Our family’s simple Christmas gift system

I don’t know what I’d do without our Christmas gift system. Seriously.

I know some people love spending a lot of time and money shopping for their kids’ Christmas gifts, but the trouble is it tends to snowball every year as the kids get older — and their wishlist gets pricier.

We started using a Christmas gift system for our son’s first Christmas in 2010, when he was just six months old, and we’ve happily stuck with it ever since. It reigns in expectations all around, and prevents us from going overboard when we’re shopping.

Our family's simple Christmas gift system {Heather's Handmade Life}
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Thanks to our Christmas gift system, each of our children receives exactly five gifts from us …

Something You Want: This is always a toy, at this point in our lives, but it really could be anything down the road — clothes, electronics, games, books, art supplies.

Something You Need: Some years this has been new clothes or outerwear, and other years it’s been a practical item — like a special new plate, or a table to hold a Playmobil set.

Something To Play With: At this age, our kids are all about the toys, of course. But I love the idea of continuing to get them a little toy even when they’re teenagers. I don’t care how old you are, who wouldn’t want to assemble a little LEGO set or attack their sibling with a foam dart gun?

Something To Read: A book! We have a tradition of always getting them each a Berenstain Bear book, actually, because we love collecting them. But as they get older, I imagine they’ll get a novel or a spacebook or whatever we’re reading from in 2024.

… and a new pair of jammies on Christmas Eve: I admit this is mostly for my benefit, because I love to photograph the kids in cute matching jammies on Christmas morning.



Our family's Christmas gift system {Heather's Handmade Life}
Matching jammies are the best
Our family's Christmas gift system {Heather's Handmade Life}
These were C’s gifts last year
Our family's Christmas gift system {Heather's Handmade Life}
These were D’s gifts last year

Sure, sometimes I finish up the shopping in each category and spot something else I know they’d love. But the problem is that there is ALWAYS something else I could buy.

Having a Christmas gift system prevents returning to the mall to “just pick up a few odds and ends,” because once I’m done, I’m done. There’s no getting around it.

I’m also not wrapping a mountain of gifts. I painted wooden door-hangers for each child and we use those as our gift tags every year.

Christmas gift tags

They’re easy to tie onto large items that can’t be wrapped, and each kid knows exactly what “type” of gift is going to be inside — even if the gift itself is a total surprise.

The fun thing about this system is that if your child wanted one big-ticket item, you could make that their “Something You Want” gift, and just buy inexpensive items for the other categories. When our son got a wooden train table for his second Christmas, his other few gifts from us were very small. We gave our daughter a secondhand play kitchen as her “Something You Want” gift last Christmas, so we spent a little more on her other gifts accordingly.

So how does Santa Claus fit into this equation?

Well, we write our letters to Santa at the end of November every year, and our kids are allowed to ask him for one present each. We explain that Santa is giving presents to millions of children around the world, so we don’t want to ask for more than one thing — and they are absolutely fine with that. Santa also fills a stocking for each of them, and it contains mostly practical items like toothpaste, hair clips, socks and undies — as well as a few treats.

I know a lot of parents sign every single gift “Love, Santa Claus,” and everyone should do what works best for their family.

But personally, I don’t like the idea of kids comparing what Santa brought and feeling badly because their friends received more and were therefore “better” behaved that year in Santa’s eyes.

Every family has a different budget for Christmas gifts, but I feel sad thinking about how “Santa” is doling out iPads and PS4 systems to some kids and just a single Barbie to others.

There’s a good quote floating around Facebook that says “You can explain the value of money to kids, but you can’t explain Santa’s discrimination to a heartbroken kid.”

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So what do you think?

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