Back to that being religious thing from yesterday, I know a lot of people through church. Many of them are more in the age group of my sisters, so we are not Facebook friends, but they are friends with my sisters. I hear about them sometimes, and I don't have anything against them, but saying "friends" might be overstating it. This post will refer to people in that category.
Anyway, my sisters told me about one of these acquaintances whose approach to Christmas gifts for her children was one want, one need, something to wear, and something to read. This was several years ago, but I thought it sounded great, and very balanced.
I have no idea whether my source was the originator, or if she got it from somewhere else, but I have been hearing of more people doing it and this year it is the 4 Gift Challenge! We dare you to stick to it!
Here's some other things I know about through my sisters. One of our mutual acquaintance bought their child a chandelier one year, because that was what the child wanted. We also know a family where one child has a miniature horse.
Those gifts might seem over the top, but I love that the child has a chance to be an individual. A child who gets a lot of toys and a chandelier is overkill, but the child who decides that what they really want is something beautiful to look at, or the child who wants a pony more than any other thing, and will sacrifice other things to get that, I see a lot of good there.
The 4 Gift idea is solid. I know that a mountain of gifts doesn't increase happiness - in fact, the happiness boost starts diving after four or five. Also, the line items make sense. As an adult I am more inclined to check out from the library, but the importance of children owning books is well-documented. Growing kids change sizes, so new clothing will always make sense. Knowing that needs are essential but acknowledging that wants matter too, and that meeting some of those wants is a priority for the parent of the child - that is all good stuff.
There is still a difference between something being a good guide versus a vital rule, and then when it becomes a challenge, we've gone back into that weird competition about who can have the purest Christmas.
When I was a child, I saw that it was a thrill opening presents. I remember once wrapping some random items and stowing them away to unwrap later. I don't remember how long it was until I got back to them, but even though I wrapped them, and they were all things that I already had in my room (including two AA batteries that might have been dead), it was exciting. It can be okay to play into that. Maybe a single gift will consist of multiple components that are wrapped separately, or they can unwrap clues for a scavenger hunt. That will not automatically make an emotionally hollow Christmas.
I also remember that after the Christmas unwrapping was done there was a letdown, but if there are other family traditions that are still coming - like everyone playing a new game or doing a new puzzle together, or writing thank you notes, or cooking something for the Christmas meal together or serving dinner at a soup kitchen - then if there is a letdown it won't last long. There are so many options!
It can just as surely become a burden. Maybe the real difference between rules and guidelines is the pressure exerted. This will not make your Christmas any more merry.
I suspect that a lot of people don't really trust that they can get it right coming out of their own heads, but in addition to the unnecessary lack of confidence, don't assume there is a right Christmas. There are many potential good Christmases.
May you end up with a Christmas that is good for you.