For some people, Halloween preparation starts in September. For others, Christmas preparation starts before Halloween. However, this mother has learned not to sweat the winter holiday. While others stress over their ever-growing list of presents to buy, Angie does not. In a controversial Instagram video on her page @calmingthechaotic , she explained, “I don’t buy my kids Christmas presents.”
“I decided to stop buying gifts...”
In the video, Angie said that she had enough of Christmas shopping two years ago. Many of her kids celebrate their birthday around that time, and the gift list was stressful, to say the least. “I felt overwhelmed with the amount of stuff,” she said. “Plus not being the best at gift-giving, I decided to stop buying gifts… it took a lot of my overwhelm away around the holidays.” 
Instead, she created a new Secret Santa system to buy gifts for the holiday that focuses more on giving and family unity. “Here’s what we do, each kid draws a sibling’s name and they ‘buy’ for them. They have to think about what that person would want and pick it out. They like what they get more because there’s less…” Angie continued, “They also look forward and wonder throughout the year who will get who — and even talk about what they would pick each other.“
Many people praised her for the new system. One person said, “Love this!! What a great idea!”
Another wrote, “I have seven siblings and we’ve done this for the past 10+ years. It’s always a secret until Christmas unless someone slips up. It was and is so much fun and I’m so glad my parents thought of it way back when.“
However, some users disagreed with her approach, which Angie probably expected.
How Many Christmas Presents Do Kids Need?
While Christmas is supposed to be about connection and giving, the present aspect has been extremely commercialized. Many parents have worked tirelessly to find the perfect toys — only for the kids to play with the box and wrapping paper. The novelty of a new toy doesn’t last as long as hoped and the kids complain of boredom.
Research has found that when it comes to toys, less is more. As Michael Malone, Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Cincinnati, said, “More is not necessarily better. This is a myth that needs to be extinguished from western suburban culture. Our work shows that having fewer toys is associated with less solitary play and increased sharing. Conversely, too many toys can cause a sense of overload.”
In one study, 36 toddlers played with four to 16 toys. Those with 16 toys spent less time with each toy, switching between them often. The abundance created a distraction that disrupted their play. But those with four toys “played with each for twice as long, thinking up more uses for each toy and lengthening and expanding their games, allowing for better focus to explore and play more creatively—qualities that benefit children in the long term,” says lead author, Dr. Carly Dauch. 
Additionally, a study from the University of Missouri, Columbia, found that “children who expect many and expensive gifts can suffer negative social and emotional ramifications that extend well beyond their childhood.” As adults they were “more prone to credit-card debt, gambling and compulsive shopping, feeding an insatiable hunger for more.” 
Give Experiences Instead of Items
So what’s better than toys? For one, quality time with parents, something children tend to get during the holidays when their parents are off work. Additionally, giving experiences can be more enjoyable than material items. While the excitement of a new toy fades over time, the memory of a great experience lasts longer and gives more joy.
Even though popular culture preaches materialism, focus instead on establishing family traditions kids look forward to aside from unwrapping presents. Let the experience align with your family values. Also, be a part of the experience, which is difficult with younger kids, but still doable. Everyone should be able to enjoy the experience together. Additionally, you can give material items related to the experience like tickets to an amusement park, or a new bike, or a cake decorating set, or Mickey Mouse ears for a trip to Disneyland. That way, the kids still have a gift to unwrap with the focus remaining on the bonding experience instead of the material item. 
All in all, there’s nothing wrong with the Christmas tradition of giving presents. Many people have fond memories of opening gifts next to the tree and they enjoy the love and care that goes into each present. However, for some people, the entire process is so stressful, they come to resent the holidays. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to go outside the box this season. Focus on creating warm experiences and connecting with loved ones, and make up a new gift-giving process that everyone enjoys. Let this be a holiday that everyone could reflect on and appreciate.
- “’I have eight kids and had to stop buying them Christmas gifts – it was overwhelming’.” Mirror. Courtney Pochin. September 30, 2021
- “The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play.” Infant Behavior and Development. Carly Dauch, Alexia E. Metz. November 5, 2017
- “It’s true! Giving your kids fewer toys at Christmas makes them happier.” Motherly. Anne-Marie Gambelin. November 19, 2019
- “Buying Presents For Kids Won’t Actually Make Them Happy. But There’s a Solution.” Fatherly. Cameron LeBlanc. December 6, 2019