Nov 252013



  1. After Thanksgiving -call a family meeting about gifts. Tell your children that each of them will receive three gifts this year. When they complain- say this: Listen, Jesus only got three gifts. Are you really prepared to argue that you deserve more presents on GOD’s birthday than God got on God’s OWN birthday? If they complain again – threaten to buy them only spices, like Jesus got. It will be just myrrh for them. If you cannot find myrrh it will be cumin. If they continue to complain they will open only cumin on Christmas morning. At this – they will quiet down. They will then tell you the three things they “want.” Write down the three silly things. Then: Yaay! Tell them that’s it. This year they can skip the December obsessing about what they want because it’s done. Commercials will not play a role in their Christmas needs this year. Kitchen’s closed, loves. The Christmas lists are off to Santa or Amazon or however you explain these things. Then say: CONGRATULATIONS, KIDS! Your minds and hearts are now officially free to focus on the real reason for the holidays: gratitude for what we already have.

Listen- if we teach our kids that joy comes from things you can write on a list – things you don’t already have- we are placing them directly on the consumer hamster wheel that WE ARE SPENDING OUR ADULTHOOD TRYING TO JUMP OFF OF- that cycle that leads only to wanting more, more, MORE, and believing that if we just get that one more thing– we’ll be happy. NOPE. Fool’s game. No winners. Because there is always JUST ONE MORE THING. That philosophy teaches that joy is always just out of reach. That’s a silly lie that serves no one but people selling things. Joy is within reach. Joy is looking around at what we already have and counting it all as miraculous. So if you don’t have a lot of money to spend this holiday- awesome. You are close to the kingdom of God. A good holiday season is not about making lists of crap we want. It’s about making lists of what we already have and love. Make those lists with your family this year. We just started a Holiday Gratitude Journal. Every night we write down three things each of us is grateful for. That’s my kind of list.

More Tips to Come. Maybe, if I can think of any more. This might be all I’ve got.


Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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  76 Responses to “KEEP IT SIMPLE, SISTERS”

  1. We have effectively eliminated Santa Claus from our Christmas celebrations, though I’m seriously considering starting a new tradition of being someone’s St. Nicholas every year. The highlighted gift every year is two-fold: one big family gift that we all enjoy that creates memories, e.g. a fire pit, and sugary cereal. Seriously, one day and one day only each year I go to the store and buy Fruity Pebbles, Cap’N Crunch, etc. and we all get sugar-high’ed for a week. Our children understand that our Christmas is about love and grace. We celebrate the gift that God is to us and the gift that we are to one another. That’s it.

  2. Our family also does this–but we do give a couple of other gifts from Santa. Simplifying in this way has been nice. It’s overwhelming when you first have kids to see all the stuff they get at Christmas. Holy cow! In addition to simplifying the gift giving, a couple of years ago my husband and I started our holiday shopping in November, finishing most of it by Thanksgiving. We’ve found a lot of perks to this–we stay more on budget, we get family and friends better gifts because we’re not in a hurry, the crowds aren’t as big, etc. However, the most surprising benefit has been that it really allows us to enjoy the actual season of Advent without rushing around from sale to sale. It’s a simple change in planning, but it’s make a big difference for us. Maybe it could do the same for you. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas season–as you have been a wonderful influence on me, bringing me smiles and hope, and challenging me to be the best mom, woman and friend I can be.

  3. Thank you. The 3 gift thing was my original intention when embarking on motherhood 8 years ago, now 4 kids later, I’ve somehow settled into 10 gifts each, and 10 in each stocking. You can do the math, it’s not pretty. I have yet to buy a single gift this year, so overwhelmed with the thought of bringing this much junk into my house again this year when they have so much already. God help my to do this, I HAVE to! In the new year can you offer some birthday gift advice as well? Needless to say I’m over the top there too, and have even somehow managed to create expectations on half birthdays as well. Yikes! This is all coming from a mom who is a minimalist who rarely shops for herself, not sure what happened here. Have to say, we are all about giving to those in need, just need to reign things in on the homefront! Thanks again!

  4. OMG…THIS! This is so me….

  5. We’ve done this since our kids were babies–3 gifts for exactly the reasons you gave. That’s what Jesus got. It works beautifully. Now, we do this for “santa” and we still do stockings and a few small things from mom and dad, but overall, it’s so simple. Every time we tell our friends about this they wish they had done it too!

  6. Glennon – have you seen this?
    I think you’ll love this.

    Thank you for being you and for all the joy and wisdom you bring to my life.

