Our 5 Best Christmas Gifts That Keep On Giving

Our family loves Christmas. We start talking about what kind of lights we will put on the house and tree right around Halloween. Clark My husband turns up the volume as soon as the radio station switches to Christmas music. Our Christmas movies get pulled from the shelf and dusted off even before we’ve digested our Thanksgiving meal.

And much of our enjoyment is a result of some practices we fell into when the kids were young. I say “fell into” because I don’t want to sound like we are the kind of people who have our act together. We didn’t intentionally plan out these things… they just sort of happened.

But these are the things that have made a huge difference in how we celebrate this monster of a holiday. These are the things that have helped us “tame the beast” a bit, and even enjoy what could be a pressure-cooker for a family of six.

1. Decorating: Let go and let be. You’ll be glad later.

Somehow, I’ve managed to give each of my four children jurisdiction over one aspect of our Christmas decorating. I think this practice came out of exhaustion when they were small, or in need of something to keep them busy while I was nursing or folding laundry.

My oldest always helps set up the Christmas tree and assists with the outdoor and indoor lights. (He’s also our muscle-man box carrier.) My second child won’t let anyone (including me) touch our Christmas village. My third child is in charge of displaying my snowman collection, and my youngest is proud to arrange our many nativity sets. Of course, when they were younger, they needed help, but I’ve always let each child make decisions and have ownership over these projects.

My house was never ready for Good Housekeeping Magazine and I would sometimes cringe over the final product, and some things have gotten broken… but now, as I sip my coffee while my servants blessings decorate my whole house,  I’m so grateful. Just make sure Rusty checks every bulb.

2. Advent Devotional: Adorenaments. A long-lasting way to prepare for the Savior. 

When our kids were very young I heard an advertisement on FamilyLife radio for a set of ornaments that each represented one of Jesus’ names (King of Judah, Living Water, etc). For every ornament, there was a short, “kid-friendly” devotional and a song. At the time, I was trying to find a good Advent calendar for our young family to use, so I bought it.

For years since then, we put the Adorenaments in a basket on our dinner table during Advent. During dinner, the kids fought over took turns choosing one from the basket. We read the devotional after we ate, and hung that Adorenament on our tree. We would listen to the CD in the car all during the season, and those songs are still burned on our brain.

Our kids are older now, but we still get the Adorenaments out each year and “quiz” each other on the names of Jesus. It has been a great way for our family to celebrate the attributes of our Savior and remember that he is more than a baby in a manger. You can check them out HERE. And truly… it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

3. Gifts for the Kids: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (plus an ornament). And how we’ve included Santa… 

From the beginning, we wanted to simplify our shopping and reduce our spending while fighting against entitlement in our kids.

We were also struggling with how to include Santa in our Christmas traditions. We didn’t want to uninvite him, but we didn’t want him to be in the center. I honestly don’t remember where I got this idea, but when our oldest was very little, we started the “3 Gifts Rule” for Christmas. Each child gets only three presents, plus an ornament:

GOLD: The first gift is wrapped in gold paper and is from Santa. This gift is one thing that the child really wants… something “real nice”: a big ticket item or something special that he/she has been wanting for a while. We try to plan ahead and save up for these special gifts… I mean, Santa does.

FRANKINCENSE: This gift is from Mom and Dad and is wrapped in a certain kind of paper. This is usually something that’s practical: clothes, shoes, etc. We try to choose something similar to what we would buy them anyway, but make it a special purchase.

MYRRH: This third gift is also from Mom and Dad and is also wrapped in a certain color. It is something small that we think each child would like: a book, movie, game, a non-nutritive cereal varnish, etc.

+ AN ORNAMENT: For about fifteen years, we have been giving our kids a personalized ornament each year. It always represents something special that he or she did during that year: first home-run, riding a two-wheeler, braces, learning an instrument, starting a new school, getting a driver’s license, etc. We’ve gotten them personalized and dated. We hang them on our tree now, but when each child moves out (sorry, not sorry), we will box up these special ornaments for use in their own house, or “tenement on wheels”.

