Look, I have no issue with the long-standing tradition of presents under the tree. Gift opening and seeing the joy on your children's faces, not to mention the magic involved in the gifts spontaneously appearing on Christmas morning should be cherished.
No child needs 30 Christmas presents from Santa. No child needs 30 presents at all. But I'm afraid that estimate is on the low end of what most children in our area will be receiving for Christmas.
I sat down and did the baffling assessment this year of how much my children stand to gain from the Christmas holiday. Three sets of grandparents. Two great grandmas. Three sets of aunts and uncles. Two very generous first cousins, once removed. If each of these entities only get our children one gift (which, by the way, they probably won't) my children will have 11 gifts right there. Counting the fact that my husband and I want to give the children each a gift (a batgirl costume and a minecraft lego, respectively) that brings their my kids' gift total up to 12.
We've been begging and pleaded with our relatives to get our children NOTHING or give the gift of an outing. The grandma who grew up in poverty gave me a puzzled look and then went off and probably bought them a car. One sporting grandma agreed to give a coupon to take the kids to lunch and a movie which filled my heart with joy but I later found out she bought the kids a bounce house. But it's going to stay at her house, she reasoned, so it really doesn't count.
So, clearly, the grandparents cannot be contained. The aunts and uncles gently asked me/guilted me to not suck the joy out of their hearts by denying them the privilege of picking out toys for the kids while they are still young.
So maybe I can't control the people in my family, but my husband and I can certainly control ourselves.
I had to say something to the kids. I had to do something to stop them from coming to expect piles of presents from Santa under the tree. I don't want my children surrounded by piles of THINGS when so many go without and nor do I want to raise entitled little brats. I don't have a bigger house than I need. Half the furniture in our house is second-hand (repurposed is the trendy word). We are not wasteful people. And I didn't want to throw all that to the wind because a fictional fat guy in velvet suit was going to squeeze through my chimney bearing gifts.
So I sat down with them and we talked about the two families we had helped to "adopt" to assist them with buying Christmas gifts...one through the Salvation Army Angels program and one from my WINGS group. And I lectured them about waste and giving back to others and how things will never love you back and I reminded them of the meltdown Mommy had last year when she realized the giant mound of plastic and paper that all the toy packaging had generated. And how it would all never decompose and be stuffed into poor Mother Earth indefinitely.
"Santa's NOT COMING?!" my son immediately went to DefCon 5, as is his way.
"I was GOOD! Ask that elf!" Little D insisted.
"No, no," I hurriedly assured them. "You were very good. Santa is definitely coming. But he's not going to bring you a ton of gifts this year. Just a couple."
"Why?" Big A wanted to know.
"I think because you're very lucky and you have so much family around you to give you gifts. And some kids have less family and less money to spend on gifts." That was my response.
"So if we get less, other kids can get more?" Big A questioned.
"Yes," I said, even though that probably wasn't true.
"Do you know what communism is? I believe mommy is trying to illustrate it. " my husband interjected. I shushed him.
"It's not that," I tired to explain to the kids what I was feeling myself. "It's just that...for Santa to bring you piles of gifts...when you have so much already...and you're getting even more gifts from your extended family...well, it all seems like a bit much, right?"
Big A looked at me thoughtfully while Little D climbed onto my husband's head, as she often does.
"I think...that would be greedy." Big A came up with.
"Exactly!" I was relieved he was getting it.
"But..will Santa still bring me a Mario Microworld?" he asked hopefully.
"And my basketball shirt?" Little D piped up.
"Probably, if you're good." I exhaled...glad that they didn't seem phased by getting less gifts from Santa this year.
"So, I still get a few gifts from Santa but just not a pile up to the ceiling or near the ceiling?" Big A clarified.
"Yes." I responded.
"Like how many?" he prodded.
"I don't know," I said. "But remember how many gifts you're getting from all your aunts and uncles and grandparents? You guys are incredibly lucky to have such loving relatives"
They both seemed okay about it. And my husband and I agreed that Santa would bring them each three gifts (A Ghostbusters lego set, the Mario World and an Emmett alarm clock for our son and a soccer ball, basketball shirt and mechanical butterfly for our daughter). I was glad I managed their expectations and I felt lighter just knowing we'd be generating less waste and consuming less things.
Even though I often feel unsuccessful, I'm not just trying to raise kids here. I'm trying to raise decent adults. And the sooner we can teach them that our society's warped obsession with accumulating things is NOT the path to satisfaction, peace or happiness the better off we will be.
When I think back to my happiest Christmas memories from childhood, very few of them involve gifts. I remember my mom putting on Frank Sinatra's Christmas record as we decorated the house. I remember my Dad screaming "Pivot! Pi-VAHT!" as my sisters and I dissolved in laughter as we tried to help him bring in the tree. Hiding the baby Jesus. Snuggling with my sisters drinking hot chocolate and watching Rudolph. My mom's amazing German cold cut breakfasts. Seeing my grandparents admire our Christmas dresses. Sitting with my mom on the living room couch when she (finally) stopped serving people and sat down for a few moments of peace as we listened to opera with the lights dimmed, the Christmas tree twinkling away. The house filled with the laughter, eating, music and conversation of our family.
I want to create that for my kids. And, believe it or not, I want to watch their faces light up when Santa brings them just what they were hoping for. But toning it down to something reasonable and less excessive has brought me a lot of peace this holiday season.