Gift Giving the Simple-ish Way

If buying holiday gifts drives you to the spiked holiday punch, try these easier but still rewarding traditions

By Alison Hodgson / Courtesy of

Every year in the weeks preceding Christmas, I say, “This year we’re keeping things simple!” and every year there are places where I do that. Also, every year, as anyone who has seen my tree covered with hundreds of ornaments could tell you, there are places I go all-out. I’ve finally decided that’s just fine. My new goal is to keep Christmas simple-ish.

One way I’m doing that is by establishing a few gift-giving traditions. As we all know, traditions can easily become burdens, and yet in their proper place, traditions provide a wonderful way to connect with our loved ones. For children
 they can weave a net of security through the years. For parents they are a beautiful way to create memories, and frankly, they can serve as an easy guide to planning the festivities. To that end, here are a few of the gift-giving traditions my family keeps.

Limit the gifts. Early on my husband and I decided we didn’t want to overwhelm our children with piles and piles of presents. Inspired by my friend, author Lorilee Craker, we give our children only three gifts. Lorilee has three children too, all of whom have December birthdays. Imagine trying to manage three birthdays in addition to the regular Christmas hoopla. Oh, the humanity. One December, after she nearly lost her mind juggling it all, she and her husband made some changes.

“Years ago, fearful our kids were becoming way too ‘gift-glutted,’ we adopted the ‘Principle of the Three Wise Men’: Something you want, something you need and a surprise. In the last decade, nobody has complained about getting ‘only’ three gifts, and actually I believe it brings peace and relief to us all,” says Lorilee. “Our family doesn’t follow Lorilee’s specific prescriptive of a want, a need and a surprise. Although it’s a wonderful idea, for us it’s too restrictive, so I set it aside.

Give the same things every year. “That’s not festive,” you may be thinking. What sounds like boring repetition is actually an exciting itinerary, though. Here are the wonderful things my kids can count on year after year: 

• An ornament the night the tree goes up (or whenever after that I buy them)
• Pajamas on Christmas Eve
• Three gifts under the tree
• At least one book (but probably more)
• A loaded stocking

I’m no stickler. Depending on the year, the books are a gift or in their stockings. In addition to books as gifts, we also add at least one special Christmas book to our collection. When the children were younger and we had baskets of picture books in every room, I swapped out the books in the living room with our Christmas books, and every night we worked our way through the titles, all snuggled together by the tree. My youngest, a 10-year-old who has been reading on her own for years, and is pushing 5 feet, still clambers onto my lap with her selection of books every single night. 

A friend wraps 25 of her family’s Christmas books, and her children unwrap one every night of Advent, a fun tradition her older children still love. Another friend buys a new game for the family to learn and enjoy over the holiday. In our family someone is sure to pick up a large and pretty puzzle, which we all put together on Christmas Day.

  Note the stockings accompanied by bags and stacks of boxes .  Sue me.

Note the stockings accompanied by bags and stacks of boxesSue me.

Mind the stockings. This is where it all falls apart. Since I don’t go overboard on candy, I’ve found filling the stockings to be an expensive endeavor. Every year I start slowly and worry I’m never going to fill the buggers, and then before you know it, I’ve picked up more than I can stuff into them, and the children end up with an overflowing stocking as well as a stack of presents. They never complain.

Some suggestions for the stockings:
• Toiletries
• Toothbrushes
• Gift cards
• Makeup
• Small toys
• Nice socks
• Flashlights
• Small notebooks
• Art supplies (crayons, colored pencils, markers). If you plan ahead, you can buy them months before during the back-to-school sales.

Take a bit of care with the stockings and make a plan. A couple of years ago, I took three bags and separated the purchases I made for each child as I went. This helped me keep a better eye on things. When we open up all the Christmas boxes to decorate, I pull out the stockings and do a trial stuff to see where I’m at, although by then it’s usually too late. But not this year. This year I’m totally keeping things simple-ish.