On my first child’s first Christmas, a well-meaning relative gave him the Elf on the Shelf®. I had that thing donated to Goodwill before he could even put the wrapping paper in his mouth. I knew back then that I wasn’t going to want to find a new spot for that little guy each night. And, I sure wasn’t going to create Pinterest-worthy sets and props for him.
I’ve tried to keep up with that mantra through the years: make the holidays magical, without making them stressful.
For example, my kids have no idea that there is supposed to be something in their stockings on Christmas morning. The holiday meal is catered, and I can assure you my guests are thankful that this vegetarian is not cooking their turkey. Making Christmas cookies with my kids? That sounds like a flour-covered mess with sugar-amped maniacs.
Even the list of people that I buy presents for is incredibly short. I get gifts for my four kids, and I limit it to Something They Want, Something They Need, Something They Wear, Something They Read (and we added the not-as-often-used Something They Share).
My oldest child is five and already understands that this is how we do Christmas. Just last week, he asked me, “Can I have a new bike helmet for my Something to Wear?”
Our neighbors just gave us a hand-me-down bike. I’m slapping a bow on that thing and giving it to my 3-year-old as her Something She Wants. She’s not going to be disappointed that it’s used; she’s going to be stoked that it’s from the “big girls” down the street.
I don’t feel like five presents is too few. In fact, I find it difficult to even come up with five presents for the little kids. I can’t think of too many things a baby “needs” or “wants.” Other than a nap and some breastmilk (and, an Otteroo!).
My kids would get excited about 10 or 20 presents. But, they also get excited about one present. It’s the law of diminishing returns. We’re not talking about a group of people who are hard to impress. They get excited about the plastic trinkets in the display counter at Chuck E. Cheese.
And, everyone knows kids have the most fun playing with the boxes anyway.
My children have embraced the Something To Share more than I ever could have hoped for. I give them $20 each, and tell them they have to share it anyway they want. All year long, they talk about whom they are going to donate it to. Last year, my son chose to buy food for a homeless man we often see downtown. And, my daughter donated it to a girls’ school in Afghanistan (after we had talked about the problems there during my husband’s deployment).
I also ask them to share the joy on Christmas morning. As soon as we are done opening presents, I have the kids deliver cupcakes (store-bought, of course – I want to limit stress, and I don’t want anyone to think we’re poisoning them) to people who are working on Christmas morning. (Important to our family because I always worked on Christmas as a news anchor, and, as a surgeon, my husband still does.)
While the firefighters and hospital workers appreciated our gifts, it was the gas station employees who were truly shocked by our gesture. One woman even teared up, and with a tremble in her voice, she said, “This is the best present I’ve ever received.”
I don’t stay up late on Christmas Eve putting toys together, or making my grandma’s recipe or sprinkling “reindeer dust” on the lawn. And, even so, last year when I was putting my son to bed, I asked him what the best part of his Christmas was. Without skipping a beat, he said, “Seeing how happy that woman at the gas station was.”
That, right there, is Christmas magic.