I’m Dreaming of a Toyless Christmas


The leaves are changing colors, the wind is blowing, and nature is preparing for winter. While we shake off our jackets and scarves and also prepare for the upcoming winter, this is also the time of year the shops and shoppers prepare for the busiest shopping time of the year: Christmas.

im dreaming of a toyless christmas

For some, shopping for gifts brings on feelings of excitement and adventure. For others – like me – it brings on feelings of foreboding and anxiety attacks.

It’s not that that I don’t like getting presents – I love gifts! And it’s not that I don’t like getting gifts for others – I love giving gifts!

It’s the idea of making decisions about what to give and what to suggest others to get our kids that makes me want to curl up into my shell and stay asleep in there until Christmas is long gone and the winter snow has melted away.

The part that overwhelms me the most is imagining more toys and things coming into the house. Throughout the year – and especially before a birthday or Christmas – we weed out the special toys from the neglected and discarded ones and set those items apart for donating. Still, some days I feel like toys are taking over our house. One day I’m afraid we’ll all wake up and won’t be able to get out bed because I’ve been buried alive by toys.

Apart from the hyperbole, the point is that the kids have enough “toys.” They like them for a day or sometimes even a week and then they are done, onto something new. Granted, like a friend pointed out to me, if they only had one or two special toys they’d probably play with them longer because that is all they would have.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Not at all. I’m grateful we have generous friends and family who are able to and willing to shower our kids with fun gizmos and trinkets galore. And all the clothes and other necessary items we’ve received over the years have been a huge help. I also know there are probably children out there who have nothing really nice to play with. I’m only trying to think of other gift ideas that I could suggest to those generous family members and friends in addition to or in lieu of the ordinary toy off the shelf.

I know it’s been said, over and over, but I’ll say it again. We live in a very consumer-minded world. We are consumed with what we have, what we don’t have, and what we want to have. I suppose it’s part of our inner yearning for something more.

This year, I’d like to do things a little different for our family and for our kids. I don’t want to be a Grinch and issue an embargo against all toys – except for those that make deafeningly loud and obnoxious noises (not to be confused with music). I also don’t want to muffle the childhood excitement and fun of receiving a new sparkly toy or awesome new gadget for our children.  Still, I’d like to find a way to celebrate Christmas and participate in the gift-giving and gift-receiving in a simpler and more meaningful way.

Some ideas I’ve thought of are gift cards the kids could use at their favorite restaurant or local entertainment place – like bowling or mini golf. I’ve also added the idea of family gifts to our list for places and things we could enjoy doing together as a family. After all, the gift of time together is more valuable than the gift of more stuff that we don’t necessarily need. I’ve also considered suggesting a donation be made to a local or global charity in our family’s or child’s name.

What are other gift ideas that are offer fun for kids but aren’t necessarily just another plastic thing that they will leave on the ground for me to step on and fall to my doom during the middle of the night?

Copyright 2013 Erika Marie


About Author

Erika Marie is a simple Catholic, Wife, and Mama. She relishes snuggles and free time with her family and enjoys reading, writing, blogging, and has a slightly obsessive addiction to creating Canva graphics. Enjoy more reflections by Erika at her personal simplemama blog.


  1. Your post is so timely to me as I was telling my husband I am most interested in our family having a “holy and spiritual Advent.” What we do is this: We celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas by having the kids put out their shoes the night before. They usually get one candy treat, a prayer card and one small toy or game. We have them buy a Christmas ornament for each other that they exchange after mass on Christmas Eve. Not only does it excite them to choose an ornament for their siblings, but it’s a way for them to build their own Christmas tree ornament collection that we’ll gift them when they are ready to leave the nest. They’ll have memories behind each special ornament. For Christmas Day gifts, they each get 3 gifts since that’s what Christ received. This not only helps them understand why they aren’t getting “more” and helps my husband and I keep our wits about us when we are shopping for them. Both of our girls have birthdays in the holiday season and it sends my anxiety soaring as I try to keep their birthdays separate from Christmas. This year, I’m buying all gifts early and not thinking about buying anything else come November. I hope this will help me focus on the traditions like baking cookies for the neighbors and priests, doing our Advent readings & prayers, and sponsoring needy families through our parish’s Jessee Tree program. These are just some ways we have tried to keep the consumerism down.

