Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should

As parents living in the wealthiest nation in the world, Christmas is often an exciting time for us.  Even in the difficult economic times we are living in, most of us can afford to buy our children Christmas presents…and it is truly a joy to watch our children open their gifts!  Even if it takes budgeting and financial finagling, most of our children will have multiple presents under the tree come Christmas morning.

As I was thinking about Operation Christmas Child and how 100 million children will receive a Christmas gift this year (perhaps the only one in their short lifetime) and how the shopping season (Black Friday) is just beginning for us, I was humbled.  Once again, I am reminded how much we have…and saddened by how much we hoard.

A thought occurred to me this last week that I’ve been discussing with my husband:  Just because we can afford (or find a way to afford) to buy our children excessive and extravagant gifts this Christmas doesn’t mean we should. 

I love to give gifts to my children more than anyone, but I fear that we must be careful not to make presents and “things” idols in the hearts of our children (just as we have to be careful of this in our own hearts).  Our children should not expect to receive everything on their Christmas lists, especially since the gifts get much more expensive as our kids get older.  Plus, if we set the precedent of 13 gifts per child, that is what they will come to expect in the years to come.  When trying to raise children who are appreciative of the things they have been given and don’t feel entitled to more, I feel like Christmastime is like walking a tight rope.

This is hard …really hard.  Having an overabundance of toys is certainly a “first world problem”, but wanting to give good things to our children is something that I believe is universal for all parents.  Even our Heavenly Father wants to give us good gifts (Matthew 7:11).

Finding the “happy medium” between the joy of giving to our children and the determination not to raise spoiled and entitled children is difficult.  In an effort to help our children draw yet again to the story of Jesus’ birth, we’ll be giving our children three gifts from us this year…one of them being a new Bible (in addition to a few stocking stuffer “necessities” like underwear and socks).  We did this last year and it felt right and not overly excessive.  After all, Jesus received 3 gifts!  I’ve also heard of people buying 4 gifts:  “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.” That seems like a practical approach to Christmas while still giving good gifts as well.  :)


I certainly don’t have all the answers regarding this issue.  I would love to hear from you.  How do you balance this in your home?


{If you’re family is interested in giving to a worthy cause in someone else’s honor this Christmas, you can make a donation to nhowemission.org and use these Printable Ornaments as a gift to a loved one or family member.}

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Filed Under: A Lesson Learned


  1. Christine says

    We also do three gifts representing the gifts Jesus received. One gold gift which is something we really want, one silver “myrrh” gift which is something for the body, and one “frankincense” gift for spiritual growth. We started this when my son was first born, he’s now three, and we have really enjoyed the reminder of the meaning of Christmas. My husband and I do the same for each other and its always fun, and i admit sometimes challenging, to find gifts that correspond with each one but it keeps us from making Christmas all about the presents.

    Thank you for this great reminder of how easy it is to go overboard with matrial things during the giving season!

  2. says

    This is a tricky one. I struggle with this in every day life. I can afford to put a few quarters in a ride on toy at the mall. I can afford to buy my kids a cake pop at Starbucks when I get myself a latte. I don’t want to teach them that they are entitled. When we feel we are entitled we don’t appreciate it. Still…It’s hard not to go overboard at Christmas, especially with the incredible deals. I’m done shopping for my kids this year, and I can say they are getting more than they need. I think I did okay not going overboard, though.

  3. KATIE says

    I feel the exact same way. Our kids are just getting old enough that I feel like we are starting to set a precedent with things like Christmas gifts. They get so much from grandparents that I almost feel like we dont need to get them anything at all! Our church showed a video from ‘Advent Conspiracy’ that really challenged me to change the way we do Christmas. I am still trying to come up with practical ways to do that and still keep Christmas a fun time for our kids. I appreciate your post :)


  4. Debbie says

    I struggle with this when it comes to reining in my husband. He wants to get our son everything under the sun! And then later complains about how much stuff the child has….

