Our little gift tradition

Nov 17

I’ve had several friends start asking: what are you doing for the holidays this year?  We, as with most young families, are finding our footing on how we are going to celebrate our past traditions while making meaningful holiday memories for our own young families.

Last year, I wrote up a small article about how Brad and I do our gift-giving within our immediate family.  I thought I would share it here.  The tradition has forced us to be thoughtful and intentional with “stuff” we buy at Christmastime.  I love gifts.  Gifts are a big love-language for me.  I love to give them, I love to get them–what can I say?  It’s always the thought behind it that I appreciate.  Here’s the article I wrote and shared with a few people last year:

Christmas Somethings

In 2010, my family changed the way we approached Christmas.  Our little family was just a trio: our daughter, the first grandchild on both sides, and the two of us.  My husband and I both have large, generous, loving extended families. We both have warm, full traditions (that continue today) sharing Christmas with our loved ones.  Our parents, now grandparents to our children, continue to bless us with Christmas gifts each year, and also delight in gifting to our children.  Separately, we share in his family’s traditions and my family’s traditions.  It is easy, fun and joy-filled to continue to share in these extended family celebrations and to enjoy alongside them the pleasure of gift-giving and receiving.  And yet we found ourselves wanting to carve out a little bit of Christmas for ourselves.  It was with incredulity that we asked each other: “more Christmas?”  Our craving wasn’t about stuff, or extravagance, or a dollar amount, or any ‘thing.’  We wanted a deep breath, a moment; we wanted memories for us and for our children. This wish is a burden shared by almost every young family we know.

And so the Christmas Somethings were born.  Each year, my husband and I have decided that we will give gifts to each other and to our children that follows this theme:

Something you want, something you need, something special and something to read.
Want: It can be anything you want, as long as it is in the budget.  This is all about frivolity and whimsy.  If he wants a techy gadget to replace a not-very-old techy gadget, so be it.  We will indulge our daughter in what she desires: even if it devours batteries, makes an obnoxious sound or doesn’t teach her anything—even, God forbid, if it does all of these things.  I will drop hints and Sharpie in our catalogues so that Brad can surprise me with something I’ve wanted.  As one who lives in the frugal and practical camp in my day-to-day life, this small indulgence is surprisingly sweet to my soul.
Need: My family is blessed that our sustenance and survival needs are met, and for this we are thankful.  Thus we take liberty with the essence of a need. New running shoes to replace ones that are broken down and in danger of causing injury, a winter hat to replace a lost or outgrown one, fresh new fluffy white towels, and a new set of washable markers since the pink and purple have long since dried out are needs that our family might consider gifting.
Special: A hand-written love letter.  A homemade anything.  A scrapbook of memories encompassing a day or an event or the whole year.  A CD of songs with a meant-for-you theme.  This something goes beyond the right store, the right aisle, the free shipping (though it may require any of those things).  Undoubtedly, “something special” will become my favorite category through the years—even surpassing my own item in the want category.

Read: Books.  I love them.  My husband loves them.  Our small child loves them.  We want to foster in our children a love for books, for knowledge, growth, imagination, dreams and hope. Books shape our identity and the way we see the world.  The daunting part is whittling down the selections and making a choice.  Finally, we will inscribe inside the front cover why the book was selected for the recipient and the year.

So, that’s it.  Our little Christmas gift tradition.  I write down what we each got/gave and keep it in with the ornaments because I think it will shed light on what we were like in these young family years.  When we are wrinklier, and I need glasses, and he’s salt and peppered, I think we will appreciate a record of all the special somethings we’ve shared over the years.  It’s not about the stuff.  It’s about the people.  It’s about love.

Oh, and we do Santa stockings and a Santa gift for each kid too.  I can’t imagine Christmas without that jolly guy, but he is a side note.  We try to keep love and Jesus at the center of our traditions.

We have and are developing a host of other non-gift related traditions as well (love to hear yours in the comments, by the way).  But Brad and I feel good about keeping the things that matter at the forefront of Christmas: not stuff.

And, as a Thanksgiving lover, I think I’ll have to devote a post to Thanksgiving this week also.  Happy holidays!


  1. newiefriend /

    Great gift ideas. One of our traditions is on the day after Thanksgiving the entire family head out to the Christmas tree farm to select and cut down the tree. We always get the tallest skinniest tree that no one wants and love the challenge of turning it in to the most beautiful tree ever. Then we have our gingerbread house decorating competition. Boys against the girls. We have engineers and builders on the boys team, so their house always get room and floor additions, the girls go more for an aesthetically pleasing or whimsical look. The houses become a central part of our Christmas decorations and visitors throughout the season vote on their favorite. I have to admit the boys , with their outlandish designs, are on a winning streak! Today I am baking and assembling the ginger bread so that I am ready for the competition to begin! Makin memories!

  2. This is simply beautiful! I love the meaningful tradition you have chosen, and I love that you are documenting it, too.