And just a note: you can find just about anything on an ornament. When our son had shoulder surgery, we looked online and actually found a “Shoulder Surgery” ornament. It’s not pretty, but it always gives us a laugh.


4. Sibling and Spouse Gifts: Keep it stress-free and fun.

My husband and I decided long ago not to exchange gifts for Christmas. By the time we’ve shopped for the kids and everyone else, we are always sick of shopping and short on money. Instead, we decided to have a “special date” in between Christmas and New Year’s. We look forward to leaving the kids behind while we treat ourselves to a movie and/or a nice dinner. I love that our best gift to each other is time.

It always felt strange handing money over to our kids so that they could shop for each other. So, we started the tradition of taking them on one shopping trip to the Dollar Store, where they could buy for their whole family for $5. Usually, each child had their own money to spend, but if not, or if Mr. Frank Shirley terminated their Christmas bonus…we would have them do extra chores to earn their five-dollar bill for gifts.

For many years, their grandparents would take them and help them pick out special things for each person. Each child sneaks around the store with his or her basket, trying to keep it hidden from the others. Now, even though they are older and have a *little* more money, they don’t want to stop… and they drive themselves (hallelujah!).

My daughter and her “Sham-Wow”. An inside joke. 🙂

On Christmas morning, after the other giftsare opened, we go around the room and open our “Dollar Store” treasures. Some of thepresents are actually very nice and thoughtful. Othersare connected to inside jokes or some light-hearted teasing. We usually end up cracking up over some of the things they have picked out for each other and for us. It is one of our favorite parts of Christmas morning.And how about a family drum-roll for the final one… Joy to the World!


5. Traditions: Let them serve you… not the other way around. 

For years, we kicked off our fun old-fashion family Christmas by chopping down our own tree. We did this for years and have so many fond memories in the cold woods. However, once the kids got older, it became more difficult to devote a whole day to tree shopping. So, we adjusted the tradition to a quick trip up the road to a tree lot. And it’s still fun!

We have lots of examples for this: a day of crafting ornaments for extended family members turned into everyone helping frame and wrap their school pictures instead. Color-coordinating Christmas outfits has turned into nice jeans and sweaters or fleece. The Adornments devotional is a little young for our crew now, but we still use the ornaments on our tree, and we still informally review what we learned as we hang each one.

Some traditions have lasted longer; still serving us well: our Christmas pickle ornament, long evening car rides to view light displays, baking holiday bread for teachers and neighbors, the Children’s Christmas Pageant at church, etc.

At first, when the kids would start to pull away from one of my cherished traditions, I would fight it. But now, I realize that it’s always better to let them die when they have run their course, making room for new ones that are more tailored to our family’s age and stage. Clark Griswold should have adopted this mindset much, much earlier…

Now, in honor of Aunt Bethany, and to remind you to hold loosely to your holiday expectations, I’d like to leave you with this memorable Christmas blessing:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands/ One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 
Amen. 🙂 

Here’s to your family Christmas,


5 thoughts on “Our 5 Best Christmas Gifts That Keep On Giving

  1. RefreshMom November 17, 2014 / 7:34 pm

    Those are some great ideas. Especially as my boys get older I see the wisdom of the three gifts. We're not there yet, but the day may come….

    When mine were little I wanted something to help them stay focused on the meaning of Christmas rather than presents under the tree. We intentionally put the tree up in the middle of December, but we do our Advent Nativitree (http://etsy.me/11okQhW) tradition to begin the focus on the nativity. It's become our most valued tradition. We also read a nativity-based story each night after we hang the ornaments on our mini-tree.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    Mary Hampton


  2. Karen Brown November 23, 2014 / 12:46 am

    Great thoughts, Mary! Traditions: no matter what they are, they build community in your family. Blessings to yours!


  3. wastelandtograceland.com November 24, 2014 / 12:01 pm

    I really appreciate your message that reminds me to let go at Christmas. Especially the part about allowing the kids to decorate! Great read during the week that we usually start putting the tree up!


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