The Three Present Rule

Three GiftsIn our household, we limit our kids to three Christmas presents from Santa.  When I tell people this, I get shocked expressions and the emphatic “WHY?”  My stock answer is this:

If three presents were enough for Jesus, it’s enough for my kids.

It gets me laughs and I need like that.  Of course, I’m absolutely serious.  Like most Christians, I struggle balancing Santa and the gifts with the true meaning of Christmas.  I love that kids believe wholeheartedly in Santa, in magic.  My two-year-old just learned what Santa does.  Her eyes light up whenever she sees Santa on television or in books.  “Santa bring me toys.”  I ask her what kind of toys Santa’s going to bring her.  “Pretty toys.”  **Swoon.**

But I want my kids to know why we celebrate Christmas.  I want them to appreciate the true gift of Christmas, not just what ends up under the Christmas tree.  So we correlate the gift-giving with the Three Wise Men.  It works.

Three Wise Men and Mary and Jesus

Image Via MorgueFile

There are other benefits to the Three Present Rule.  You know how some kids make their Christmas lists miles long?    You know how some parents get nearly everything on that list?  You know how kids will play with those toys for about two minutes before getting bored with them, tossing them in the toy box, never to see the light of day again?

My kids don’t do that.  They consider their lists very carefully.  When the Stacking Cups in the JC Penny Catalog caught my oldest son’s eye a couple of years ago he almost included them on his list.  In the end, he realized they were PLASTIC CUPS–perhaps the dumbest waste of one of three presents from Santa.

Cup Stacking Speed Stacks

Image via EveryStockPhoto

My children are not greedy.  They choose presents they really want and don’t ask for every stupid thing they see on television or in stores.

The Three Present Rule has its drawbacks.  What if they choose the hot toy that everybody wants and nobody can get?  With a small list, it’s not easy to compensate by getting them something else.  Not to mention the fact that Santa shouldn’t have limitations.  Thankfully, this hasn’t happened to us yet.  The advantage to having weird kids (they have weird parents, they were doomed from the start) is they aren’t all that interested in what everyone else wants.  Two years ago, my son asked for a spinning top.  What?  (Actually that gift makes sense to an autistic child.  Spin and spin, over and over and over and over again.)  Bam!  $2 gift and the kid was happy.

Unfortunately, the Three Present Rule isn’t always cheap.  Last year, we had to buy 3 Nintendo DSs.  Thank goodness for a Black Friday sale on used and refurbished gaming systems.  This year I had to find a laptop.  Again, Santa does not have limitations.   For younger kids, the Three Present Rule is cheaper, but the older the kids get, the more expensive the gifts.

The biggest problem with the Three Present Rule are the other kids who have no such limitations.  It’s not easy to explain to my kids why their friends get dozens of presents and they only get three.  I’m always afraid they’ll start questioning the existence of Santa Claus when they compare their Christmas with everyone else’s.  It’s no different from having to explain why some kids get more extravagant gifts.

 “Why did Johnny Spoiled Rotten get $50 in his stocking and all I got was some chocolate and a stupid paddle ball?”

paddle ball

Creative Commons

We do the best we can.  Specifically, we take the fall for the fat guy.

” Santa Claus honors our wishes when it comes to gifts.”

Eventually, the kids will stop believing in Santa Claus.  When that time comes I hope they’ve learned a few things.

  1. Christmas is not about presents.
  2. Quality over quantity.
  3. Greed is NOT good.
  4. The value of a dollar.
  5.  Their parents love them and are doing everything in their power to raise happy AND sensible adults.

30 thoughts on “The Three Present Rule

  1. I love this! My parents actually do a variation in this with their grandkids. Each grandchild gets 3 gifts from them, one “spendy” and two smaller. We’re a secular family, but I still tell my son about the Wise Men and their gifts because I like the message of the story.

    For our part, we’re a family of very limited means, so Santa leaves an ornament for the tree, fills the stockings, and leaves a small gift (usually a book or a movie). Any other gifts under the tree are from family.

    I’m really proud of my son, because at 4, he gets that Santa comes and “brings toys” but he doesn’t ask for things, or get whiny toys he sees on TV or in stores. I imagine that time will come, but hopefully we’ve created a solid base.

    • The grandparents on my husband’s side do the same thing. From them, my kids get a book, an article of clothing, and a toy. It’s nice.

      My kids have never complained, either. I’m so grateful for that.

  2. Genius. Right now our kids are young enough that one really cool gift from Santa (along with a few candies/trinkets in their stocking) is enough to keep them really excited. I like how you have tied it in with the three gifts of the wise men. Oh, and Santa doesn’t forget to leave a little something in Mom and Dad’s stocking either!