    My other issue is (not surprisingly) my in-laws. They buy too much! And then some of it isn’t appropriate (age-wise or shows that we would never dream of letting him watch…) He gets more presents from them than he does from us and my whole family combined! HOW can I communicate this theory to them as well! For they are also fond of commenting on how much “stuff” we have.

    Sigh… I just want my child to know the true meaning of Christmas, to be thanksful for what he has, and have empathy for those who have less than he does. Is that too much to ask?

  5. Len says

    We have also been having the same struggle. We finally came to the consensus that this year we would not have a traditional Christmas. We are not buying presents for our kids/each other this year. We are using the money that would be spent on presents to take a mini vacation and donations. I want them to realize Christmas is about family and giving rather than stuff.

  6. Beckey says

    Thank you for posting. This is always a struggle that we try to address, some years better than others. This year we’re getting our two boys one gift we got used several months ago and we’re making our daughter a dollhouse. I found some simple fun gifts they can make for each other. This last summer the received coupons from the mibrary reading programs for things like a free book from the used bookstore or ice cream. They really enjoyed these coupons, so most of their stocking gifts will be coupons for things we can do together as a family. They’ll also get a few fun necessities, like character band-aids, since we normally just have the plain ones. Although we’re not planning for anything else, I’m beginning to see ads for things I know they would enjoy. I’m tempted to get “Just one more thing” but your post is a good reminder to hold back. We’ve done operation Christmas child for several years and we enjoy watching the videos on-line while packing our boxes.

  7. says

    On Jesus’ birthday, He gets all the gifts! We don’t give gifts in our immediate family at Christmas. Instead, we pick out gifts through the World Vision catalog and the Compassion catalog to give to those in need in honor of His birthday. The kids understand this perfectly because we make a big deal about their birthdays and give them big gifts on their special days. We have such a great time! We have a birthday cake for Jesus, the boys dress up as wise men and take pretend gold, frankincense, and myrrh and put them by the baby Jesus doll, we decorate gingerbread houses… We’re building wonderful Christmas memories, and they don’t have anything to do with presents. It is possible. =)

  8. Alex says

    I started the 3 gift rule for my daughter when she was born. Now that she is almost 5 she is the one reminding me: “mama I get 3 gifts, just like baby Jesus got.” It also makes her think very hard about what she is going to ask for since she knows they are special. And it has surprised me for the last 2 years when she has been able to really chose what she wants, that she has chosen very simple toys over more elaborate ones. Hopefully we can keep it this simple and sweet for a long while!

  9. Sarah C says

    Thank you for this post. We too struggle with this…even giving three gifts can feel excessive when added with all the gifts they get from family members. I love the four gift idea and poem. I want to try that this year. We’ve also asked for books in the past (we do FIAR so asked for those books), art supplies, and clothes from our families. Thanks for your perspective. We too want our kids to focus on Jesus and it feels very counter culture (even within our families) so it’s nice to hear from others who share our values.

  10. Tam says

    I realized very quickly with our first that it was easy to get out of control with the Christmas gifts. So we came up with getting the kids 3 presents. They also get a new pair of pajamas to open Christmas eve and a stocking.

    As far as being thankful, they are. Maybe because we don’t buy them a lot through the year, even on birthdays. I want to give them what they want, but not to excess and not something that will exceed our budget. We are also looking for more ways to incorporate Christ into our celebrating as well.

  11. Elisabeth says

    What a great reminder and idea, the 3 gifts. We are doing the 4 gifts again this year and my two kids really think about each one. I will be talking with my husband about incorporating the reason for Christmas, the birth of Christ, into that day.
    Growing up my mom would have us read the Christmas story from the bible before opening any gifts. I love that and will be including that in our Christmas this year.

  12. says

    I really like the three gift idea – something they want, something they need and something they read. For my five year old he can really only ‘deal’ with 3-5 gifts or he gets anxious and overwhelmed. There is really no point in giving him any more. I cannot imagine my three kids with 13 gifts each!

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