The Danger of Christmas


I love Christmas, but I’m also afraid of it.

I’m afraid our kids will feel entitled by all the gifts they receive. I’m afraid they will lose sight of the true meaning of Jesus’ birth. I fear it will reinforce their tendency to believe life’s all about them. I’m concerned they’ll turn into greedy over-consumers.

We’re committed to not over-doing the gifts, but we do enjoy making Christmas morning magical for our kids. Surely that will look different as they grow up, but at their ages, this doesn’t cost a lot.

We’re grateful to have relatives who are generous but reasonable (not over-gifters). But even one or two reasonable presents from a number of relatives, plus “Santa,” adds up to a fair amount of stuff. (I do see the toys as a resource to survive the long winter months ahead!)

I’m also tempted to fill the precious days off of school and work with fun holiday activities. There are more special events than we can possibly attend, plus simple pleasures like sledding, baking cookies, and watching Christmas movies. I want to be sure that helping others is prioritized in the midst of seasonal entertainment, and that will mean passing on some fun activities, even if they’re free.

We want to celebrate Christmas with special treats, gifts, and family activities. We also want our kids to learn generosity, empathy, and service. Here’s how we’re trying to combat the greedy, entitled, all-about-me mentality that kids (and all of us, if we’re honest) are naturally prone to.

“It is better to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

We first introduced this verse to my son when he was three. He replied, “That’s not true,” and refused to memorize it. We didn’t force the issue. Two years later he was voluntarily quoting it (sometimes to his sister) and trying to understand it. He asked if getting presents on Christmas morning is bad. I explained that both giving and receiving are good and fun, but giving is special because it helps others and can bring them happiness.

To involve our kids in giving, I encourage them to buy or make something for each other and their dad. Sometimes with their closest friends they might swap toys they already have or chip in toward a small gift.

“If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and he will repay you!” (Proverbs 19:17)

Our kids live a strange existence in which all their needs are abundantly met. Without scaring them, we try to explain that not everyone lives this way. Some kids don’t get toys for Christmas; others don’t have enough food or even clean water. (Compassion International’s Explorer magazine was helpful for this.) We can’t solve all those problems, but we can share some of what we have with others. We use Dave Ramsey’s suggestion for give, save, and spend jars, and set a deadline in December for choosing a charitable destination for their money. This year they chose to give to a children’s ministry through the outstanding organization India Gospel League.

Two years ago I took my son to help out with a “Christmas with Dignity” store through a local ministry in a low-income neighborhood that’s home to many refugee families. The children work throughout the year to earn digital “dollars” by attending after school tutoring, completing homework, and participating in programs. With these funds they can shop at a Christmas store featuring a large variety of new, donated items. We volunteered with the set-up, which involved carrying lots of items down lots of stairs.

The store featured toys, but also many practical household items ranging from coffee makers to diapers to toilet paper. Friends who volunteer at the store noted how many of these items the kids choose over the toys.

Once we got through the explanations and he got to carry stuff around he got increasingly excited. He talked about the kids choosing from the different items. He was also bragging about how strong his muscles were getting from all the hard work. Maybe he still thinks it’s all about him (& his muscles), but I was grateful he had a chance to help others in some way. He left in an exceptionally good mood because he got to experience firsthand the joy of giving rather than receiving.

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress…”(James 1:27)

A friend suggested that the kids from our church visit nursing home residents and sing carols. Yesterday we did just that. Yes, visiting people you don’t know feels awkward. And children aged four to seven barely remember the lyrics to the songs. But I hope our short little concert went a long way toward brightening the residents’ day, and showing our kids that they’re not the center of universe.

The book The Me, Me, Me Epidemic  includes some more great ideas for involved kids in both planned and random acts of service.

I don’t share these experiences because I have it all figured out, but because I don’t. My kids are more entitled and self-centered than I want to admit. So am I. The path to financial success is fraught with danger for the soul. But serving those often forgotten by society can be a great antidote to turning into a Scrooge.

I’d love to hear more ideas for promoting a giving attitude in kids at Christmas. What are some practical ways you’ve tried to teach generosity and service, especially during the holidays? How have you seen your children’s attitude toward giving change over the years? Or perhaps you remember how your own perspective changed?

17 Responses to “The Danger of Christmas”

  1. Brian says :

    It can be a fine balance. Our three are teenagers now, so its a bit easier to give them examples. Volunteering their time helping others is eye opening for them. One because they’d rather be doing something else, two because they can see the need of others first hand.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s great your teenagers are seeing others’ needs through volunteering. I’m sure that will stick with them into adulthood.

  2. Tonya says :

    i don’t have kids but I decided this year instead of giving money to my nephews, who have SO much, I donated money in their name to Syrian refugees. Not sure how it will go over, but they are good kids so I hope that gives them some thought as to what they might or could be doing too.

