Reader Question: What Are Your Gift-Giving Traditions?

posted by Andrea | 12/7/2017

Today is Dave’s 36th birthday!!

This means he has been living in Michigan as long as he previously lived in Washington State, as he was 18 when he moved out here for college.

I often wonder what he would have done if he didn’t meet me his senior year of college — maybe he would have moved back to Washington, maybe started his teaching career in another state… who knows. All I know is I’m happy he’s here in Michigan with me… and believe it or not, his entire family has since moved “east” so we all live quite close together! Crazy how things have changed!

This also means Dave is officially closer to 40 than he is to 30! 🙂

our 14th annual Ugly Christmas Sweater party with college friends! 

Since we’re in birthday mode around our house (Nora’s birthday was 2 weeks ago) and since the holiday gift-giving season is here, I thought it was the perfect time to post another reader question I got regarding gift-giving traditions.

READER QUESTION: 

My kids are still relatively young, but I’d love to establish a simple and meaningful gift-giving tradition NOW, so they don’t think birthdays and holidays are only about gifts. I want them to be thoughtful givers, gracious receivers, and of course, keep the real reason for the season in their hearts and minds.

So… I’d love to know how you handle gift-giving in your house, and I’d really be interested to know what some of your readers do with their families too. 

Our Gift-Giving “Traditions”:

To be perfectly honest, we really don’t have many gift-giving traditions yet. Maybe our “tradition” is that we do whatever works for us that year and don’t worry about traditions!! 

That said, here’s how we currently do gifts in our family…

BIRTHDAYS: 

For birthdays, we usually have some sort of casual party with the kid’s grandparents and whatever aunts, uncles, and cousins that can make it (usually around 10-15 people). They get a few gifts at the party and that’s it.

Starting at age 4, we open a bank account for our kids and give them the number of dollars that corresponds with their age (so Nora got 6 $1 bills this year). We plan to set up a bank account for Simon when he turns 4 in March — and we try to be somewhat diligent about putting a few bucks in these account each month.

CHRISTMAS: 

Right now, we basically just get the kids a few gifts each year based on things they’ve asked for, things they actually need, and things I’ve found free or super discounted throughout the year.

Then Dave and I choose a day when we will will open those gifts together for our family’s “Christmas” — it’s usually never on Christmas day since we have so many other things going on then.

We have done stockings in the past, but didn’t do them last year (and I’m not sure if we’ll do them this year!)

I’ve thought about getting each child 1 larger gift and then several small stocking stuffers — so they basically only open one gift. I guess I’d just like to take the focus off too many gifts — but I also realize that getting fun gifts for Christmas is very memorable for little children, which is partially why we haven’t implemented any traditions yet.

As for any other holidays or events — we really don’t do any gifts for anything other than birthdays and Christmas. Dave and I don’t even do anything for our anniversary and rarely ever for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. We’re just not big “gift” people.

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I’ve heard of so many fabulous Christmas and birthday gift-giving traditions — I honestly don’t even know where to begin…

  • drawing names
  • secret Santas
  • donating money to various causes and organizations in other people’s names
  • serving as a family at local non-profit places
  • limiting the monetary value of a gift to force the givers to get creative
  • doing gift card exchanges
  • white elephant gift exchanges
  • doing special stocking stuffers on Christmas Eve
  • giving 3 gifts per person (one for each Wiseman)
  • giving 4 gifts per person (want, need, wear, read)
  • opening one special gift on Christmas morning
  • taking a child out for a special birthday “date” with just the parents (or with one sibling or one friend)
  • giving a child money for their gift and going shopping together to pick something out

I could go on… but what I’d really like to read is what YOU do with your family!

This reader (and I) would love to know… what are (or were) YOUR gift-giving traditions?

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, our family is celebrating Dave with dinner at Culver’s tomorrow — ironically, it’s his most favorite Flavor of the Day (Really Reese’s!)

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28 comments

  1. Kate

    12/08/2017

    I think it changes as your family changes and kids grow and even year to year, depending on schedules. I’m a nurse and I have to work Christmas Day this year! 🙁 We have done the 3 gift rule for our 3 kids but it still seemed like they were getting too many toys. Last year we started the 4 gifts (want, need, wear, read) and it worked out better. This year we are still following that loosely (none of my kids really have any “needs!”) As far as birthdays, me and all of my kids share the same birthday week in February. Add in Valentines Day and it is a really crazy time! We just give them one gift for their birthdays and have one party. They get plenty from grandparents so all together it feels like a lot!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes definitely!
    When our kids were even younger, we didn’t really even do gifts. We literally just pulled out some toys and books they hadn’t played with in a while, wrapped them up in fun boxes, and let them have fun with the paper and boxes. Now that Nora and Simon “get” Christmas and birthdays more, I’ve just been stocking up on little things I find throughout the year and know they will love. They are also all getting new sheets, a new beach towel, and new gloves — so things they definitely needed anyway, but now they just get to unwrap them 🙂

    Also, that’s A LOT of birthdays in one week!!