    By the way, I never said, “No” to my daughter regarding another book…and I was never sorry about that. Ultimately, she was a National Merit Scholar, etc., and I’ve always believed a love of reading was the foundation for her love of learning.

    Our “family” tradition included gingerbread house decorating, too. First, we included the other dance company members each year. Later, we included the volleyball team…even after high school graduation; it was a great opportunity for the girls to catch up with each other. Today, it’s just the two of us, but we did get to include Grandma last year when we were visiting her.

    Loved your post!

  3. walker girl /

    2 traditions we have always stuck with… opening one gift on Christmas eve…always a pair of jammies so we can look good for pics the following morning. And we always get a new ornament every year. Growing up we always did one for me and my brother. Now we do a family one and one for my daughter. When she grows up, I hope she has as much fun going through her collection of ornaments as I do. We still have ornaments from the 1970’s.

  4. We do the same 4 gifts as you do except we add a gift that helps you help others. It doesn’t fit the rhyme but I think it fits the meaning of Christmas.

  5. I love this and it keeps it simple! My mother in law starts asking for a list in October and every year it stresses me out. She’s also so generous that she usually gets everything on the list, whereas I’m used to my mom picking a few things off my list and throwing in a couple surprises:) Either way, my family is lucky and blessed. As a kid Christmases were ALWAYS spent at my grandparents, but they now join us at my parents’ house along with my kids. And the night before the entire crew heads to my in-laws (even more fortunate that all sides and all generations of the family get along!) for fondue dinner…a new tradition that’s taken shape in the last 6-7 years and I LOVE IT. My new niece will join us this year and little does everyone know that a new family member will be announced that special night. I CAN’T WAIT:)

  6. I love all of your traditions…here’s one from our family:
    When our daughter was about 2 and getting into the concept of Christmas & Santa, she was still much too young to grasp the concept of time (as in how many more days ’til Santa arrives). So I made a huge calendar with 25 pockets with numbers on one side and blank on the other. They buttoned onto the calendar. During the early years I put a lollipop or a shiney nickel in the pocket each night for her to find in the morning. We then turned over the numbered pocket and counted the days remaining until the “BIG” day arrived. Of course once the kids got a little older, the little treats evolved into a full size candy bar (real treat in our household), dollar bills, tickets for the movies, or a special concert, family game night, etc. The kids absolutely would not let me stop the calendar tradition ~ I even had to continue when they were away at college! Keep in mind this was long before you could buy advent calendars, so this was a rather innovative tradition and one that my son now does with his own 3 children. Now “The Elf on the Shelf” is all the rage. I was lucky enough to buy one 6 years ago and had the book signed by the daughter of the family who invented the concept.

    BTW Jen, have you seen the adorable manger ornament available at Hallmark stores? It comes with a book and tells the story of Baby Jesus. My “little bits” love it.

  7. We do 3 gifts, to symbolize the 3 gifts baby Jesus received. Another mom passed his along a few years ago and we thought it was a wonderful idea. Because Christmas can become about stuff so quickly. One of the gifts is usually something that we can do as a family. Like this year they are getting sleeping bags for sleeping over in each others’ room or camping if we get brave 🙂

    It was so good to run into you the other day. When I looked up and saw you, I was overcome with emotion…gratitude and just plain joy! I didn’t want to be the weird girl getting emotional at the craft show :). I couldn’t help my hug though. But it was so good to see you, doing so well, being the wonderful mom that you are with your girls. I could feel your and God’s strength radiating. Keep rocking it!

  8. Kristin /

    We have a similar tradition (haha – we just started last year!). Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. We also added something to share – for now I donate for the whole family… in time we will do gifts of service for others. For our older son this year (3.5), something to wear is something(s) as he’s outgrown all of the hand-me-downs we have. It’s not perfectly matchy matchy (money-wise or number-of-gifts-wise) which is VERY hard for me. I came from a family where everything given to one, was given to the others. This year – instead of one (or just a couple) books… I am wrapping up 25 books and we will open one new book each of the 25 evenings of December leading up to Christmas, as our advent calendar. Our boys LOVE books and I think this will be very special for them. I have been storing up on bargain books as I find them (yay for Scholastic’s $1 books!). Also, for Christmas Eve we have decided our tradition will be to put the boys in pjs and ride around looking at Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music. They will have new (matching!) PJs, The Night Before Christmas and maybe some chocolate/marshmallows for the ride (they don’t do hot cocoa yet). I am so excited this year!! Also – I have tried really hard to finish all of my shopping early. I really want to enjoy the season with my kids & husband… not letting myself get stressed over the details. I want to bake and create and enjoy. Also – we stopped giving gifts to our parents (and asked them to stop giving to us – just the kids) so I am doing homemade gifts for something to hand them this year. Handprints in Model Magic and then painted into Santa and Snowmen. They might be my favorite gift to give ever!!