How Do You Do Christmas?

(And if you do another holiday, feel free to chime in too!)

I have three kids aged 4, 7 and 10.  Growing up, my mom always made sure my brother and I had an equal number of gifts that were not necessarily equal in monetary value, but they were comparable in size and excitement value.  So when I became a mom, I instinctively began balancing out my gift giving in much the same way.

With three kids to buy for, I desperately try to keep track of who is getting what so that it works out evenly.  In addition to that, I have the added confusion of a Christmas birthday thrown in there.  Yes, my middle child was born on Christmas Eve — a whole four weeks ahead of schedule, I might add.  You know what they say about the best laid plans.  Ahem.

I also follow the tradition of my parents by leaving at least one “big present” unwrapped in front of the tree from Santa Claus along with their stockings and a few extras like crayons and coloring books and maybe a book for each child.  That way, they have something to see when they come downstairs on Christmas morning.  They get to play with their unwrapped toys and empty their stockings when they wake up.

Then I wrap another 3 or 4 gifts for each child and put them under the tree.  We open our wrapped gifts after a leisurely breakfast.

The older they get, the harder it is to keep track of what I’m getting whom, and the harder it is to keep things even.  Again, I don’t worry so much about monetary amounts as I do the significance of the gift.  But with three kids at three different stages, it gets complicated.  And of course the grandparents and aunts and uncles want ideas too.

I’m finding that the older they get, the harder it is to come up with ideas for gifts.  Last week I spent an hour in ToysRUs, walking around by myself, just to see what’s out there.  And now I’m trying to figure out what I have, what I need, and what I should return.  I posted a quick query on Twitter to find out that I am not the only mother struggling to make it all work out.  Several industrious moms said they actually create a spreadsheet to keep it all straight.


It didn’t take me long to open up my Google Docs and create a Christmas Gift Spreadsheet.  Now WHY have I never thought of this before??  It sure beats the scraps of paper I usually keep laying around.

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23 thoughts on “How Do You Do Christmas?

  1. Oh, yes… Spreadsheets are the way to go. They’re also helpful for the years ahead when you want to look back and see what you spent and what you bought each child.

    I am a spreadsheet-aholic. For making the lists before buying and for documenting purchases after.

  2. I also have an Excel spreadsheet. It also helps to keep the one from last year so I don’t buy someone the same gift two years in a row. I include everyone on my list that will need gifts even down to my son’s teachers. I also have a column for those Christmas time birthdays which includes my sister and her twin boys. I have another column for ideas if there is something someone mentioned they need or like so I can keep my eyes peeled for a good deal. I also have a bookmark folder in Firefox for gift ideas as I come across a blog post or Etsy site that I think has some good ideas for Christmas or birthday gifts.

  3. My mom used to make a spreadsheet and staple all of the receipts to it so that she knew where they were in case of returns. Seeing as I only have 1.5 kids now, I haven’t resorted to the spreadsheet just yet but I feel that it is in my future…

  4. Growing up my parents did christmas for my brother, sister and I very similarly to what you do for your 3 kids. Up until we were all in our teens and higher we didn’t really notice the amount spent bc we all got the same number of gifts. (Of course the amounts varied but we didn’t know bc we each got the same number). As we got older they seemed to manage to be pretty spot on, and if we were 1 or 2 off we usually knew it, because we got a few really expensive gifts. The only part of their system that seemed to go wrong was they would always have a few presents for me that the forgot to wrap and so as a kid my brother and sister would have 5 or 6 presents left and I’d have one! They’d quickly realize they had hidden mine so well they forgot about them. I don’t have any kids yet but I do a spreadsheet for all family and friend that I buy gifts for so I can get an acurate amount of how much I am spending and what was bought for who. It works out very well!

  5. I can feel for your middle child–I, too, am a Christmas Eve baby. Yep–48 years ago I struggled to be born before Christmas Day and tore both my mother’s and my father’s family traditions apart. My mom was really good about making my birthday MY birthday. She didn’t like when friends and relatives gave combo-gifts. She tried hard to keep my birthday separate from the holiday. Not easy to do, but she managed.

    As I grew older, it was harder for me to separate birthday from holiday because I was usually involved with the holiday preparations. Nowadays, I don’t celebrate my birthday so much. It’s just easier that way.

    We have Christmas on Christmas mornings–get up have coffee and sticky buns, open presents leisurely, and then work on the holiday meal as a family. We decided to do the smaller holidays since my son became an adult–easier on the expectation side and less stressful.

  6. We do Hanukkah, and it’s super hard. Gifts for both kids for 8 nights. THen my oldest’s birthday is January 3. So it’s basically a gift-fest for him from mid-December till mid-January. But yes, I’m having a super hard time trying to decide on gifts. I think maybe I will do a spreadsheet this year….