  7. A friend of mine recently shared the idea of the kids’ list being
    ◾something they WANT
    ◾something they NEED
    ◾something to WEAR
    ◾something to READ

    To keep it at three, we could toss the “wear” one…but I just can’t lose the “read” one!

    Love the focus on keeping it simple. Simplicity is the (not so) new black.

  8. November, 11 years ago. I came home from the hospital to three small children. Ages 5, 3, and 1. When I went to the hospital I had four children. I came home without our daughter, Hope. She had gone on ahead to heaven without me. I came home to a world going crazy getting ready for Christmas. I wanted nothing to do with all the craziness. I just wanted my family and Jesus and quiet, still moments. It was the best Christmas.
    Our family has changed so much. Teenagers in the house now. God blessed us with another little girl.
    But our Christmas stays the same. Just us and Jesus. We finds ways to serve His people down here. We refuse to do things that give in to the craziness and take our eyes and hearts off of Jesus. Helping people helps us focus on Him. I call the way we celebrate Christmas one of my lessons from Hope. She taught me a lot in the short time we had together.

  9. Hubby and I tell our families (we don’t have kids) that “We aren’t buying gifts this year…………for anyone! We are writing a very nice check to the Salvation Army! They’ve got a list a mile long of kids who REALLY need basics……….boots, coats, hats & mittens, underwear!! So we are donating in your honor!” And everyone is happy in their hearts! :-) Who needs more “stuff” when you have your basic necessities met? When family asks what “we want” – we say we have everything we need – how about writing a check to the Salvation Army in place of a gift! :-)

    Doing this frees up time for us to FOCUS on the Reason for the Season!

  10. Values come from how you treat your kids, and YOU act IN FRONT OF your kids all year long. If your kids act selfish at Christmastime, it’s not because of Christmas, it’s because of YOU.

  11. You’ve done it again, G ~ made me yelp/shriek because you’re so hysterical and then led me into more love. Will be re-posting. Repeatedly. Possibly sending this out via e-mail as well.

  12. We have never went overboard. We simply tell them Santa has a budget too. We don’t do a number, but it’s the same context. The past few years we’ve had Cancer organizations help as our son has battled. This year, is his last Christmas as he is on Hospice. We intend to still keep our budget, but again have organizations that are Hoping to brighten our 4 boys’ Christmas with some extras. My boys know what’s important, they have Lived it for almost 4 years. I Wish I could give my son just one splurge, an Eye Gaze system to allow him to have a “say” as he hasn’t been able to talk since April 28, 2010. It’s definitely not in our budget. We Live for Moments and our Christmas’ will never be the same. We plan to savor every Moment this year! We all know what our Gift is this year and we are going to enjoy him!

    • Thinking of you and your family this holiday season. Talk about a reminder to be grateful for the blessings we have…much love to your precious boy and your whole family.

    • It is times like this that I wish I was rich. I would so buy that Eye Glaze system whatever it is so you could hear your sons voice and that he could say all the things he has been wanting & waiting to say to you. Breas My Heart that your sweet baby boy can’t have a thingamebobby and that you are preparing your heart to say goodbye. I can’t imagine …. Here is a gentle hug for you … precious Nicole. May God give You the grace you need …. to do hard things. Really really Hard Things.

    • Please give more details about this system, how it works, and the cost, and set up a fundraiser crowd fund page where people can donate. Depending on the cost, and how far it gets, it just might happen by Christmas. Surely a lot of people will feel that’s money better spent than the latest trendy gizmo for their own kids :)

      • Is this something that the MS-MD board could get involved with? Or could we do an impromptu love flash mob??

        • That’s what I was thinking. Nicole, please go to immediately and ask for help. My heart breaks for you.

          • I just did a quick Google search and the Eye Gaze systems areappear to cost $15,000 & up. However, there are some companies that have rental programs! I would definitely donate if MS MD created a way to do so! This mama needs to hear from her son one last time!

      • I agree – I am crying as I type this – can we help? How can we help, Nicole?

  13. G, We do the 5 gifts…Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read, and something for someone in need. We have been doing this since my twins were 3. We explained that there are so many people in this world that don’t have the kind of Christmases that they have, so we are going to help Santa spread it around. Also my husband and I by them one “good” gift each…that is all. What I love is that it makes the kids really THINK about what they really want, need, etc. 😀

  14. Really feeling for those struggling with mental illness. Tragic news yesterday and another friend in a big battle right now. Holidays can be so hard let alone on hose batteling illness. My heart is broken right now an maybe that is the reminde I need right now to not judge because you never know what another is going through. My only job is to love.
    Sorry this doesn’t fit this post but didn’t know how else to share it.
    I do love this idea about 3 gifts I struggle not overdoing it with my kids and forget that teaching them to find joy not in things to important to miss.