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  2. Linda T

    12/08/2017

    We started the tradition lately of taking our kids out with just us for their birthdays. We have 7 kids, and its really nice for them to have our attention for the evening. It usually happens on wing night too!

    At Christmas time, the kids pick out names between themselves. We head out to the toy section of our favourite department store and wander there for a while to see what catches the kids’ eyes. Mom and Dad take notes, then split the kids up and they buy for their person. Then when they come home they wrap the gifts themselves. After many years of being the sole ‘gift-buyer’ its nice to be surprise about some gifts – even if they aren’t mine!

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    Linda T Reply:

    We also have started at Christmas time having more of an enjoyable family night with games and fun foods.

    With 7 kids (the first 5 are boys, followed by 2 girls!), we had so many toys, movies, books, etc., etc! I found that there really was nothing that they needed, and our toy room didn’t need more either!

    So this year I’m going more practical with the gifts – new PJs for everyone! We are also going to spend the evening doing some fun minute-to-win-it games!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I LOVE the idea of taking the kids one-on-one for their birthdays. We’ve talked about this too — at least for the older kids!

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  3. Alicia

    12/07/2017

    I didn’t realize Dave was from Washington – I am too ! (But still live here)

    We don’t really have any Christmas gift traditions yet.but I think this year we are going to stick to the 4 gifts – want, wear, need, read. It’s getting to be too much, esp now with 4 kids. My husband and I don’t ever do gifts for each other either, and we usually just do a picture frame with updated family photo for the grandparents and aunts/uncle.

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    Andrea Reply:

    he definitely is from Washington! He always says “south central” — he grew up in Yakima Valley 🙂

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    Alicia Reply:

    Wow how cool! I’m born, raised, and still live in Western WA. Across the water from Seattle.:)

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  4. Jane

    12/07/2017

    Four kids here…all grown up.

    One large Santa present, never wrapped, just in the living room with a name on a card. “Believe to receive a Santa gift”… so we never discussed if santa was real or not because if you didn’t believe, you didn’t receive.

    Stockings for everyone Christmas morning, when you wake up. Don’t have to wait til everyone is assembled to look in your stocking. Typically craft and school supplies, toiletries, special sox and undies. Never candy.

    Want, need and read presents from Mom and Dad. Little gifts from siblings, like crayons for the 4 yr old, a CD for the nearly teen (dating myself!), a new sippy cup for the baby, etc.

    Lots of presents under the tree

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    Andrea Reply:

    great system and traditions — thanks for sharing!!

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  5. Chris K in Wisconsin

    12/07/2017

    Andrea, I don’t know if you follow the blog Clover Lane, but her post today made me think of you and your commitment to saying “no” to too much and not jumping into the “I’m just so busy” car. She has much the same philosophy as do you, and her kids range in age from 4-22.

    http://www.memoriesoncloverlane.com/2017/12/christmas-guidance-for-moms.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+memoriesoncloverlane%2FjVNR+%28Clover+Lane%29

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I love Clover Lane — Sarah and I email regularly 🙂 I want to be her “when I grow up”!

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  6. Margaret

    12/07/2017

    Just last week my 5 year old asked “what’s Santa?” Which i guess shows how little we have done the santa thing 🙂 When our older ones were first little we did do the gift thing. But the last couple of years we have planned an outing instead. We have all the “basic” toys and outings with a large family are expensive so this once a year trip is anticipated. The kids do receive gifts from their grandparents but always on a separate occasion than Chirstmas Day – to separate Jesus’ birth from Santa. And there’s always plenty of chocolate and candy to go around 🙂

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  7. Jen

    12/07/2017

    We are very much in the middle of paying off a huge educational loan debt while on 1 income, so we always keep it simple and frugal. Our children are the only grandchildren on both sides of a family and all grandparents are divorced baby boomers. Since all the grandparents love to give Christmas gifts, my kids get many presents from grandparents and a few from other members of our extended family. As the parents, we give our children no Christmas presents, but do prepare stockings which always have a few used books, a few quarters, some clementines, a candy cane, and some other foods like dried fruit, peanuts, chocolate coins. The last few years, we take the 3 children to dollar store or similar place to choose a gift for their siblings which we help them wrap. They still get plenty of thoughtful presents and we spend our “Christmas fund” in our budget on tree, special holiday food, hosting events at our house for friends and family, photo gifts, and other gifts for our own parents and siblings.