    • Yes, me and the husband get our share of stocking candy and trinkets as well. Reese’s cups and chocolate covered cherries for him, White Chocolate Lindor Truffles for me. Yum.

  3. I’ve never been big on the Santa thing, personally. My parents never taught us that he was ‘real’ – we knew our gifts came from our parents and each other, and we also knew that funds were limited. I think the most expensive things I ever asked for was the LOTR Extended Edition DVD sets.

    However, I do really really like that three gifts thing. Our Christmases are very religious (and I love it that way!), so that may be something we implement when we have kids. Hubby and I have already agreed that we won’t make our children believe in Santa Claus. I’ve seen too many friends get hurt when their parents told them that he was real, while telling them about Jesus at the same time, and then later telling them that Santa isn’t real, but Jesus is. Why not just stick with Jesus in the first place, instead of giving them a reason to doubt?

    • I understand where you’re coming from. Children accept the existence of Santa and Jesus on faith alone and it probably does confuse them when one is revealed as a myth and the other as real. Personally, I didn’t have a hard time with that distinction. I hope my kids don’t either. My, I do love the idea of Santa Claus, though. Magic, in all its forms, is a wonderful idea. I would hate to deprive my kids of the experience.

      • lol, well, considering I’m inclined to write fantasy, I obviously didn’t have a problem with the non-existence of magic.

        I do understand, though. My mother fully encouraged the watching of Christmas movies, including the ones with Santa, and so we did lose ourselves into the magic occasionally :).

  4. We have a similar rule – Santa brings 1 gift and 1 gift only. Mommy, Daddy & Step-Dad give them 3 gifts because if it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for you.
    One of the reasons we do it this way is because of the 4 year age gap. Last year I had to have discussion with my oldest about gifts – as long as I believe that you believe in Santa, you will get 4 gifts. As soon as I don’t believe that, you will receive 3. And if you spoil Santa for little sister, it’s lumps of coal for you. He is Santa’s biggest fan.

    • Lol! My oldest doesn’t believe, but he’s kept his trap shut. Given how much he loves to torture his brothers and sisters, I’m very impressed with his discretion.

  5. This is what we are doing, too. My kids don’t expect loads of presents. We get them a handful of what they really want (and what I know they’ll actually play with for a long time) plus a stocking full of little goodies. They are quite happy with it and we don’t go into debt.

  6. Rather than deny your children the joy of having Santa come and see them like other children, Why don’t you teach them the story of Santa , Kris Kringle, And how he gave Toys to the children. as a representation of God’s Gift to all the earth. and then tell the story of the Three Wise Men and their Gifts to the Christ Child. Its Not Disappontment, when you teach the whole story and why our customs are as they are. Unfortunately, some parents do go overboard but they have to live with the little monsters they create.

  7. I think limiting the presents is a good idea (and if I ever have kids I will probably do the same, especially since there are always extra gifts from grandparents). In the end, what you get is fun, but when I was a kid I just loved the surprise of the presents. There were quite a few years where all my mom could afford was a few things from the Dollar Store, but Christmas was still just as amazing.

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    Gratz, and if you make the Final Cut, Good Luck! Either way, Kudos for being Nominated, especially bey LaPlumeNoir who is one of my Favorite Blogs

  9. I like the approach you’re taking. I have tried to do that too. My sons are teenagers now, and while they occasionally make jealous comments about all the stuff their friends have, they also seem to understand that having more and more stuff isn’t so great and that having cool experiences with each other is more important.

  10. This is a great idea. We celebrate Hanukkah, and as little kids, we got a present each of the eight nights. Of course, when we were little, the presents were also little. As we got older, we learned that it was nice to receive anything at all, and getting one or two special gifts was great, but so was lighting candles, eating latkes and spending time with family.

  11. That is so awesome. I wish I had started that rule when my kids were little. But I think we have been successful in separating Christmas the fun holiday from the true meaning of the Christian event. But, every year my husband complains that they get too much stuff!

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  13. I got a lot of flak for our Christmas policy of 2 Santa gifts (only stuff elves can make!) 1 from mom , 1 from dad, a new pair of P.J’s for Christmas eve, and a book. I’m glad I held on- my kids are 24, 17, &14- and it works.

  14. I want to start this with my kids this year. My question is how to break it to them. They r used to over the top Christmas’s but this year has been hard and we just don’t have it. And I’m like most of you I don’t and will not charge Xmas. So how I can I break it to a 9 year old and 6 year old. Thanks

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