  15. Our children only get three Christmas gifts. That’s it. It’s wonderful. When they see something they want we tell them to remember it and remind them Santa only brings three gifts. Last year our son got a fire engine, a Thomas train and a chocolate motorcycle. They are allowed to pick anything they want for Toys for Tots and also come choose the gifts for the angel tree and the food pantry. My son gets a little mad about giving away food, isn’t that funny. You’d think it’ d be the toys but it;s the exciting crackers or whatever.

  16. I love this!!!

    one they wear
    one they read
    one they want
    and one they need.

  17. We have three kids, ages 11 to 16, and ten years ago, after a Christmas that overwhelmed us in a bad way, we started a new tradition for our family. We gave our then-very-young children a choice: they could choose a fun family experience for Christmas and also receive new pjs and a book OR they could receive a larger number of presents. Our youngest was too young to choose that year, but the others chose the family experience, and they’ve all chosen the experience every year since. It has revolutionized our Christmases. We’ve done service projects, taken big trips, gone on small excursions, signed up for random fun events–and made lots of great family memories. We get to focus on the spirit of the season and not stress about the commercial aspects. It’s been an excellent adventure!

  18. Now how to get everyone else to give less? We said two years ago that we were not exchanging gifts with our extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole deal) and that instead we wanted to play games and really have experiences and memories. They showed up with gifts. It was awkward. We have them back. They refused to take them. We said next time we will donate them. They said they would be offended. UGH.

    • I agree…I really want to minimize the gift giving in our family not only to focus on the family aspect but financially it gets ridiculous. When people see the holiday as a chance to get stuff, it is difficult to change their perspective.

    • That’s a quandary. It’s kind of rude to give gifts to people who have explicitly asked not to exchange gifts, but it’s just as rude, if not more, to give them back or threaten to give them away! 😉 I’d say, let it be. You can graciously request to not exchange gifts and plan fun experiences together, and just as graciously accept gifts if they choose to give them. A lot of people find joy in giving gifts and it’s not fair to them to force them not to. It’s their holiday too :) Choose to reciprocate with the fun game time and some thoughtful thank you cards.

      Hope you have a very happy holiday! :)

  19. I’m happy to say for many years that KISS is my own personal motto for everything. Plus, as I round age 52 now …. it becomes more and more apparent what really matters and presents do not. At least not an abundance. I don’t stress over it anymore. I used to be one of those givers of all cute things (“oh my, gotta grab this for so and so b/c they would love it) and on and on for friends, acquaintences, neighbors, etc. I can’t afford it. Besides, they have my friendship all year long and I have theirs. Sharing a conversation and TIME and a glass of wine or beer or coffee means much more. Something many just don’t seem to have time for. Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving and KISS! Quit stressing!

  20. Why not withdraw from the commercialism instead? No cable TV, no ads, no stupid super sale day shopping. Get them things like books and board games and crafts. MAKE gifts. Focus on time spent together, hot chocolate, building snowmen, knitting, drawing, baking, homemade decorations. And ultimately, teach them about how truly wonderful it feels to GIVE. The only thing my kids are obsessively after in the Christmas season is as many gifts to donate as we can get. The best deals on toys and games that need no batteries, that can bring joy to kids who will get that one doll or truck. When they know how great it feels to give instead of “I want” it’s what they want to spend their time and energy doing. They’re thrilled with whatever they find for themselves under the tree, but really they’d be hard pressed to make a long list of things they want if asked. We’re all about teaching perspective here, and kids who really do understand that having a home, a family, peace, food, a cozy bed and security make them some of the most fortunate few in the world really don’t want for much. Other than to give others who have less something special. Because that really does feel better than getting :)

  21. We had some unexpected expense this year–new roof, medical. etc. and really have to cut back on our Christmas budget. This is also the first year all 3 kids are aware of the whole Santa thing. I told the kids they can have four things–something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. It’s been interesting getting their ideas–“Can new ski boots be something I ‘need’?” “Are slippers something I need or something I wear”? I told them to give me a few ideas (so it will be more of a surprise) and we do little stocking stuffers too. I think this will be a great Christmas!

