How Many Gifts are Too Many?

Posted on: November 16th, 2011 by Kay Swatkowski

Thanksgiving is just a week away.  By Friday, many of  us will have begun our Christmas shopping.  How are you planning on keeping your Christmas Celebration sane and reasonable?

It seems our culture has crossed the line into excess.  A friend recently told me that when her children were growing up, each October they would buy one pumpkin per kid. This year, as she went for her morning walk, she was appalled by the dozens and dozens of pumpkins adorning yards, not to mention hay bales, scarecrows, orange lights and spider webs.  She was overwhelmed by the excess she saw in fall decorating.

The same thing is true of Christmas.  Sometimes we cross the line into excess.  Holiday baking, a wonderful part of the season, has become a burden for those of us who feel compelled to bake a different recipe for the twelve days of Christmas.

Gift giving is another area where we struggle with excess.  I am asking myself this question.  What is the difference between generosity and overdoing it at the holidays?

This Christmas, I want to be generous while keeping a close eye on the bank account and resisting the  urge to be materialistic.

For me, this requires careful planning.  Understanding how much I have to spend is a good starting point.  Then, knowing what family members need or want will help me make wise choices.

A number of years ago, I heard author and speaker, Leslie Vernick, share her family’s philosophy on Christmas gift-giving. In an attempt to fight our culture’s tendency to excess and materialism, the Vernick’s adopted the three gift rule.

Each child received three gifts for Christmas.  One gift was something they needed.  That could be a new coat, shoes, jeans or any other necessity that would also be enjoyed.  Gift two was an educational gift. Maybe a book or some music or a particular program for their computer.  Gift three was something the child wanted.  A new game, a toy, a gift card or a movie might be some of the options.

I like the three gift rule.  I like even more that this family thought ahead and had a plan for helping their kids enjoy and navigate the holiday season without greed.

All of our children are out of the house now, so the three gift rule isn’t something we would employ.  But, you may be a young mother starting out, wanting to shape your children’s attitude towards possessions.  If  you are a grandmother whose adult children are discussing this issue, you might want to suggest they come up with their own version of the three gift rule as a way of managing the holiday season.

A kind reader just reminded me of the story of the Magi.  Jesus received three gifts on his own birthday!  Gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Christmas isn’t about the gifts we receive.  It is about the great love of God shown to us in the manger.

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15 Responses

  1. Deb says:

    We started using the three gift rule a few years ago. Our kiddos are grown also, but if we are together for our gift exchange that is how we do it. We love sharing the story of the Magi. Thanks for this great post!

  2. Kay says:

    Deb, I had thought of the story of the Magi! Even Jesus received just three gifts! ;) I think that point would be a good addition to this post! Thanks so much for sharing your comment.

  3. Jenn says:

    The rule of threes usually applies here–when it can. Some years only two presents. We try to do things in December–family things that make the Christmas season memorable and enjoyable–staring with the yearly trip to the nursery to pick out our Christmas tree. This nursery always has Santa, hot cocoa, horse carriage rides–stuff the kids love. Then off to Christmas at Ash Cave around the 10th of December–where we celebrate a little Christmas Spirit down in the mouth of Ash Cave. Bonfires, Christmas Carolers, Santa, and dipping pinecones in peanut butter and bird seed. (Last year they had candle making too!) And then there are the Sundays before Christmas where we celebrate in Church. It is always a festive month for us and hopefully the presents aren’t the only thing they enjoy!

    Cheers, Jenn

  4. Linda says:

    I absolutely love this article! Thank you! My husband and I just had this same conversation. I have six children and you can imagine with 10 gifts each, what it’s like on Christmas morning. My kids are going to get less, but more meaningful gifts this Christmas. Some, I will make.

    I just really want to enjoy the magic and being together these holidays.

    • Kay says:


      Six kids! Bless you! It seems that the three gift rule would really be great at your house! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and have even greater joy this year.

  5. Renee says:

    My family has done this for many years, and we love it!

    We all give each other something we “want,” something we “need,” and something that is homemade and/or sentimental.

    I can’t even articulate how it took the pressure off, and even when they were young, my children enjoyed the concept. Now that they are adults with their own children we have simply added the littles into the mix!

    Nice article :)

    • Kay says:


      I wish I had realized this when my kids were younger. It sounds like you struck just the right note with your decision to handle Christmas this way. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Come back soon!

  6. Margaret Earnest says:

    I wish I had seen this earlier…I have been doing this but not with such wise sentiment and love…so 2012 will be a more purposeful, stress-less, and joyful gift giving to all.

  7. Chris says:

    Every year, my husband and I go over a book called “Unplug the Christmas Machine” and it has changed the way we “do” Christmas, in a good way.
    Thank you, Kay, for sharing your wisdom with us all. :-)

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