As a parent, I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas mornings.
Aside from the fact that my kids’ exuberance about opening presents makes it difficult for them to sleep in, I generally love Christmas morning—the sweet smell of monkey bread baking, the sound of “The Carpenter’s Christmas Collection Album,” and the sight of Christmas lights on the tree and sparkling eyes.
However, what I most dislike about Christmas mornings is the greediness and discontent that often shows up about five minutes into opening gifts as someone discovers that they want what someone else has or didn’t get what they wanted.
How do we help our kids avoid materialism at Christmas time? Here are just a few practical ideas:
1. Teach about Gratitude and the Gospel
At its root, materialism is not a Christmas problem, it’s a heart problem that grows throughout the year. We must consistently teach our kids what the Bible says about greed and ingratitude so that when Christmas rolls around, their contentment and thankfulness will be strong to face the cultural winds of materialism. 1
We can exemplify gratitude by thanking God for all His gifts. Regularly rehearse the story of the nativity and the gospel so that your kids are reminded of the greatest gift that was ever given.
2 Corinthians 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
2. Help your kids buy gifts
From the time our kids are young, we want them to be thinking about giving to each other and not just receiving for themselves.
If your kids are young, consider having them do projects around the house where they can earn money that is designated for buying gifts for their siblings and/or relatives. Then take your kids to a dollar store and have them pick out gifts for each other. Teach them to think about Christmas as a time to give, not just receive.
3. Create your own Gifts
Help your children see they have the ability to bless others with their talents and creativity and have your kids show their love for others by giving their own creations.
As a boy, I made a hotplate for my grandma one Christmas that she continued to use for the rest of her life. Hand-crafted gifts are meaningful and significant, even if it’s just a homemade Christmas card or cookies for neighbors.
4. Clean out the Closets
Christmas is a time when your kids will likely be receiving new toys and clothes. 2 Take time before Christmas to go through their closets with them and pick out different items (still in good condition) that they can either gift to someone else or donate to a charity, hospital, or children’s home. Teach your kids about God’s desire for us to share with and care for those in need (Hebrews 13:16).
5. Tour a local Junkyard
Eventually, all of those things that our kids (and us as dads) wished for, argued about, and tried to protect from damage will be destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:10-14).
Take your kids to the local landfill and talk about all the junk that people treasured in the past but has now been crushed into a useless pile of garbage. 3 Teach your kids the treasure principle from Matthew 6:19-21 about not collecting trinkets on earth, but laying up treasures in heaven.
6. Gift an Experience
Instead of finding more stuff to fill their stockings, look for experiences that will fill their memories for years to come. Some parents give season passes to the zoo or share plans for a family vacation. You could also give your child an instrument or art set with lessons to go along with it.
7. Include Group Gifts
One way to combat comparison is to give a gift that is designed to be shared by everyone. One year we gave our boys a trampoline, but group gifts could also include a puzzle or board game that can be enjoyed by all.
Another very important way to avoid the comparison trap is to prepare your kids for the emotions they might experience on Christmas morning by discussing and practicing what they should do when they open their gifts and when they see what others receive.
Help them learn to recognize comparison, greed, and ingratitude in their hearts and immediately confront it with gratitude.
8. Exemplify Generosity
We should teach our kids a Biblical perspective about materialism and contentment, 4 but as Randy Alcorn rightly observes, “Sometimes our actions speak so loudly that our children can’t hear a word we’re saying.” 5
My dad did a good job teaching me about generosity by the way he lived his life for others—regularly and sacrificially sharing his time and resources with those in need. Consider leading your family in prayer this Christmas season about finding a missionary or family in need that you could bless.
9. Visit a Nursing Home
The Holiday season can be one of the loneliest times of year for people, especially those whose health is failing and who aren’t living at home with family.
Take your children to an assisted living center or nursing home to sing Christmas carols, spend time with the residents, and share the love of Christ. This will bring joy to all and help teach your kids to value people over things.
10. Spread out the Gifts
Throughout the history of the church, many Christians have observed 12 days of Christmas and opened a gift on each day.
While it’s not wrong to make December 25 special, I have observed that showering dozens of gifts on our kids in the space of one half hour on Christmas morning often sets them up for failure. Spreading out the gifts to be opened over the course of a few days might minimize the force of the Christmas morning gift frenzy and help the kids appreciate (and enjoy) each gift even more.
Storytime on Christmas Morning
As a child, my parents always had us quote the Christmas story (Luke 2:1-20) from memory before we opened presents. This practice didn’t miraculously eliminate materialism but it helped to focus our attention on the greatest gift ever given.
As you spend time and money leading up to Christmas day finding gifts for your kids, don’t forget to help them avoid materialism and treasure the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” Is. 9:6
Some key passages on contentment and gratitude that you can study with your kids include: Philippians 4:11-13, 1 Timothy 6:6-8, 1 Timothy 4:4-5, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Psalm 107:8-9 ↩
Some parents follow a pattern of giving four gifts where children receive only four gifts—Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. ↩
Read Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 with your kids and talk about the futility of pursuing satisfaction. ↩
Alcorn, Randy. Managing God’s Money. Tyndale House Publishers, 2011, 59. ↩