 3, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    I’ve heard this idea before and I LOVE it! One day when my hubby and I have children, I hope we are wise enough to follow this rule. :)

  9. Sarah December 3, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    Would you consider posting those gift tags with each of the 4 labels? I was so inspired by this post…and feeling stressed about what to give each of my 9 children that would seem ‘fair’ and ‘even’ to each of them. This is such a perfect way to do gifts for families from year to year, and I’d love to have these specific tags to attach to the gift.

    Thanks for considering!

  10. Liz Cheek December 4, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    what do you do in stockings then?

  11. Heather December 4, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    We are doing the same thing! We are doing a Christmas book and pj’s the night before for each of our girls as their “something to wear” and “something to read”, but I am struggling to pick something for the need and want. Have you picked yours yet? My oldest daughter is just about Audrey’s age…would love some ideas!

  12. Katy December 8, 2012 at 12:37 am #

    Emily, I have read this blog post about 15 times because I love it so much! This is our sons’ first Christmas, and I’m really wanting to start a tradition similar to this (although right now he is perfectly content with an empty water bottle…:). My main question is about the logistics of it all…. What about Santa?? Will Santa give your kids all 4 gifts? I’ve seriously been contemplating this issue :).

    I’m also a bit…okay a lot, worried about the level of gift madness that the grandparents and other relatives will ensue! I know they mean well, but he’s 7 months old and they are spending a fortune on him…. Still trying to figure out a good way to convey that we are focusing on the true reason for Christmas–Christ’s birth–not all the frill.

    Thanks for letting me ramble! Merry Christmas!

    • emily December 10, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

      Katy – great questions.

      1. we don’t really do santa – but we don’t really NOT do santa either. That makes no sense. Its not a big deal in our family but we are totally okay with the kids believing in the magic of it all so we play along. We leave out cookies christmas eve. When they open gifts they don’t really care whether they are from Santa or Mom & Dad. You know? So we’re doing 4 gifts for each of the kids which will include santa gifts but not stockings.

      2. As for grandparents, we just let them go crazy on the kids. They don’t go too crazy, but gift giving is fun and we don’t do it often, so why not? As long as the kids are grateful, I understand that gifts are part of American christmas.

  13. Danene December 10, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Wow, I don’t even know how I came to find your post, but I love it. A few years back we changed things up a little also. We do 5 gifts, 1-clothing, 1-pj, 1-book. and 2 wants. I could easily change it to 1 want though. We have 6 children, and they make their lists, knowing that we won’t be buying the most expensive and we will be the final judge on the “wants”. Just thinking about it , it makes my mind spin, under our tree alone, there are 40 gifts and that doesn’t include what we buy for others. It is crazy. Thanks so much for sharing. It was a blessing to me and really will get me thinking. I wish i would have found it sooner. :)

  14. Christy December 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    I have been doing this for years! Except I only give 3 gifts, something they need, want, wear and of course their stocking stuffers. It sure makes life simple especially for adult males!

  15. Sarah December 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    I love this! We don’t have kids yet, but I think I already have my mom and husband convinced that this is how gift giving should work for future kiddos. Now if I can only convince our extended family to “draw names” or not give gifts at all, that would be great.

  16. Sue December 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful idea. My granddaughter lives with her dad (my son) and I always over buy for her. This year we did the Four and she had no problem with that considering her need/want was a computer for her online schooling.

  17. Laura@Ms Smartie Pants December 29, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    I too have 4 children and years ago decided to give each child 3 gifts, just like baby Jesus got. It was difficult at first but then really gave me so much freedom. It reduced all the making it even for everyone and helped me stay within a budget. They are grown now, I still do it and they love it. Many times one of their gifts is for another person or organization in their name. It has been a good change for all of us.

  18. Kiwi Mum January 11, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    We have been doing this with our kids since they were quite young – although in our family we each receive three gifts (just as Jesus received three gifts from the wise men). Unfortunately my gifts were already wrapped and labelled but I have saved the file to use next year. Thanks so much!

  19. Melissa Collier January 18, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Wondering how it went? Would love to know what you think of the four gifts approach upon reflection. I love this idea and would love to know how your kids reacted? Thanks for sharing!

  20. stacey November 7, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    We’ve done this the last several years with our girls, with one addition….something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read and something to GIVE.

    Each Christmas, they choose someone who will not receive anything this Christmas (easier living here in Haiti, but lots of options with homeless shelters, Angel Tree, Samaritans Purse, etc…in the US, too) and shop for a gift specifically for that person. Not a hand-me-down, but a great gift that the recipient will LOVE. Our family works to make this fifth gift extra special to our kids as a blessing to GIVE during Christmas…helping the Spirit of Christmas be true in their hearts. On Christmas day, we take an hour out of our day and take the gifts to their recipients. Seeing their faces…Merry Christmas.

    • emily November 7, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

      This is a great idea. i want our children to be generous and think of others so practicing this on christmas is a beautiful way to demonstrate generosity.


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