How to have an Intentional Christmas with kids. 5 Humble Holiday Traditions that are guaranteed to make December a magical experience for your family.
If you’re like me, you’re email has begun filled up with emails about Cyber Monday, Black Friday and a bazillion gift deals claiming you *need* from every website you’ve ever purchased from or even glanced at in the last ten years.
Around the holidays my head begins to swim under the pressure of a season of shopping, gifting, school parties, activities and gatherings. and holiday wish list guides.
Being able to give my children presents makes me feel good and I love watching their excited faces on Christmas morning, but when it becomes a box to tick off each year, it changes from fun, and into stress.
December is my favorite time of year yet, with all the buying, cooking parties, gatherings, overspending, activities, yelling, cleaning and pressure to make Christmas magical, I lost sight of the magic all together.
Three years ago, my heart was telling me something had to change.
My favorite holiday felt like a burden; not filled with joy but with overspending on toys we didn’t need and 14 Christmas festivals we thought we had to attend.
Which is why, we made the switch to begin focusing our energy and money on traditions we call Intentional Christmas.
This simple shift of spending our time doing kind things for others, has brought back a magical feeling to our home.
My kids are bouncing-off-the-walls-excited to start these traditions, even more than thinking of gifts they’d want for themselves.
What is Intentional Christmas and Why Is it Good for Kids to Participate?
Intentional Christmas is all about taking the pressure off of gifts and running yourself ragged trying to squeeze in every event and party. It’s about devoting your time, thoughts, and resources to do nice things for others without obligation or recognition.
The holidays can be magical when they have a purpose greater than a $20 piece of plastic.
It’s about family, kindness, making others happy and caring for your community.
Teaching kids empathy for others and gratitude for the things they already have, and receive has never been easier for parents.
We work hard to show our kids the holidays aren’t about presents, but about doing nice things and helping others and I hope you might find a tradition or two to share with your family this season.
Intentional Gift Giving with Kids
When I talk about intentional with gifts, here’s how to be purposeful with gift giving to your kids.
The presents we wrap for our children are carefully picked out to inspire creativity, learning, playing together and family time. This means they usually aren’t trendy, they don’t light up or make sounds.
Some of the gifts we give to our children are books, art and craft supplies, stem and building sets, items that can be used inside and outside for exercise, or a board game or two for our family to play together.
The presents they receive serve multiple purposes and are meant to last months, if not years. Not only because I want to get our money’s worth, but because my kids play HARD with their things.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I buy our three kids a handful of gifts each year and can’t wait for their excited faces when they tear through the wrapping paper on Christmas morning.
Shoot, I even publish an Epic Gift Guide for Parents after testing and scouting kid’s gear for several months to help other parents cut through all the gift guides floating around.
The difference of intentional gifting versus our old ways?
We do our best to follow the Four Gift Rule:
- 1 Gift they NEED
- 1 Gift they WANT
- 1 Gift to WEAR
- 1 Gift to READ
Our Christmas wasn’t always like this for us though.
Our playroom used to be overrun with toys, a giant horse that was used maybe once, light sabers, and other silly items often advertised as “the best toy of the year” and I thought we had to have.
Giving so many gifts didn’t feel good.
The last thing my children needed was more toys and stuff.
As a byproduct, I was overwhelmed by the amount of clean-up every night and noticed the kids didn’t play with half the stuff they had, but also that their attention spans weren’t increasing and imaginations stuck.
I noticed my kids also acted entitled to receive without giving and seeing your children want for more when they already have so much, isn’t a very good feeling.
The truth is, I took an extreme approach to fix the problem.
I held a nighttime raid of our playroom and the kid’s rooms and donated bags and bags of stuff.
The next week I waited for the kids to notice their stuff was gone, and you know what?
They never did.
Since then, my husband and I decided to step back from buying grandiose gifts and focus on teaching our kids that doing for others, whether it’s with a small act of kindness, homemade cookies or a kind gesture, it always going to be more gratifying than what’s under the tree on Christmas morning.
Here are some things we do as a family that you might be inspired to start with yours.
Intentional Christmas: Keeping Things Simple (and Humble) for Kids
Acts of Kindness
Each week in December, our family sits around the table and draws a name from a bowl. Without sharing who they drew, it’s each person’s job to performs little acts of kindness for the next seven days to help the other person.
I can remember my 5-year-old daughter going downstairs to set a place setting and pour of cereal for her Dad for breakfast one morning.
Or when my son organized my shoes in my closet for me.
And my daughter wrapping her stuffed animals in a box to gift to her little sister to make her happy.
These are simple things, but the thought they put into doing something nice for the other person is what melts me every year.
It could be as simple as giving a colored picture, making their bed, putting their shoes away, helping with a chore, splitting their dessert with the other person, giving them a compliment, etc.
Acts of Kindness for the Neighbors or a Local Family
The kids get really excited for this Intention Tradition and have a long list of ideas already in the works for this year!
Together, they pick a neighbor or family nearby to do something nice for, at least once a week.
In the past they’ve shoveled driveways and sidewalks when it’s snowed, brought over a plate of fresh baked cookies with a note or a crockpot with chicken noodle soup, and a bouquet of flowers to one elderly neighbor.
This is a tradition I’ve been doing since I was a little girl and excited to keep carrying it on with my own children.
Each year, my husband and I take the kids to go shopping for one another.
We give them a little money (some years it’s been $5 or $10 for each person they need to buy gifts for) and they pick out a gift at the store. Some years they’ve even contributed money from their own piggy banks to buy a bigger item.
It’s fun to watch the kids pay attention to the little things their siblings need or say they want, and to go shopping for them. It makes me happy to see the care and consideration they put into buying the gift, then wrapping it and making a card.
On Christmas Day, sibling gifts are always the most anticipated presents and the big smiles they share with each other are worth the juggle of trying to get three kids in a store and out without telling, sharing or spotting what they bought the other ones.
Local Giving Tree
Each year, the kids pick a name of another child off a local giving tree. Over the next week they shop for the child (with a budget of course) and then return the gifts wrapped with his or her name.
I’m never surprised about how generous they want to be towards a complete stranger and it melts my heart to see them use their own money and stretch their dollar to buy the child a great gift, or two!
My kids notice when people are on the corner holding a sign asking for help or spare change. Since I want to teach them to care for others and help when others are in need, one of the easiest ways I’ve found to do this is by creating kindness bags together that we can keep in the car and hand out.
Kindness bags are ziplock bags filled with toiletries, a snack, some change, and seasonal items like chapstick and sunscreen or hand-warmers and a granola bar.
When we pull up to a street corner and someone is holding a sign, asking for help, I’ll either hand them a kindness bag we have in our center console, or roll down the kid’s window to hand it to them.
Here’s more information on what we put into our kindness bags. Most of the items you can buy at the dollar store or on sale and stock up.
More Ideas for an Intentional Christmas:
- Make Meals for a local family going through a hard time (ask your church to share about a family who could benefit from your kindness.) Maybe the family doesn’t need meals, but a Christmas tree or decorations, a few gifts or warm winter gear would make the season happier for them.
- Keep a Gratitude Jar on your counter where everyone can write on little slips of paper things they’ve grateful for, or memories from the year, and put them into the jar once they’re done. On Christmas Day, read everyone’s responses.
- Do 12 Days of Christmas for another family; even if it’s just one book a day you bought from the thrift store, the act alone is what counts!
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Epic Gift Guides:
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