The Four Gift Rule

Four-Gift-Rule“I don’t need this at all!”

Around the holidays my family always shares a laugh over the time I – at age four – shouted that phrase on Christmas morning after receiving a play typewriter as a gift from my grandpa. As the story goes, I opened the present, immediately declared its uselessness, pushed it aside, and dove for my next package. What’s worse, I’m pretty sure someone has it on video.

It’s funny because I was four years old, because kids say the darndest things. Nevertheless, whenever the story comes up I can’t help but feel ashamed of the complete lack of gratitude I displayed that Christmas day. I’m sure my mom scolded me and made me say a proper thank you, but then I was right back to plowing through my pile of presents, drowning in wrapping paper like the privileged and oblivious child I was.

It was with that embarrassing memory in mind that I instated the Four Gift Rule among my family this Christmas season. On December 25th, my son will be receiving one sizable present from Santa and four smaller gifts from his parents: one thing he wants, one thing he needs, one thing to wear, and one thing to read. The same rule will apply to the gifts I exchange with my husband.

Why I Love the Four Gift Rule

1. It will help me teach thankfulness.

The Four Gift Rule is a simple way to teach my kid that presents don’t grow on trees (or, more accurately, fall down chimneys). Ultimately Christmas isn’t about some bearded stranger lavishing children with mounds of toys, many of which will probably be quickly forgotten. Santa will come to our house, yes, but he will bring a single gift; the other packages under the tree will be courtesy of actual people to whom my son can express the toddler-equivalent of gratitude.

2. My cover can’t be blown.

The Four Gift Rule will also come in handy when my son is older and likely to stumble upon a present hidden in a closet or his mom stealthily wrapping gifts at night. I won’t have to worry about being “caught” and having the Santa story ruined, since my boy will already know most of his gifts are from me in the first place.

3. It saves the budget. 

I know I’m not the only mom who feels unreasonably drawn to adorable outfits, plush stuffed animals, and bright shiny toys. We want to buy our kids stuff even though we know they don’t need it. The Four Gift Rule has become my motto for resisting that urge to splurge.

That’s cute, I think to myself while strolling through Target or flipping through the toy catalog, but is it really worthy of being one of the precious four gifts I give my child this year? No? Then put the wallet away!

This is the first year my family is trying the Four Gift Rule, but if it works out we’re hoping it becomes our gift-giving mantra for many holidays to come.

What do you think of the Four Gift Rule? How do you teach your children to show gratitude for the presents they receive?

*I wish I could say I came up with this clever idea, or even that I know who did so I could properly credit them. Whoever you are, thank you!


16 responses to “The Four Gift Rule”

  1. I like this idea a lot for little ones! I’m sure there are tons of things that would be fun to buy, but if you do that, where does it end? You know. Your little guy is very lucky to have such great parents!!
    And, just so you know, you shouldn’t feel ashamed… you were an innocent little child and it’s a sweet and funny story to remember. I think you turned out to be just fine 🙂 appreciative and giving 🙂

  2. That’s a great way to curtail needless spending and frivolousness. Might I suggest a fifth gift rule, though? The fifth gift is “nothing I need or want or wear or read- rather something for those in need.”

    • I love that suggestion! Just last weekend we delivered some gifts to a local homeless shelter, and I love the idea of making that practice a concrete part of this gifting tradition.

  3. Wow! What a great idea. I have always felt conflicted about the Santa myth, but kept the spirit of childhood going all the same. I especially like the something to read, as I am a big reader and want my kids to enjoy it as well.


  4. GREAT idea that teaches gratefulness, moderation, and generosity at the same time. I’m with Chris, my fav rule is #4. Personally, I hate the pressure of xmas because of all the needless spending and unconsious consumption. If everyone followed this rule, even I could get into the spirit. And Rule #5 is the true spirit of theseason, isn’t it?

  5. My family did Christmas a little different when we got a little older — they would give us a certain amount of money to use, and we could pick our gifts for that year. I really like this system, Katie. Christmas is supposed to be more about Christ and our family — not on inanimate things.

  6. I LOVE this idea.
    My kids are only allowed to put 5 items on their Christmas list. but they are told they are really really lucky if they receive 3 of those items. In reality, between Santa, us their parents, and their grandparents – they normally get those 5 gifts. within reason
    (son who requested iPod 5 – um, no. but you are welcome to shovel the driveway all winter at $5 each time, save it all up and buy your own.)
    I made this decision when they were really young so that they would not grow up thinking Christmas was big free for all of presents piled high up the tree. That they were lucky to have loved ones who cared enough to buy them something, rather than it being an entitlement.

    • Sounds like we’re on the same wave length! Great point about the importance of emphasizing this from the time our children are young. I can imagine it would be really difficult to try to switch this mindset after they’re accustomed to a giant free for all Christmas.

  7. I really want to implement this next year, and ask extended family to respect it too. My kids literally spent an hour and a half diving through presents at one of their grandparents houses this year, and it was sickening. I know they will not use 90% of the toys they got. That money could have gone to something useful… A college fund maybe, if they really wanted to spend it on my kids. Also, why the heck is Santa visiting my kids twice at two different houses (our own meager few gifts at home and then a giant load at grandparents)? I just hope that doesn’t come up at school with my child bragging about how he got sooooo many more presents and making other kids wonder why Santa doesn’t love them as much. I know they mean to do it to show their love, but Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore when it’s all about the stuff.

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