    We do have large families and everyone likes to buy for our kids. It’s so lovely and appreciated, but we have started to ask for “combined gifts” for the kids, books, and experiences (like going to see the Nutcracker together, having a special dinner, popcorn and a movie, that sort of thing).

    Hope this helps! Thank you for your post! It was a timely one, and I’m sure not just for me.

    • This is fabulous! God willing that when/if we have children of our own, we will do something like what you’ve done here. I love your ideas.

      I especially like the three-gift rule: 1 gift that satisfies a need. 1 that satisfies a want. 1 pertaining to spiritual needs. The 3 taken together might also be a great point of discussion.

      Another idea, in dealing with the “more,” is to keep some gifts back to open later in the Christmas season, to impress upon children that Christmas IS a season, and not a one-day blowout with a form of post-traumatic-stress letdown to follow (the pastor at the Latin Mass parish I attended used to lovingly write about his experiences growing up in a Catholic family in Philadelphia. And he mentioned that his family used to keep some gifts back to open later in the season).

  2. What about suggesting something all the kids or the whole family could use together? A new board game or wii game? Our kids love getting “experiences” as gifts. A gift certificate to go on a horseback ride, a trip to the paint-your-own pottery shop, a trip to an indoor swimming pool in the middle of winter, etc.

  3. We’ve started giving some “experience” gifts over the years and they’re always popular. It may be tickets to a musical or a membership to the zoo or children’s museum. We went stand-up paddleboarding as a family for my birthday which was a lot of fun.

    The biggest hit last Christmas was a last-minute gift I put in the kids’ stockings-a voucher for a trip to Starbucks with mom. It was nice to have the one-on-one time and let them pick which Starbucks (there are plenty to pick from!) and what they wanted to drink, eat, and talk about. They loved it and it didn’t take up any space in our house or require dusting! 🙂

  4. Thanks for the very helpful suggestions!
    I love hearing about other family’s traditions.
    I like the idea about three gifts like Jesus received. It makes a good point that even Jesus received ” material” gifts even if they were practical and symbolic.
    I love the “experience” gift idea and the shared one. We’ve thought of getting a Wii but always chicken out. I’ll have to suggest this to family members who might like to go in on one big family gift for all.
    Thanks all! Feel free to share more thoughts and ideas about how to have a “toyless” Christmas.

    • Hello Everyone!
      For several years now we have been getting “movie” passes, gift cards to Chapters/Indigo for books, and “year long passes” to the local community center for swimming. Collecting items for another family “in need” pulls focus away from themselves. Tickets to see the local hockey (minor ) team play works also. A home made blanket is put under the tree for each person to remind everyone of the warmth of Our Lord’s love for all. Our son who is now 17 speaks from time to time about this collection of Christmas blankets – from much smaller versions to the larger ones made to fit his ever growing frame. His sister 11, was asking about what gets might look like. There have been years where making blankets was not doable I purchased ‘fuzzy’ blankets then.

  5. We usually ask for things like sports equipment/outdoor toys, art supplies, books, board games, and a few favorite movies. We also have gift cards to some of their favorite places around town on their wish lists. (The frozen yogurt shop where you put on all kinds of toppings is their favorite!) This year their big item from grandma will be two scooters, which will obviously stay in the garage.

  6. when my son was a freshman in high school, my mother put together a scrapbook for him. He had an exciting soccer season, and had his name in the paper several times. She included the newspaper articles, photos that she took at games, etc. It cost her very little, but he really loved it! This was his Christmas gift from her. I always suggested practical things for my kids, like mittens, hats, pajamas, sheets with a cartoon character, a new lamp for the bedroom…. even a winter coat. (I have a really generous, but practical family).

  7. When my son turned 2, we offered an alternative gift people could choose if they wanted (we gave them the choice since they’re the ones generous enough to give a gift!) and said if they’d rather, they can put money in a basket at the party, and that basket would go to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. That hospital saved our son’s life only 6 months before. People were SO happy to give to Cardinal Glennon! And some people did a gift PLUS a donation (which I felt kind of bad about, because I know it cost them even more doing that). Our little one presented the checks to Cardinal Glennon himself, and we gave each giver a photo of it (and a statement from Cardinal Glennon acknowledging the gift so they can deduct it from their taxes if they wanted). We LOVED helping kids in need, as well as a Catholic hospital who does amazing things for children and their families. Plus, Philip received some toys, so it was still fun for him too!

