This time last year, Drew and I were brand new parents. B was still technically an infant, and still novel to us, and Christmas was our first chance to really spoil him. He was growing out of all of the neutral-colored infant clothes we had started out with, and he was beginning to be interested in rattles and other toys. It was the perfect opportunity to go a little crazy with presents, buying him cute outfits and colorful stacking cups and yes, even some stuffed animals.
We have a picture of him from Christmas 2012, strapped in his bouncy chair, with all of his gifts piled around and on top of him. It’s an embarrassment of riches, especially for a 3-month-old. (We also have a picture of him lying on the floor, almost totally covered with wrapping paper – but that’s just for fun.)
This year, I’ve been asked the question multiple times: What does B want for Christmas? And the truth that I keep telling people is: He literally doesn’t need a single thing. Thanks to friends who are liberal with their hand-me-downs, he has clothes to get him through the next year and a half. Thanks to an admittedly lavish first birthday party, he has a ton of toys – several that we haven’t even given him yet. He has all the gear, all the furniture, everything a toddler could desire. We didn’t even know what we should get him, and we’re his parents, for crying out loud. (But no more stuffed animals. We’ve learned that lesson already.)
Then a friend on Facebook posted a PSA about the “mistakes” she has made as a parent. She said that she has spoiled her kids by buying them piles of gifts for every occasion, and now that they’re older, they’ve grown used to it, and even started to take it for granted. She was very honest and blunt, and I really appreciate that she was willing to open herself up like that. Most parents I know wouldn’t have come clean in such a way. At the end of her cautionary tale, she referenced the Four Gift Rule – “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.”
I love it. I love the idea of taking some of the emphasis off of gifts, and simultaneously shifting focus to other holiday activities – but not in a chastising way, or a “you ungrateful child you” way. It just feels like a gentle guideline. I also love the foundation it gives me in figuring out what to get this kid (who’s not going to remember any of this anyway). Now that we have categories, it’s easier to come up with ideas.
And the four categories cover all bases well. We’ve already established a tentative “new pajamas for Christmas” tradition, and I’m always up for buying more books (even board books). So we’re halfway there.
Perhaps, in another year or two, when we have more room for large presents, and an older child who actually has a Christmas wish list, the four gift rule will go out the window. But for this year, I’m happy to enforce this for everyone in our family. (For B, we’ll just need to fudge the “something you need,” since he needs nothing. “Something you want” is easy – he’ll want it as soon as he sees it, at least in the moment.)
Merry Christmas! May your gifts be meaningful, your families be joyful, and your smiles be plentiful. And a Happy New Year!