    • Kalie says :

      What a great idea to donate to help refugees. I’m interested to hear how it goes over! I bet they’ll ultimately appreciate it.

  3. Josh says :

    Being a parent has helped me realize this as well. My wife & I have realized how spoiled we are when we are happy to not even make list and would be content if we didn’t get anything (except from each other) as we can buy what we need through the year.

    The challenge for us is that we want them to enjoy some of the same Christmas memories as us. Both our parents like have the tree full of presents, but, my wife & I are more minimalist. We did spend some money getting our daughter a Corelle baby doll like my wife’s (we bought it preowned from eBay) and we are also volunteering and sponsoring a family for Christmas to try and help them out. It’s only a little bit, but, it helps address a bigger issue of those that rely on charity.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, we do want our children to have fun memories of Christmas, and I think it’s possible to do gifts without making the holiday all about stuff. We often buy used gifts (ebay, Craigslist) for each other, our children, and our moms (who don’t mind). That’s wonderful you sponsored a family for Christmas and volunteer!

  4. Jack says :

    The biggest challenge we have is with the relatives. Combine a baby and a toddler with lots of aunts and great-aunts and not a lot of other babies to distract them, and we get a deluge of gifts. I thought last year was bad with just one baby, but now that there’s two, oh boy!

    We try to keep it under control, but it’s hard. My only hope is that as the boys grow, the relatives will slow down. Otherwise, I sense a lot of re-gifting and donations in our future since just ignoring the impact of all the gifts on our kids, we just don’t have room to keep them all. An embarrassment of riches, in a literal sense.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, having a lot of generous relatives can be difficult in this arena. I think there are some good conversations you could have about the values you’d like your children to have. Also, letting them know they’ll have to keep extra gifts (maybe beyond one or two?) or large items at their homes might help. I think it only gets harder when they’re older because they remember opening that toy so they want to keep it!

  5. Amanda says :

    My daughter’s birthday is in December, so one year (she was about 8), we asked her if she’d like to help out other kids who don’t get many presents at Christmas. She agreed, so we put on the invitations that all gifts would be donated to Toys For Tots. Of course, since it was for a good cause, the gifts were bigger, brighter and “better” than typical kid birthday gifts. This made it a little more difficult for her when it came time to actually donate them, but she followed through and we treated her to a dinner at the restaurant of her choice.

    We try to get the kids involved in volunteering and donating whenever we can. As they get older, it’s easier to see that it does have an impact.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s a great idea, especially for a December birthday. My daughter’s is in late November and it seems like she gets nonstop gifts for a month! Fortunately no one has gone truly overboard, and she is very easy to please. How wonderful that your daughter was into the donations, and even experienced the sacrifice of giving those exciting gifts away. We went to a fifth birthday where the girl agreed to receive monetary donations for a charity, instead of gifts. She is the youngest of three girls and had so many girl toys already. I still it’s a real sacrifice for kids to forego gifts, even if they have a lot of toys already.

  6. Harmony says :

    The kids don’t receive too many toys and that isn’t a problem . . . until they talk to their friends 🙁 Our biggest issue is with other families going nuts with the Christmas spending. There isn’t too much I can do about that, except that we talk with our kids about our goals for the family, taking the big bus trip in an RV, and how we’re choosing to spend money for the benefit of all of us.

    I am happy with our decision to sign up Goofball for Cub Scouts. We wanted to do something to combat the negative, spendy messages he has been receiving since he started attending school. His group made ornaments for residents of a nursing home and they sang Christmas carols for them. These little things will help him learn better priorities in life . . . at least I sure hope so.

    • Kalie says :

      Fortunately many of our friends are also reasonable about the gifts they give their kids. I suppose when they go school and make friends of their own (not just the kids of our friends) that could be quite different. My son, who is 5, thinks he’s getting one small present from Santa.

      Cub Scouts is definitely something we’ll consider when he’s in school. I love that your son’s group made ornaments and sang at a nursing home! We both did Scouts and found it to be a good experience. I remember my sister’s troop started doing constant, expensive field trips & my mom pulled her out because that’s really not the point!

  7. FullTimeFinance says :

    It’s a fine balancing act, especially when the grand parents deliver a toy store every year on Christmas. We do our best to balance it by donating some of the new stuff and much of the old stuff the week after Christmas. Sadly getting parents to cut back for us is a losing battle.

    • Kalie says :

      I think it’s wise to recognize when it’s a losing battle and choose other avenues, like donating excess toys. You really can’t control others’ decisions. We are fortunate to have reasonable parents, but between all the grandparents, it still adds up.

  8. Linda Sand says :

    Our daughter was fairly young when I asked her if she wanted to help me be Santa for her dad then we filled his stocking together when he wasn’t home. This was following a friend’s story about her child who was figuring things out and said, “So you lied about the Easter Bunny and you lied about Santa. Did you lie about God, too?”

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