  22. I like this.

  23. G, last year for christmas dinner i put little gift boxes on each plate as place markers. The cheap kind from Michaels that you have to fold yourself. Anyway each box had a name on it. All thru dinner the grand kids kept asking when they could open their present. (The tiny gift box ). I kept saying after dinner, after dinner. The anticipation built. I saw disappointment in their future! When dinner was over everyone passed their “gift” to the person on their left. Then we took turns opening them. Each box contained several slips of paper, fortune cookie style. The “gifts ” were their god given talents. Compassion, courage, musical ability, good reader, good provider, great hugger, smiler, great laugh. Everyone loved having someone else read out loud their special gifts. Everyone had their moment in the spotlight. And no one was disappointed. Side perk, no one left the table early!

  24. I did this very thing last year and it worked out beautifully! Surprisingly, my kids’ response to the “3 gifts” wasn’t to complain, but “That sounds good… we have enough stuff already.” We’re doing that again this year. Of course, between Santa, grandparents, and others, they end up with more than 3 gifts, but now I’m not scrambling for silly little things to buy for them just so that they have more to open and they value the gifts that they get that much more!

  25. Love it – just had to have one of “the talks” with my oldest, need to do it with my youngest as well. There are several “The Talk”s we do as parents:

    – Sex & how babies are made
    – Money
    – God
    – Santa

    “The Talk” I had was partly about money, partly about love… See, I have about 25% of the money my Ex-hubby has. So when the “I want this and that and that and that over there and this thing I saw on TV and this other thing all my friends are getting and…” started, I mentioned to Becca that I have a budget and it has NOTHING TO DO WITH HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU. That her father had lots more money, and might give her more things, or even more expensive things, but that doesn’t mean he loves her more, it ONLY means he makes more money. Period, that’s it.

    So I guess today I’m reflecting on why we (OK I) make things into what they are not? Money=Love. Gifts=Love. Sex=Love. Physical beauty=Better. Thin=Worthy.

    In my relationships today I have been granted opportunities to see that Caring=Love. Compassion=Love. Encouragement=Love. Vulnerability=Beauty. Imperfection=Worthy.

    And love is always worthy, always better, always wins. I hope.

  26. After just an hour spent in retail-land looking for a coat for my daughter, I got the Holiday/retail heebie-jeebies and had a similar insight. We have always done minimal gifts, but as my kids get older, I wondered if it would be harder to hold that line. It’s good to know I have got some Monkees around me to help slog upstream against the “have-to-buy-this” current! Our family does an activity each week to keep us connected to kindness and gratitude—visit if you need some new ways to keep the gratitude lists fresh. Happy Thanksgiving!

  27. We actually started the, “you’re getting three presents because that’s how many baby Jesus got” last year after my cousin told me about the concept. They were young enough (4 and 6) they didn’t notice the huge decrease in gifts from the previous year. We’re doing it again this year. I think it’s a great way to cut down on the sheer amount of “stuff” they receive and forces them to focus on asking for a few things they’d really like to receive.

  28. We have always done 5 gifts. One from everyone in our family (one from dad, one from mom, one from sister, one from brother, one from Santa). We will change this year to 3. I have wanted to do this for years. However, how do you handle in law gifts? My in laws go overboard every year. Even though we have gently explained that we would appreciate it more if they would give fewer gifts.

    • Perhaps explain to your in-laws that anything more than what you are setting within your own family (i.e., the 3 gifts) will be donated. This might be a good way too to start teaching your children to give to those less fortunate. Good luck!

    • I understand this, we go through the same thing too. But I just decided that spoiling the kids (and they don’t really get spoiled by it when it comes from grandma and grandpa) is one of the blessings the grandparents have earned by raising a really wonderful son (my husband) so they get to do whatever they want to have fun on Christmas, birthdays, etc. It makes it fun for them, the kids love it and for some reason, the overboard-ness really doesn’t spoil them the way it would if we the parents were to do it. There are grandparent rules (dessert first) and mom and dad rules (eat your broccoli). Everyone’s happy. :-)

      • I agree with Catherine about grandparents’ rights 😉 haha

        I really don’t like the idea of “if you give us gifts, we’ll just donate them”. To me, that’s very rude. Many people DO get joy out of giving gifts, and it’s especially fun for grandparents. Even if you don’t want a certain gift, you should always be gracious about accepting it. If you decide to donate it later, out of charity not spite, then that is your choice and does not need to be communicated to the gift giver.

