The 3-Gift Rule and Other Ways to Stay Sane and Enjoy Christmas with Littles

I love Christmas, it’s no joke. I’m a true ENFP on the Myers-Briggs so I love holidays, I love parties, I love to go big or go home. I love to try to do all the things. It’s just all so exciiiiting!

Well as I’ve gotten older, wiser, and more in tune with my limitations, I’ve developed this mantra: when things get crazy, stick to the script. Years ago I would have totally resisted this, as I am by nature an improviser. But having a back-pocket plan helps me meet attainable goals as well as leaves me room to go for it when I’m feeling ambitious and not (as) sleep-deprived. But most importantly, it leaves me time and energy to relax and enjoy the important things. Like reading The Berenstein Bears and the Joy of Giving six times a day, then drinking a strong egg nog with the hubs after hours. That truly is my recipe for a very merry Christmas.

Which brings me to my other mantra: invest less in stuff, more in experiences. Because maybe, at some Friendsgiving twenty years from now, your kids may reminisce about the fifty awesome gifts they got each Christmas and the perfectly decorated mantle above their little heads. But probably, they’ll remember the endless rounds of carols and the cuddling over hot cocoa. That’s the investment that’s never wasted.

So here’s my script for not only surviving, but really enjoying, Christmas with littles.

1. The 3-Gift Rule. Because if it’s good enough for Baby Jesus, it’s good enough for my kids. We hit three bases: one “big”/special thing; one stocking stuffer; one book. Done. Spartan? Not really, considering how many toys we already own. With the exception of birthdays, we keep toy-giving pretty simple all year long, so when Christmas comes, opening a few, well-chosen gifts feels pretty special. Also when you think about toy-getting in a global context, you realize… we could all do with a lot less. Which brings me to…

2. The Santa Trip. The past few Christmases we have made a habit of giving away a bunch of toys. Because Christmas is about giving, and also because if we continue to amass toys at this rate, we are going to run out of room for furniture. So my vote is for something akin to equilibrium: a bunch of toys in, a couple of toys out. I have heard of people doing the one-for-one rule, but we’re not there yet.I’ve considered playing Bad Santa and just taking some toys once they’re asleep and depositing them elsewhere. But it’s much more fun, and much more spiritually formative, for the kids to see and actually participate in this process. From making the choice what to give away, to who to give them to, to physically loading them into the car. This year Sam wanted to take a picture of himself with the toys he was giving (not posting it because it was probably someone’s gift from two Christmases ago. I’m not going to be that honest on this blog.) This year we made up a name for this act: the Santa Trip. Maybe next year we’ll put the toys in a real Santa sack and wear elf hats. More importantly, maybe next year maybe we’ll remember to pray for the children that get the toys.


3. Invest in a few, simple traditions. If there are two things to have in-house with kids during Christmas, I vote for the Advent Calendar and the Advent Wreath. As for the Advent calendar, we have one fun Fisher Price one that they get to play with and one nicer one that was given to us from the Vermont Christmas Company (above) with which we actually practice the discipline of waiting. They can barely keep their grubby hands off the sweet little sheep and angels, but that’ll make it all that much sweeter when they get to meet Baby Jesus.

We also love our Advent wreath. Lighting the candles with little ones each night is an investment, but boy are they incredibly sweet times. Are they wiggly during these solemn, fire-hazardy moments? Yes, but that’s why we keep it short. And give them peppermint M&Ms. Or donuts, as is the case here.

Daddy reads from Isaiah, with hand motions.


Bookending our days with the calendar and the candle-lighting has helped create a spiritual rhythm of expectancy and has helped to ground us in the narrative of Jesus’s birth. I hope that when my kids think of the Christmas season, these moments are a big part of what comes to mind. Because Christmas day is awesome, but much of the beauty of this season is the anticipation of that day.

4. Crockpot beef bourguignon and other cheats. By this I mean recipes that can still make things feel festive when you have three littles underfoot. We threw it in the crockpot on Christmas Eve morning and before our five o’clock service, sat down to a fancy-feeling meal that took almost as little prep time as boiling pasta. Maybe it’s not true beef bourguignon, and Julia Child may not approve, but you know who does? My husband, because we get to eat delicious food on Christmas Eve and his wife is not a crazy person. (Happy wife, happy life.)

5. Sing happy birthday to Jesus. If we do one thing with our kids this Christmas, I always hope we make it this. You don’t need a fancy cake; even store bought coffeecake will do. Just anything to make it feel special. Try it even before opening presents (yes it’s possible!!) to center everyone on Who is really important this day. And what kid doesn’t love a birthday party? Especially if you get to have cake before lunchtime!

6. And during the holidays, as in life, remember: it’s a process. These thoughts do not at all mean I have it all figured out; we have a plan for right now (the next week maybe?) and that’s good enough for me. You don’t have to have the perfectly Pinterested Christmas house or all the perfect holiday activities. Your Christmas traditions will evolve over time as your family evolves.

And a note on Christmas “stuff”: Christmas décor and heirlooms make great presents. Stick with classic, meaningful pieces that will last you Christmases to come. Last year, I was super excited to have a mantle and was yearning for five stockings to be hung by the chimney with care. Not wanting to break the bank, I had only sprung for three monogrammed Lands End stockings for the kids. Thoughful Hubs knew I was silently longing to complete the set, so he gave me Mom and Dad stockings as an early Christmas present. Now I get to look back on those stockings and remember the sweetness of that gift and the story of that Christmas, the first in our house and the year when we became a family of five.

In a way, each family is writing its own Christmas story with each passing year. Each story and each chapter within it will be unique. Find your own way and love on your family the way God has gifted and impassioned you.

What’s your script for enjoying Christmas with your family?


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