  7. Yes, we really try to make her birthday special. And we don’t do combo gifts, and I made a promise to myself that I would NEVER wrap her birthday gifts in Christmas wrap. 🙂

  8. Ah, it looks like you’ve been a fly on my wall again when it comes to generating ideas for gifts. What also doesn’t help in my situation is that both of my daughters have December birthdays. I just finished selecting presents for those yesterday when I spent a good deal of time in Claire’s browsing for items for my six-year-old, who is more into jewelry and other girly accessories than my eight-year-old. I’m giving myself a few days off before I start tackling Christmas gifts!

  9. we celebrate Chanukah (my side) and christmas (dh’s) so it is craziness – I do 8 nights of gifts for chanukah (usually giving a couple of nights from us and then the other nights are the gifts from my side of the family – 1 relative per night – we live overseas so it is up to me when and how). then for Christmas i tend to make sure they get the same # (similar to your mom). plus i do the month of december advent activity calendar with soem gifts in there too.

    My girls are only 19 mo apart so have very similar interests – a bunch of the gifts will be to share or 2 versions of the same thing (ie – 2 different puzzles or dolls from the same line but different)

    I agree that as kids get older it is harder. and boys!!! I find this challenging as I shop for our best friend’s 3 boys who are now 4, 7 and 10 1/2 – those older boys only want skateboards and electronics and stuff and i tend to give them books and building sets (this year it was K’nex for the 4yo., a more advanced building set for the 7yo and a VERY advanced aged 8-adult engineering type set for the oldest + LOTS of books)

  10. My mom has a December birthday and we have celebrated her half birthday for as long as I can remember. In December I send a card, but the gift giving and celebration is in the summer. I think it could be easily adapted to a kid (maybe a super small gift for the actual birthday, but the party and hoopla in June…). It works for us!

  11. I use a spreadsheet too… I only have two kids, but then there are all the nieces and nephews… I would loose my mind without the spreadsheet to help me keep track. Now if only I could figure out how to keep all of my receipts straight!

  12. We struggled with that when the girls were young and yes, they are both close to Christmas babies. December 20th and January 11th. Now that they are teenagers we have switched over to the $$ amount instead of the package count. Gabby would like an Ipod touch. That is pretty much all she will get. Abby will get her Ipod Nano plus something else. Of course, their stockings will hold the traditional bag of M & M’s! Note to self, don’t put the stockings with the M & M’s inside on the heated floor this year…

  13. I totally do the spreadsheet. It is even password protected to keep away my tech savvy kids. I don’t go crazy on the spreadsheet details but more than anything I use it to stick to my budget. This year our Christmas budget is tight so it is going to take some planning to stick to it. Luckily most of my kids wish list are Wii or DS games and their lists were all under 10 items.

  14. Your Christmas traditions sound very similar to ours. I too struggle with the “keeping it fair” part. I have a 15, 9, and 5 year old so it can be tricky. MY 15 year old though knows now that most of what she asks for can cost 3 times as much, so she may get the 1 for each 2 or 3 the others get. But I like equal presents for each usually, and I like them to open them slowly and one at a time, and keep the paper all nice……..yeah, I can get a little annoying!

  15. Kids never get tired of board games. Mine are both getting their own Nintendo DS this year. I spend about $350 on each kid. Sounds like a lot, but the pile sure isn’t. Plus, I do not buy toys all year round for them. This is the only time. My daughter is a New Years Eve birthday, and it is so hard to find a gift when she just got so much for Christmas.

  16. Hooray for the spreadsheet! This year we cut back a little bit on gift giving, so I just made an old-fashioned list. But I usually LOVE the spreadsheet! My favorite part of it is that I can jot down where I found something when I find it; especially valuable for me since I do a lot of Christmas shopping online!

  17. My girls are 5 and a half, and 8. They get to wake up and find their stocking at the end of the bed full of small toys and books. They can open all that and play with it to their heart’s delight. I am happy to lie in, but my husband, who is a child in extra large size, likes to get up and play with them.

    After the family gets up (and usually that means us and grandparents) we’ll go down and see what’s under the tree. There should be one or two wrapped presents from Santa, one from mummy and daddy, and then any others from friends and relatives.

    Hubby is an only child, so it’s taken a bit to stop his mother from buying literally thousands of presents for the girls. I’d be happy if she’d stick to just one, but this year she’s gone for three – which I have to buy for her.

    My own parents will give them only one present each, and they will probably be hand knitted!

    This year will be slightly different, as we’ll be in Australia with MY parents, so I have to cart all the presents across the world in my suitcase! (I’ve already done all santa and grandma shopping). But the on-the-day scenario will be the same!

  18. I’ve long kept a spreadsheet for all our family/friend gifts. I have a column for notes and ideas also include columns for what I anticipate spending and what I actually spend to help with budgeting. Our soon-to-be four year old was born on Dec. 22 so we’re pretty close to the same problem of a Christmas baby. I’m due with #2 at the end of January and am praying he doesn’t come early and turn into a New Year’s Baby!

  19. Well, as you know, we typically buy only small presents for our girls at Christmas. A book. A pair of pajamas. Cookies. Things like that. They are young so the excitement of the morning and the family togetherness is present enough. 🙂

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