Yes, it's Christmas but my kids only get two or three presents – Here's why

I’m done with piles of presents around a Christmas tree that take moments to open and are discarded a week later.

My oldest child didn’t get to sit on Santa’s lap until she was five-years-old, and even then, it was by accident since the jolly old elf happened to be where we were shopping. He asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she just looked at him, having no idea that she was supposed to ask for some toy she was desiring in the depths of her little heart. I’ll freely admit I smiled and did a little happy dance inside -- parenting win right there.

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It’s not that my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas because we absolutely do. But we intentionally do not go all out for presents or stalk Santa around town for weeks or use a creepy elf in our home during the holidays.

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I’m over all the expensive gifts, all the hype, all the breathlessly delivered lists of the hottest toys of the season. I’m done with piles of presents around a Christmas tree that take moments to open and are discarded a week later.

All those memes about parents stepping on LEGO bricks scattered throughout their homes are hilarious because they are true. It’s not only small toys but pieces of toys, broken by who knows what or whom. It’s half-naked dolls strewn about bedrooms with legs missing. It’s puzzles that will never be completed because pieces have been lost forever.

The list goes on. The momentary pleasure of opening gifts on Christmas morning is replaced by the knowledge that we just have too much stuff.

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Yet Americans aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Each year, Americans up the ante, spending more money than ever on gifts.

The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend a mind-blowing $920 per person on gifts this year. No wonder so many people rack up over $1,000 in debt come January and nearly half say won’t pay those charges until March or later, according to MagnifyMoney. The latest electronics, toys, or dolls aren’t worth that kind of sacrifice.

I want to teach my kids that the best gifts are those times with their grandparents, learning how to build a birdhouse or paint a picture or speak words in a language they don’t know.

For my own kids, we are doing two or three gifts per child and saving any extra money for experiences together like vacations, museum memberships and camps.

We also do some age-appropriate volunteering, choose a child from our church’s Giving Tree to buy a few gifts and necessities for, and participate in programs like Box of Joy or Operation Christmas Child.

My kids are not old enough yet, but I want to take them to volunteer in soup kitchens and engage with people who may not have anyone to celebrate the holidays with.

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I used to volunteer with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and the mark they left on my heart remains to this day. Their total devotion to the poorest of the poor and gratefulness for every small thing reminds me daily how blessed I am and how much hurt there is in this world. Those experiences taught me that all the “stuff” of this world is worth very little.

The battle against the rising tide of consumerism is counter-cultural. My daughters are not missing out on childhood memories by my own refusal to chase after Santa every year. Nor are they deprived of joy during the Christmas season, which is truly about preparation for the greatest gift humanity has ever received in the birth of Jesus Christ.

We celebrate the holiday together at church on Christmas Eve, always a beautiful occasion, and Christmas morning in our house is spent opening a few gifts and enjoying brunch and looking forward later to dinner with family.

It’s not easy to shift focus from the expectation of gifts but we talk about where we want to go for vacation together or remember our favorite moments together from the past year and come up ideas on special things they would like to do next year.

I want to teach my kids that the best gifts are those times with their grandparents, learning how to build a birdhouse or paint a picture or speak words in a language they don’t know.

The gifts they will remember are summers in the mountains, jumping in lakes, screaming in joy on a roller coaster, and riding bikes on the beach.

These are the gifts that last long beyond the excitement of a new toy or doll.

Take a breather this Christmas and appreciate the most precious gifts you have been given this year that don’t require wrapping paper or bows to be enjoyed.

Kristina Hernandez is a freelance writer who lives in South Carolina with her husband and children.

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