Posted by: Christine Johnson | November 16, 2006

De-Emphasizing Commercialism with Your Children at Christmas

It’s happening even earlier than usual, it seems. Before Halloween, we already had Christmas decorations up. By now, with a week to go before Thanksgiving, everyone has their Christmas ads running. (Heck, I saw an “End of Year” sale for some car maker the other night. I completely freaked out!)
Our children are bombarded constantly with the commercialization of Christmas. Come to think of it, they are bombarded with consumerism all the time, but it does get stepped up this time of year.
More than ever, we need to help our children learn and remember the messages of two of my favorite Christmas specials: The Grinch that Stole Christmas (the cartoon) and Charlie Brown’s Christmas. In the first, children are reminded that it’s not the presents that make it Christmas. If Santa didn’t come, if there was not a single present under the tree, if there wasn’t even a tree at all, Christmas would still happen. Why? Well, Linus reminds us of the true meaning of the Holy Day – the holiday – when he recites the verses of the Gospel of Luke which recall the birth of our Savior and the announcement that the angels made to the lowly shepherds.

Even though my girls have always known that Christmas is about Jesus’ birthday (we often have a cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to Him), we also have a visit from Saint Nicholas each year. Yes, we even watch Frosty, Rudolph, and all the rest. And Santa always brings presents for the children. They are, after all, good girls.
When we lived in Florida, we didn’t think much about how many presents each child got. There were even amounts (so one wouldn’t be sitting there watching the other open up lots of stuff), but we didn’t really think of a limit. Mind you, we did not go nuts. But at the time, I worked part time as an interpreter for the Deaf, and I made decent money. The girls had free child care with Grandma and Pa Pa on the few days I worked.
When we moved to Virginia, I stopped working. Naturally, money is tighter than it used to be, though not too much so. Last year, while thinking of ways to ease off the cost of Christmas presents, we decided to do something that we’d heard of other families doing a few years ago.
Santa brings three presents for each child, as a symbol of the three gifts from the Wise Men.
Now, I tend to pick up stuff early in the year and hide it away until the appropriate time, so I don’t have all the spending happening in one month, but this helped in two ways. First, it saved money. Mommy and Daddy buy a couple of gifts for each girl and Santa brings three each and stuffs the stockings. (The Dollar Tree and Target’s Dollar Spot are wonderful for stocking stuffers! Plus, Santa loves to fill in the empty spaces in my girls’ stockings with necessities like socks and underwear. Funny, but he did that for my sister and me, too.) And that’s it. So money was saved over the years when there seemed to be a dozen or so gifts for each child.
Another benefit for us is that the three gifts remind the girls even more of the real reason for Christmas. We told them that Santa did this for other families, and we wanted to do it, too, because we were afraid that they were forgetting that Christmas isn’t about “when you get stuff” (to quote Buzzsaw Louie). Even though they were serious about the birth of our Savior, they were also getting very caught up in the “I’m going to ask Santa for A, B, C, D…Z!” business, too. This blatant consumerism was disturbing to see, frankly. My usually mild-mannered children were all hot for the latest junky toy they saw on Nick, Jr. (Oh, the DVR has also saved us from much of that – they can watch only what we’ve recorded for them, and then only if they skip all commercials. Breaking of that rule has resulted in loss of TV privaleges for days on end.)
Finally, the last benefit has been a reduction in the “gimmee, gimmee” attitudes. They know that Santa won’t be bringing them everything they see on TV, in catelogs, etc., so they think carefully about what sorts of things they’d really like best. And they appreciate their gifts that much more. (This does not guarantee that I won’t find them on the floor later, but it helps.)
Last year was the first year of this new experiment for us. We let the girls know early in Advent about our conversation with Santa. We told them that he liked the idea because it helped children remember Jesus; you know, he’s been concerned about that lately. And so when they wrote letters to Santa, they chose just a couple of things that they’d like. You know what one thing Big Girl asked for? A scapular. And another for her sister. Yeah, Santa got them.
Christmas morning, there were definitely fewer presents than the year before. And you know what? They said it was the best Christmas morning ever. Total satisfaction.
Even if you don’t go the Santa route (I have friends who do not), this is still something that can easily be done. Limiting gifts this way, or even making things instead of buying stuff, can very easily de-emphasize the commercialism that is so prevalent these days.

Of course, leading up to Christmas is also Advent, which offers so much to really focus us in on Christ’s coming! This year, we decided that we won’t decorate for Christmas until the third week of Advent. We’ll have my wreath on the door and Hubby will string the lights early, but the lights won’t be on, and the trees won’t be up until Gaudete Sunday (the joyful Sunday). This, too, will help us focus on Christ, on repentance, on preparing our souls for His coming. Truthfully, Advent is supposed to be more like Lent than an early version of Christmas. When I was a girl, we even were asked to make a commitment for Advent – something positive that we would do throughout the season without telling anyone (or at least the person for whom we were doing it). My girls have, in the past, made an Advent chain with pink and purple links. One link is made by each girl every time I catch them doing something kind for someone else. Only thing is, I can’t tell them to do it. Other families have a manger for Baby Jesus that remains empty until Christmas Eve, and straw is added for His comfort each time someone does a good deed.
For more customs related to Advent, as well as prayers, hymns, and blessings, please go to Catholic Culture and look around. They even have information on making your own Advent Wreath.
Make this Advent about Jesus, not about shopping.


  1. Good post Chris. For as long as I can remember, Joey was taught that he gets three gifts just like Baby Jesus did.We parked the car at the mall at 7:30 a.m. yesterday and was surprised to find Sears open. I couldn’t believe they were trying to beat the Black Friday rush.

  2. Christine, I’m not sure how you do TWO blogs, but I really enjoyed this post too. Thanks so much for sharing them on the Carnival! 🙂

  3. I, too, am bringing in an Advent Wreath to introduce a family tradition to highlight the true meaning of Christmas. It’s got to be deliberate or it will be drowned out!You might appreciate this as well. It’s my own work:Cartoon: Christmas Message

  4. That’s a wonderful post. AND I love all the pictures along your sidebar comemorating the Feast Days in December – wonderful!


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