Why we stopped giving our kids Christmas presents

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Okay, that title makes it sound so much more doom and gloom than it is in my house.  I guess that if truth be told, we do still give gifts, they just aren’t the traditional Christmas gifts.  Here is the story of the shift in our home and why we chose to  buck the system:

christmas gifts

After many years of toy accumulation, my husband and I were constantly overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” that our small children owned.  We had spent their entire lives buying them most of what was on their wish list (and then grandparents stepped in to generally purchase anything that was left).  They had entirely too many possessions and we were beginning to worry that they would adopt entitled attitudes, which is the opposite of what we wanted for our children.

We spent some time reflecting on what we could do differently.  We wondered if it was “too late” to make a change, if the kids would miss getting all those shiny new toys?  How would the Christmas tree look without being overflowing with gifts?  Would the kid’s school friends make fun of our little ones for not getting the newest and latest “it toy?”

christmas gifts

This is a picture from a Christmas in our first home. My kids would have been not quite 3, 1 1/2 and 2 months old!

And then we realized that those weren’t the things that meant anything to us.  That is not how we operate, not who we are.  We have never been ones to cave to peer pressure or to follow the norm.  We want our kids to be successful human beings, even if that means that their friend’s might make a jab or two at them.

So we ditched the traditional Christmas gifts and have started a tradition that means the world to us!

christmas gifts

We chose to give our kids the gift of travel and experience.  Those are some of the most important gifts that we feel we can give our children, and definitely one of our favorite things to do.  We have chosen to take a family vacation that takes them out of their comfort zone in some way, shape or form and teaches them a new skill or opens their eyes to the world around them.

Last year was our first year doing this, and it was flawless.  Santa still brings one gift (but he works in conjunction with Mom and Dad and brings something that will correlate with the trip) and we gift them anything that they might need for the trip.  For instance, last year we took the kiddos on their first cruise.  Santa brought each kid an underwater camera, my hubby and I got them some snorkel equipment and a few books about tropical fish and things they might see.

christmas gifts

And you should have seen how excited they were to discover our new gifting system.  Because my husband has a very demanding job, we weren’t able to take our trip until February, but even that didn’t phase them.  Santa had thrown some calendars into their stockings, so they enjoyed the countdown and the build up.

Our trip was incredible…the type that leaves you with lifelong memories.  The one gift that you will truly cherish your whole life.  Not the toy that gets played with for five minutes and then tossed aside for the next new thing.

christmas gifts

We are totally realistic in knowing that we can’t break the bank with outrageous, over the top trips each year.  This year we are going on a weeklong ski trip to Vermont, complete with a day going dog sledding and ski lessons for the kiddos.  In the future we have hopes to go to Germany, Disney World, a hiking/backpacking adventure, Malaysia, a National Parks tour in the US…the world is our oyster, quite literally!

So this gifting option is certainly more expensive than traditional gifts, but we have found that it has been more than worth it.  Instead of accumulating crap, we have accumulated time together.  We wish and hope and dream about or future trips, we understand that it will be our one big trip of the year.  There have been countless dinner conversations revolving solely on ideas for future trips…the kids love to add their ideas.

christmas gifts

Do I miss traditional gifting?  Sometimes.  I miss the thrill of finding a good sale, of making sure that my giving is “even” and the wrapping of all of those little toys.  But the joy that our trips have brought is so overwhelming, that it is so easy to look past that.  Plus, I start planning well over a year in advance, so I get to spend the whole year thinking and planning and getting excited about the gift that I know we will all love.

I don’t know if this system could work for everyone, but it has been the best thing that we have done in our home.  And I’d love to hear suggestions on how you combat entitlement and the urge to buy everything in your own home.

And in case you might be thinking about doing something similar, I’ve shared some tips for road tripping and also how we stay sane while multi-generational traveling.




  1. You didn’t mention how much fun we have delivering the trip location. Last year for the cruise for instance, Kristen made huge Willy Wonka style golden tickets for the kid’s “admittance” to the cruise. They open the “gift” together and find out where we’re going. It is crazy exciting. We’re thinking a scavenger hunt for this year but if anyone has an idea for this years ski trip we’d love to hear it.

  2. I hope you have a trip to California to visit family on your list!!! And, I absolutely love the travel idea in lieu of a bunch of crap you then have to find space for. If Hayden didn’t need a new amp for his guitar and Hunter didn’t need a larger baseball bag for travel ball, that would have been our plan too. Next year is a new year and a family trip will be under the tree.

  3. I think this seems perfectly reasonable. I think most of us have too much ‘stuff’. We always limited our gifting to three presents each — because that’s what Jesus got. Three relatively small items, plus a bunch of dollar-store junk in their stockings, leaves plenty of stuff to play with. But if we’d been able to afford to travel, your idea would definitely have been one we’d adopt.

  4. You have the right idea. Did that for years and their lives are so much richer. They can relate every memory in travel including stops at a homeless shelter, Children’s Hospital,etc. Ask anyone what they received for gifts five years and nobody would remember. Good on you. Merry Merry Christmas!!

  5. I LOVE this and might totally steal it!

  6. Lana Wilson says:

    Because Christmas is for Christ purely…..by expecting needless presents you loose the entire meaning of Christmas…..you can eat, buy stuff and go on vacations any other day of the year……besides, there were no Santa, no reindeers, no snow in Jerusalem –just camels, desert and Christ……just like Easter—-no cute bunnies please……just think about it….

  7. I love love love your idea! We always bought everything under the sun for our kids and you are so right, five minutes and they’re done with it! All that money we spent could have gotten us and them some beautiful memories to share. Well we still have the grandchildren and I am sending this on to my children so they can see what a marvelous idea you have! I know they will love it because they are all every year talking about it. Thanks so much!!

    • Aww, thanks Shirley! That was the way I grew up too…so many gifts that you really lose sight of anything else. We just finished our second year doing this and it was even better than the first. Now we are planning our upcoming trip and getting passports for our little travelers. Trust me, the excitement that can build over the knowledge of a trip (but knowing you’ll have to wait for the surprise) is so much better than any that we ever had while opening presents.

  8. Kristen Larsen says:

    I think this is a great idea. When I first came across the no gifts idea you posted it sounded a bit harsh. I thought are these people Christians or what? But after reading further I understand. We are the grandparents of three kids and I can appreciate how much stuff they have and the pile seems to be never ending! My mother in law was widowed and owned her own motel and she did something similar. One year she took the kids to Disneyland. They opened one gift in the room and everyone still talks about this trip.

    • Don’t worry Kristen, you were not alone in thinking that we were being harsh…you should have seen some of the emails that I got! But I think that if people are able to look past the “norms” they may be able to understand where we are coming from and why my family chooses to travel instead. I definitely understand that it’s not for everyone, but it works for us. Thanks for coming back and letting me know your thoughts, I sooo appreciate it!


  1. […] year I shared why we stopped giving our children traditional Christmas presents and the responses that I got blew my mind! From the emails, messages and comments I received I […]

  2. […] case you missed it, click here to read part 1 of this post (or here to read why we stopped giving our kids traditional Christmas […]

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