I’m stressed out thinking about Christmas gifts. How do you figure out what gifts are from Santa and what gifts are from the parents? I want Christmas morning to be so magical that I’m afraid I’m buying too much and it will backfire. You have so many kids that I figure you’ll have some advice. Can you help? — Abby

christmas ornaments

Great question, Abby! Every year around this time, I get similar questions, so I know this is something that many parents think about. I’ll answer in 3 parts.

1) As for buying too much, here’s what has worked for our family. I use a guideline I learned from my sister-in-law: Santa Claus brings something to read, something to wear and something to play with for each child. Just three things. They end up with other gifts too — from siblings and grandparents or other relatives, but Santa only leaves 3 under the tree.

Having a guideline in place makes it much easier to curb the amount of stuff coming into our house and to keep our holiday budget in check.

christmas ornaments

2) Regarding parent gifts, Ben Blair and I don’t give gifts to the kids (meaning there is nothing under the tree labeled “to Olive from Mom” or “to Betty from Dad”). In our case this has worked well. There are enough gifts on Christmas morning that the little ones don’t notice. And as the the kids grow older and get to know Santa, they feel loved anyway.

But. I know that wouldn’t work in every family. (You may have noticed, people have strong(!) and varied opinions surrounding Santa and parent gifts.) One of my friends has Santa bring one big thing and the rest of the presents are from Mom and Dad — which seems to work swimmingly for her family. So ask around until you hear something that would be a good fit at your house. I’m sure you’ll come up with just the thing.

3) I hear you on wanting Christmas morning to be magical. That’s my goal too. So I adopted something my mother would do. Before the kids run to the tree, I go in first and make sure the tree lights are on, some soft Christmas music is playing, and the gifts are displayed to their best advantage. If we have one that year, an electric train running around its track is a nice touch. I find the magic is less about the gifts and more about the presentation and mood.

What about you, Dear Readers? What advice would you give Abby? Do you have a gift guideline? How do you keep holiday gifts from getting out of hand? Any Christmas morning magic tricks?

P.S. — I forgot about the stockings! Santa also fills the stockings with inexpensive, practical stuff my family will use up, like socks and underwear, lib balm and body wash, or arts and crafts supplies.