  8. Something simple that I do is getting them food items. Last year I bought those multi-packs of mini boxes of cereal and stuffed their stockings with those. Each kid got three different kinds and they felt special having their own. I also suggest getting baking mixes (cookies, bars, cakes, etc) along with a special note attached that says something to the effect of “Good for one free afternoon of baking with mom/dad.” It doesn’t cost much and it gives them special time with me or my husband. You could even encourage those grandma’s that bake/cook to do the same thing. I like the idea of getting gifts for the whole family. Give each kid a special basket. Suggestions could include a special movie, popcorn, candy, etc. for a family movie night or stuff to make a mini-flower garden. Although I have not done it, you could try to save some of their special artwork/papers throughout the year and make a special scrapbook for them. I hope this helps. We have five children with one on the way, so I know exactly how you feel with the buried alive mentality. Good luck to all of us. I am sure we will need it!

    • Great ideas, Angelia. I like the idea of special time together with mom and dad, especially for the older kids who often get “neglected” due to younger siblings being more dependent.
      Congrats on your newest little one!

  9. I found one idea on Pinterest that we’ll be using for our boys’ wish lists this year (ages 5 and 1):
    Something I want
    Something I need
    Something to wear
    Something to read

    They may have to put two things in each answer in order for all grandparents/aunts/uncles to get an item, but overall it keeps the gift free-for-all to a minimum. And really, in this economy, it makes so much sense to pare things down for everyone.

  10. Last year, I decided that each kid would get one toy. That’s it.

    It has reduced the influx of toys.

    My husband and I focus on practical stuff. My husband gets them clothes and pyjamas. I was thinking of getting them bedding, as theirs is getting a little old. For my oldest girl, I’ve thought about buying her a nice chair to sit in in her room so she can read comfortably.

    I’m mulling over making Christmas about doing something other than opening presents. Like maybe making a gingerbread house ( I wish someone would make a gingerbread Nativity set).

  11. Throughout the year – and especially before a birthday or Christmas – we weed out the special toys from the neglected and discarded ones and set those items apart for donating.
    –Erika Marie

    Oh, bless you! I’ve been encouraging such a practice among my family and friends. I’ve tried doing the toy sweep on One Big Day between the US Thanksgiving holiday and the First Sunday of Advent. The idea hasn’t been taken up by anyone else of my acquiaintance though.

    I remind people who complain that they’ve got too many children’s toys underfoot of the old folk wisdom that a child with one toy is a child with a dear, beloved toy whereas a child with a lot of toys is just a child with a lot of toys. Some people reply that just one toy seems extreme. I understand. It’s folk wisdom, after all, not a Law of Physics. There’s wiggle room. The wisdom is in recognizing that when one starts describing a child’s toys in terms of “a lot”, the fuzzy boundary of The Land of Too Many Toys has been crossed.

    • Yes, we’ve definitely been past that line a few times over the years. I’ve been going through toys again and feel like we’re at a more manageable level of toys for now. Which is why is like to keep it that way!

  12. I have 11 children ranging in age from 6 – 25 yrs. and faced this ‘struggle’ years ago! The best advice I got was from my own mother herself the parent of 10 children (I am the 9th of the 10) when I only had four children.

    My Mom – “As it seems that you are going to have a large family as I did, get ahold of your Christmas NOW – before it takes over the meaning and depth of Christmas.”

    So, my dh and I began the practice of three presents for our kids – just three. Why? Jesus got three! 🙂

    And before I start shopping, my dh and I establish a budget for Christmas and how much we can afford. This is most important as we do not want to be paying for Christmas in January with credit card bills! And, I’ve taken to clearing off the toy shelves of ignored toys and donated those to our church’s Christmas bazaar for their ‘toy sale’. This keeps the toy piles from just growing and growing and…..

    So, just three – and I’ve come to focus these on one present each for their hearts, soul and mind.

    Their ‘heart’ present is the present/toy they want more than anything else. The one toy or game that rises above all the others when they watch the cartoons, flip through the catalogs or visit a friend who’s got more than they do. With older kids it might be a gift card to their favorite place or just $$ for their newest dream.