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  8. JJ

    12/07/2017

    Christmas Eve we drive around and look at Christmas lights while listening to Christmas music. Then we come home and open up a new pair of pajamas and stocking gifts. Then we put them on and watch a Christmas movie. It is a lot of fun! And it is extra special, since our kids normally go to bed early.

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    Andrea Reply:

    that does sound like fun — simple AND fun!

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  9. Cheryl

    12/07/2017

    Our family does three “Santa” gifts (not including stockings) because Jesus received three gifts from the wisemen. This has meant that our kids really think about what they ask for and that they are not overwhelmed with too many gifts. Our kids always received presents from grandparents, and one from us, under the tree. We have always tried to keep birthdays simple. usually one “big” request, and a few small, along with just family and friends over for a small party. It has worked well for us.

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  10. Michelle

    12/07/2017

    THis seems to be going out of fashion…but we LOVE giving our kids gifts for Christmas!! It doesn’t take away the meaning of Christmas for our family or bring focus on the wrong things. It’s FUN and a celebration!!! We do find thoughtful gifts geared to their interests or to experience something new, but who wouldn’t. Books are always included because childhood is a wonderful time to foster a love of reading. We don’t feel that a grateful heart is ruined by gifts — quite the opposite!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I love this Michelle! thanks for sharing your perspective!
    I actually really enjoy giving gifts to my kids too (i just don’t like storing all the extra stuff). It’s hard to give experience gifts to 2 and 3 years olds who just want toys, but we always seem to find a happy medium every year!

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    Michelle Reply:

    Haha, extra stuff. I hear you loud and clear. Another reason I have read your blog since the beginning. You helped me with that!!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I just stopped by a thrift store with Nora and James yesterday and we found SO MANY awesome games, slippers for Nora, church shoes for Simon, boots for James, mittens for James and Clara, and even a few fun toys that have been on the kids “want” list for a while now. Everything was an extra 50% off (I think I spent around $14 for a huge garbage bag of stuff) and it was so fun to let the kids pick things they wanted and just keep saying “sure we can get that” because it was only $0.50. However, the whole time, I was just thinking about all the stuff they will get from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins in just a few weeks. Sigh… Oh well, it was fun to treat them — we can always purge later!

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    Michelle Reply:

    We won’t get to do it this year, but a fun experience gift for kids that age is the Polar Express train in Durango. I don’t know if there are things like that where you live but it sure is fun.

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  11. Rose

    12/07/2017

    Happy Birthday!!

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  12. Chris Martinelli

    12/07/2017

    I have done the want/wear/read/need but I added two. I also do Santa gave and homemade. As a single parent, I wanted to stress the 3 presents from the wiseman while still keeping the Santa tradition. The homemade is anything from blankets I crocheted to book marks to homemade rice bags. The read is always from the thrift store so we aren’t buying new. The wear could be pajamas, jackets, socks, or this year perfume/cologne. The big gifts are always under $50 so while it can add up by skimping on the other gifts Christmas isn’t too extravagant. This way my kids get two things they really want, one they need, new reading material, and something to wear. It has worked well for me for the last 10 years I have had to Christmas myself.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I love it — and it even rhymes 🙂
    I’m not sure I’m crafty enough to do a homemade gift, but I love your extra 2 gifts each year!

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  13. Christine from The (mostly) Simple Life

    12/07/2017

    We do not-secret Santa with my husband’s siblings. There’s five of them, plus a few spouses, so we do that instead of buying something for everyone. We all know who has who, and ask for gift ideas. It’s not a secret, but it’s fun to get a nice gift for one person or couple instead of getting each person something little.

    I’d love to make stockings more of a thing at our house, but it’s always an after-thought for me when I don’t think we should spend any more money, haha!

    My husband is big on gifts, so we spend quite a bit on gifts for each other. We don’t spend much on ourselves throughout the year, so it’s fun to do it up a little 🙂

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  14. Ashley

    12/07/2017

    Happy birthday to Dave from a fellow December 7th-er!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yay! Happy birthday to you too!

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