Seeing the delight on children’s faces on Christmas morning as they open presents under the tree is absolutely a highlight of Christmas.
Our culture drives us to buy, buy, buy in the lead up to Christmas thinking of that moment. In Victoria, we spend an average of $562 on gifts, and 36% of people rely on the credit card to pay for it. Then a lot of us are paying it off for the next 6 months to 2 years.
I don’t know about you, but if you think back to your childhood and what made Christmas special, yes it was knowing that you were going to receive something and that anticipation, but other than a few gifts, it’s hard to remember what the gifts were.
What stands out for me is the tree of course, having a new outfit to wear, taking a Christmas photo with family, spending time with family, eating delicious food (maybe a bit too much?), Christmas carols, and silly things like bon-bons at the table.
If your Christmas is feeling more pressured these days, and has less joy, it’s a good opportunity to think about how you’re doing things. You can buy with intention rather than impulse, set limits on your buying, and choose gifts that have less impact on the environment.
A lot of the gift buying you do at Christmas is for the kids in your life, so the choices you make for gifts can really make a difference.
How to Buy Intentionally
- Buy second hand. Reuse what has already been made and is still in good condition. Check out charity shops, market stalls for preloved goods, and buy sell swap groups for local bargains.
- Buy natural materials rather than plastic where possible. They last longer and they’re better for the environment.
- Focus on giving to those less fortunate than yourself. It helps to give perspective about what you really need vs wants.
- Shop local, and fair trade. Your money will help support small businesses and communities.
- Focus on quality over quantity. Give less and give meaningfully.
Setting Limits About What is Enough
So how do you know what is enough?
Enough will vary from person to person, and each family will have to decide for themselves.
- You need to be able to afford your generosity without dipping into credit cards. Relying on credit to get you through Christmas isn't sustainable.
- What is the cost of what you're buying to the planet? First Nations people in America have a Seventh Generation principle that asks you to think about whether decisions you make today will be beneficial to your descendants seven generations in the future. How's that for looking ahead?
- Make a list about who you want to give to, and what you want to give them. No forgetting someone or overspending because a child is easier to buy for than others, and then buying the others more to be fair.
- Budget limits might be an amount per child (eg. $100), or a total amount for the children (eg. $500).
- Quantity limits might be the number of gifts per child (eg. 3).
- You may have a buying guideline such as "something they need, something they want, something to wear, something to read".
- You may have a gift giving tradition in your family such as giving a family gift on Christmas Eve, and gifts from Santa on Christmas Day.
- Remember that giving kids too much can be just as damaging as not enough. When they become destructive or uncaring, ungrateful, dismissive, entitled, or self-absorbed, and they start begging you for the next thing, these are signs that they have too much. Read more in this article.
Does that sound like a gift or a burden?
So how do you get around that?
By remembering what gifts are. Gifts are an expression of love, an opportunity to fulfill a need, something that will help you grow as a person, or something to enjoy in the moment.
Gifts to Reduce Your Impact
If you’re stuck for ideas on gifts that will fit the bill, here are 17 to spark your imagination. Let's get to the fun!
- Notice their play preferences. Some kids have a singular interest such as Lego, some kids have a regular rotation of what they choose. Follow along with whatever is their style.
- Find out what they want. This is the classic letter to Santa or a wishlist. This doesn’t mean you give them everything they ask for, but if something appears on their list every year, there’s a good chance they’re interested.
- Get them something they need. This could be clothes and accessories, or could be play equipment for their stage such as a bike, sandpit or a swing set.
- Encourage their learning. This could be books, books with a CD to listen as they read along, online lessons, learning about space, the natural world, the sky's the limit.
- Give the gift of music. This could be a CD of something they enjoy or a musical instrument.
- Encourage their imagination with simple props for a dress up box, pretend play in the kitchen or other scenarios such as going to the doctor, a hairdresser, dentist, or a cafe.
- If they are school-age, you could help them get their year off to a fresh start. This could be a journal, a calendar, or some funky stationery.
- Get them enjoying the outdoors. Christmas is during summer in Australia. Give them new bathers or a rashie for the beach, or something for getting wet and splashy outdoors like a water slide.
- Give them a laugh. Kids’ laughter is the best, isn’t it? A funny book, jokes, a slinky, magic tricks, bubbles, or a skill tester game like Jenga or Operation will get the giggles happening.
- Give them somewhere to go with a membership or experience. Museums or the zoo always have something interesting on for kids and if you’re a member, there’s no reason not to go. An experience could be tickets to a favourite show, or something big like a family holiday.
- The gift of art. This could be something to decorate their room, or something to remind them of a special place.
- Do your kids love getting mail? Check out a subscription service. There are a number of services that send a one-off or a monthly box with activities. It’s new, it keeps them busy being creative, and you don’t have to think about the bits and pieces you need to put it together.
- Help kids save. Give gold coins for filling up money jars and they’ll be able to buy something they want with their own money that much sooner.
- Show them your love with a sentimental keepsake. Make a photo slideshow of the photos from the past year, or frame a photo of a happy memory.
- Give a hamper filled with Christmas goodies. This one is great for giving to a large family (probably not for your own kids) where there is something for everyone rather than individual gifts. You can go store bought or handmade to fill it up.
- Give a Christmas tradition with their own Christmas bauble for the tree. This one is lovely when they are young and as they grow, they can put their bauble on the tree and feel a sense of belonging.
- Give a gift that keeps on giving. Adopt an animal at the zoo or Moonlit Sanctuary. It’s all care, no responsibility.
Does anything there tickle your fancy? That's 17 ideas that will serve kids and reduce the waste.
Tip - don’t be more invested in the gifts than the kids are. The nature of childhood is that they grow and change all the time, and they try new things, and their interests change. If they want to let something go, don’t argue, just help them do it.
With intentional gift buying, you will use the resources available to you instead of stretching your time, money, and energy to please others. You are still giving love, but you are doing it in a way that respects the reason for the season, and your impact on the Earth.
Do you practice intentional gifts for kids? What works for you? Share in the comments below, or share with your family to let them know this is what you want to do.