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  • Writer's pictureHope Greenleaf

Ensure Your Holiday is Right for Your Family

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

I love that we’re in a time of accepting and embracing less than perfect. We are now celebrating #parentingfails and able to laugh at ourselves, be more open and honest with our friends and family, and do what’s best for us and our families, even if it’s not what everyone around us may be doing. And this should go for the holidays too!

A fun part of becoming a parent has been reflecting on my own childhood holidays, what made them magical and memorable, and hearing about my husband’s too. In my family we always opened one gift on Christmas Eve after church just before going to bed. Then we’d lay in our beds on Christmas morning watching the clock because weren’t allowed to wake my mom before 7am. I have three siblings so we used to draw names so that we only had to scrounge up enough money to buy one sibling a gift.

And now, as parents, we get to make all of these holiday-defining decisions for our children. What I mean by this is:

What types of gifts are stocking stuffers?

Do stocking stuffers get wrapped?

Do presents from Santa get wrapped?

Do the kids get more presents from Santa or from us?

Do the bigger/nicer/most desired gifts come from us or Santa?

Do we open any gifts on Christmas Eve?

And the biggest one…

How much is too much?

These are the fun little details that you grow up experiencing and assuming that every family does it the same way. For me, of course presents from Santa get wrapped (just in different wrapping paper) and they aren’t set aside separated from all of the other gifts. ALL of the gifts are beautifully arranged under and around the tree all mixed up so you have to search for ones with your name on them (that’s part of the fun!)

So now, we get to decide how our children will remember Christmas. We get to decide if they get a room full of gifts or just a couple. Will all the gifts be opened before 7am on Christmas Day, or will one be saved for that night? This is the special part of being a parent, getting to choose what works best for our family.

Some families have huge Christmases (and maybe birthdays too), and those are the only gifts that are given/received during the year. While other families may do a simpler winter holiday but then give gifts on other holidays (ie. Valentine’s Day, Easter, last day of school, first day of school, half-birthday) or just out of the blue throughout the year.

Talking about gift giving like this is another great way to reinforce the message of acceptance and diversity to our children that, “Families have different beliefs, practices, etc. This is how we do it in our family.”

I’ve heard of different “gift rules or guidelines” and, while some of them sound great and genius to me, I never actually follow any of them. A few I’ve heard of include:

“The Four Gift Rule”: Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.

“The Three Gift Rule”: Based on the nativity story and the idea that Jesus received three gifts.

“The Five Sense Rule”: Something they can see, something they can hear/listen to, something they can feel, something they can taste, and something they can smell.

Some families have started focusing more on experience gifts, both to cut down on clutter and also because research tells us that these are the gifts children most remember and that time spent with parents/caregivers does wonders for their development (all of which are true!).

Undivided attention and time with parents/caregivers are particularly special or harder to come by for children with siblings. This means that a solo trip to get ice cream, out to breakfast, bowling or to see a show with just mom and/or dad may be a more exciting gift for a child with siblings than it is for an only child…but, like everything, it depends on the child.

So, as the weeks wind down and the holidays are approaching, I invite you to slow down and focus on what’s best for YOUR family. Don’t focus on the latest craze around town just because it’s the craze, because that may be too overwhelming (large crowd, tons of lights, loud music) for your child. Don’t focus on what your neighbors are doing with their kids, because that could mean staying out later than usual and maybe your child really needs to stick to her bedtime routine every night. Don’t focus on carrying on traditions from your childhood that stress you out. If they don’t bring you joy now, then let them go.

Do focus on what makes you and your children feel joy. Is that watching movies and drinking hot chocolate? Is it walking around the neighborhood to see lights and decorations? Maybe it’s going to the latest craze in town because you all love activity and action. Take a moment to think about HOW you want to spend the holidays, WHAT joyful and festive look like for your family. And whatever you and your family end up doing, just make sure it works for YOU.

Happy Holidays! Be Well.

Summer Jones is an early childhood specialist that provides parents with all the tools necessary to confidently navigate their family journey through personalized counseling. For more information, visit

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