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CHRISTMAS GIFTS: Expectations, Giving, Receiving

"Why can't my kids stop acting so greedy and unappreciative on Christmas morning?!"

Ever felt that way? I sure have. It can be frustrating and hurtful when they respond poorly to a gift I worked hard to get under the tree for them. And it's mortifying when Grandma hands them a gift and they toss it aside with a disappointed scowl. Ugh!

Why can't they just be happy and thankful on this day, of all days? After the time, money, effort, returns, and wrapping. After all the holiday parties, the family gatherings, the special memory makers. The decorating, school parties, Christmas recitals and concerts. And the stresssssss. It's all been for *them*!

Now, I try to focus my family on the birth of Jesus at Christmastime. We do a lot of Jesus stuff. At the same time, I'm not anti-Santa or against gift-giving. So to amplify the love and mitigate the crises on Christmas morning, here are a few things that have worked so far at our house.

{Disclaimer: These ideas might make it seem like my little family blissfully has it all together at Christmas. On the contrary, I do these things precisely because we can be quite the hot mess! These are just a few of the things I've tried that have actually worked.}


First off--and this is often hard for me--no matter how much time or effort I spend on a gift, sometimes it just doesn't hit the spot. I've gotta be okay with that.

I also have to mentally prepare myself by remembering that we aren't born-thankers, though some are more naturally aware than others. Despite how it seems, my kids aren't consciously choosing to act like entitled brats when scowl at and toss aside gifts they don't like. They're simply lacking cognitive ability, the capacity to see beyond themselves, and frames of reference that come with experience.


Before my kids could read, they mistakenly hoped/expected that every gift under the tree might be for them, or at least that the largest were theirs (because of course bigger is always better, right?). They also hoped/expected that every present was a toy. This made for melt-downs, grumpiness, and misery all around.

I've discovered remedies for both problems, which have helped even my most-rigid children.

1. WRAPPING PAPER. Each child picks out his or her own wrapping paper so they know at a glance what is or isn't theirs under the tree.

2. GIFT CATEGORIES. A decade ago, the wonderful worldwide web led me to a flexible, balanced approach that I absolutely love. Each child receives one gift per category: need, read, want, and wear. (All of which could be found at a dollar store, if necessary!). Sometimes we also add in an IOU experience (date with mom and dad, movie tickets, special summer vacation, etc.). Now my kids don't go into it expecting every gift to be a toy.

3. LABEL EACH GIFT WITH ITS CATEGORY. For the inflexible child, this is key! It maintains an element of surprise while also providing boundaries for their expectations. I kid you not, this has been a total game-changer. When they know from the get-go that it's WEAR or NEED (or, more specifically, when they know it isn't a WANT), they are far less disappointed. In fact, on many occasions they've actually been able to enjoy and appreciate whatever is inside, even if it's underwear!


I love Henry B. Eyring's 1980 BYU Devotional and read it every December. As I help my kids prepare to give gifts to each other, I remind them of his principles:

But even more important to me is what he says about the why and how of being a good gift receiver. Even as an adult, I need reminders about this! Most of us could do with better gift-receiving skills.

I bring this up with my kids during meals. We practice it when we receive neighbor or friend gifts. We role-play scenarios. (Honestly, there's a decent amount of eye-rolling and protests.)

On Christmas morning, we have two three rules:

  • Gifts are opened one at a time so the whole family can give attention to each gift and giver.

  • The opener must notice and then tell something that s/he likes about it.

  • The opener must express gratitude to the giver for the thoughtfulness and sacrifice.

For our family, this process has made gift opening far more meaningful for both the givers and the receivers. And BONUS! It draws out the process so gift opening isn't such a whirlwind.


Jesus Christ is the best gift giver who ever lived on this earth. He willingly sacrificed Himself to do for us what we couldn't do for ourselves, and because of that we can experience joy and peace now and forever.

How do you feel about His gift for you?

How does that influence your actions and choices?

How could you be a better receiver of His gift?

Jesus Christ is also the best gift receiver. He notices every single thing we do to bring light and love to the world, no matter how small. He can turn any effort into success. He appreciates what we are trying to do.

How does this approach make you feel about Him? Yourself?

How can you better model His example when someone gives you a gift?


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