    Their ‘mind’ present is something more practical that stimulates their mind and what they love to think about or read about – we gotten magazine subscriptions, sporting equipment they have wanted/need or craft supplies for my non-athletes.

    Their ‘soul’ present is my favorite! I get to find something to feed their soul such as a new book or uplifting CD or a t-shirt that proclaims their faith such as those from Proud Catholic Company. There are even some toys that fill this category. But in some years, we have taken to lifting other people’s souls by making a donation to a good cause or buying them a flock of chickens from Heifer, Int’l. Our kids love those just as much.

    Now, we don’t make any limits on presents from grandparents but they have always asked us what we wanted and we’ve usually asked them to contribute for big presents or group presents such as replacing outside toys, a batch of movie tickets to the closest theater to be used over the year, or board games, etc.

    We also give our children one present for the Feast of St. Nicholas as that was a feast always celebrated with great enthusiasm when I was growing up. My father is Belgian and St. Nicholas’ Feast is ‘THE’ day for presents in Belgium and I want them to have a piece of that heritage. As was done in my childhood, this present is more practical (just as the money given for the dowry was practical to the young girls of Nicholas’ day). It might be a piece of clothing, new boots or, during some lean years, just a new pair of fun socks.

    Finally – after enduring a few Christmas’s where we got their ‘heart’ present wrong, really wrong – we began giving our children just one more present on the Feast of the Three Kings. We were able to take advantage of after Christmas sales and fix our mistake!

    We’ve been doing this for so long, our kids have come to accept that this is how we celebrate Christmas just as they accept other family traditions or expectations.

    Several of them don’t even realize some of their friends get so much more than they do (keeping play dates over the holidays to our house helps). But, I do recall a conversation with one of my children way, way back after a visit to a friend’s house whose Christmas booty was more, much more, much, much more than she ever experienced.

    “Mom, why do we only get 3 presents for Christmas?”, she asked

    “Well, because Jesus only got 3 presents,” I replied.

    “What did he get again?”…”Gold, frankincense and myrrh.”…she walked away seemingly satisfied but I heard her mumble under her breath, “Boy, Jesus had a lousy Christmas!”

    LOL –

  13. How about some really cool, fun video games? There are, of course, the ones that get them up and moving, like Wii Fit. But there are also ones that are a fun way to spend rainy days. The I Spy Books have some computer games. If your kids are older, the HerInteractive Nancy Drew Series are fun for both girls and boys. And they have challenging puzzles and cool graphics and fun dialogue. Some of them may be a little scary for easily frightened little kids.

  14. I don’t have to worry about gifts from my extended family. They all have lots of kids and are hard up for money. So we just have an understanding that no one gets anything for anyone. From my husband’s family which is small the kids do get toys but I donate them. We keep telling them not to buy stuff, just spend time with the kids, but they won’t listen so we keep giving away what they buy. The kids don’t even mind. I rarely buy toys for the kids. Instead we give them educational, religious or exercise things since I homeschool. I only have boys and currently the only actual bought toys in the house are Legos, They are always allowed to make their own toys and games which they do which is what I did as a kid. So if they whine about being bored I will just say, go play with you circuit set or microscope or make some more puppets or play ping pong, etc.

  15. It seems that the toys are the “rage of the moment”, fads. Forget the latest and greatest gadgets. Give time tested classic toys that will last for many years and that (with care) can be passed to the grand kids some day. Board games, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Legos, dolls (obviously). Something that they can use the ole noggin and use and reuse in a bajillion ways.

  16. I love all of these suggestions. A few years have past from the original post, but the ideas are still great. Any new ones? We’re in the middle of October, so I’m hoping to get a game plan in place soon. My husband and I also have 8 godchildren. Any suggestions for those gifts? Trying to keep the spending under control.

    • You don’t mention the ages of the children, Angela. I love giving books. One tradition you could start with your godchildren is purchasing them each a Christmas storybook each year. There are so many wonderful Christmas-themed stories for children out there, and they’re not all of the “Superhero du jour Saves Christmas” variety.

      For good ideas for Catholic books (Christmas-related and otherwise), check out the Seal of Approval winners from the Catholic Writers Guild: https://catholicwritersguild.org/seal-approval

      Plenty of excellent books (fiction and nonfiction) for children and adults are on that list.

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