    • I have heard some people say that they let the kids open the large amount of gifts from grandparents (or others) and then put most of them away in a closet until the little ones are bored with what they got to play with first. Just a thought.

  29. Love it! My kids get four things: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. Realistically, that means only one toy. Sometimes we get them a bigger toy to share, too.

  30. FYI- I had to google “Spices” because i couldnt think of any. Thought you should know.

    • It did cross my mind!

    • did think that was an exotic one for you <3 I started the 3 gifts like Jesus when my oldest was old enough to want "all the all the all the toys mommy"

      now with 5 of them it takes off all the all the all the pressure.

    • That is awesome, AND your confession is awesome. I often google things and don’t confess, and then feel guilty about it. :)

    • Legend has it that St. Nicholas, the original Christmas gift giver, gave three gifts as well…one to each girl in need.

      So, there you have it. A religious and a secular reason for loving the three gift guideline.

      It makes Christmas much less stressful and much more fun!

      • Oops…posted in the wrong place.

        But, because it’s spicy in this thread, I would be offering up a little cinnamon. My kids love that stuff so much, they might actually take me up on it!

    • LOL, Glennon. Thanks for sharing that little tidbit.

    • The cumin cracked me up. Of all the spices you could have picked, cumin is about the stinkiest. Perfect. :)

  31. I was always desperate (why?) to give my kids both a nice Hanukkah AND a nice Christmas. I could never afford it, either financially or emotionally. I wish I had read this when they were small. I am so burned out on holidays now.

  32. great idea! my mom started doing the three gifts when we were little and i do it with my kids now. my littles are all old enough to have semi-cogent conversations at dinner so we’ll start there in talking about gratitude. i truly believe that gratitude is the key to happiness. rock on, sister.

  33. I started this 3 gift tradition at our house a few years ago. They get something they want, something they need and something that inspires them. It’s AWESOME!!

  34. Hi G! Thank you for the reminder to NOT start that hamster wheel with our kiddos. I’ve been following your blog for an little over a year and am so thankful for the encouragement and love you exude. This is my first Christmas since my husband very suddenly left our family and I love your reminder that we can do hard things. I may not be able to do hard things alone but through His strength and a community of love I can! This monkee warrior is going to carry on! Thanks for the love you put out there G!

  35. We did something similar this year, my kids are 7 & 2 and both already have more than they need. I talked to my 7-year-old and let him know that mommy & daddy would be buying them 1 special gift and that Santa (yep, he’s still on the bandwagon, but I’m guessing this is the last year) would bring them 1 gift and then fill their stockings. I told him that the money we didn’t spend would go to our Salvation Angel Tree Angel…that got him thinking and then excited as I showed him our purchases. And he got to pick out a cool skateboard and helmet for another 7-year-old boy who will have a great Christmas getting things he needs and a few he just wants. We also changed another tradition at my husband’s family Christmas, everyone bought for all the 1, 2 and sometimes 3rd cousins kids…this year with the count at 15 and 2 more on the way…I finally convinced them to change to name drawing, that way the kids would get to pick out 1 gift for 1 special person whose name they drew on Thanksgiving. Everyone would get a gift, no one would be left out and they would actually think about what makes that person special to them :) I grew up with that system and was always happy about it. Anyway, those are our new family traditions, trying to cut back on some of the holiday silliness…

  36. You are so right about this list thing – list what we already have and what we are grateful for. I recently read that everything we have is something we once thought we wanted, so we can take time to rejoice in the fact that we got so much of what we wanted.
    I’m grateful for simply being alive. So I’m starting with that on my gratitude list: I am alive! Thanks be to God.

  37. Love it! Our kids get three gifts, and have for years. We celebrate St. Nicholas Day (December 6), and St. Nicholas usually gives them something to experience (last year it was tickets to see Straight No Chaser!). On Christmas Eve they open their gift from my husband and I, and on Christmas morning they open their “Christmas Angel” gifts … on Thanksgiving night we put all seven of our names in a hat and each pick a name – we then have all of Advent to do nice things for our family member and to come up with a gift for $5 or less that the person will love. Our kids LOVE this tradition – and they love receiving gifts from their grandparents – usually one big gift, a few little stocking stuffers, and a gift to someone else…last year it was money donated to our favorite camp for playground equiptment, art supplies, etc – something that fit each of our kids’ personalities. We also, as a family, give a gift to someone else on Christmas morning – this year we’re plotting to give secretly to a family in need.

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