Too Many Presents

Too many Presents: Christmas,  Hanukkah & Birthday Party


Dear Rachel,

Hanukkah and Christmas are nearing and we are blessed with a large extended family.  We are a bit worried about P.O.- Presents Overdose.  Last year our  son was almost 3 and seemed overwhelmed. I’ afraid he disappointed many relatives by being more interested in the boxes than in the presents.  Advice?

-- H.G. in San Francisco


Glad you have the presence of mind to realize you should make a “Presents Response Plan,” for handling the anticipated avalanche of gifts.  Some years (2013 for example) Hanukkah comes well before Christmas, so it’s a nice opportunity to really differentiate between the two holidays, as well as, should the pile of presents be really excessive, donating some (at least any duplicates) to holiday toy drives (usually conducted by your local Fire Department).


Let me begin with a personal experience.  When my daughter was around the same age as yours is now, we were invited by a family in her preschool to their Christmas Day lunch.  It was one of those years when Hanukkah and Christmas were more than two weeks apart so we thought there would be no “Christmas Confusion/Christmas Envy” issue.   We arrived in the late morning to find the family huddled rather glumly in the living room.  Their little boy was, in fact, crying his eyes out.  “What’s wrong?” I asked the distraught parents.   “He is crying because he doesn’t know what to do with so many presents.  He doesn’t know how to choose which ones to play with.”   He was not amenable, the mother went on, to any constructive suggestions from either his parents or his older sister.


I am sure you have seen similar scenes at birthday parties.  The four-year-old “Birthday Boy,” already ratcheted up to his maximum tolerance with excitement and sugar, startsto open the presents and soon falls apart.  The other kids are unhappy too, because all each one really wants to see is the birthday boy opening his/herpresent.  Sitting patiently through ten others is not in their repertoire.


Presumably, family members who have brought presents have a longer attention span, but even mature adults want to have their gift properly appreciated and at least some young children are very attune to these expectations and feel a lot of pressure. My preferred guideline for birthday parties (and Chanukah parties) is a balanced equation of age= # of guests= # of gifts.  In other words, a 4-year-old has four guests at his birthday party and gets four presents. Think that sounds too limiting for Chanukah?  Then double it, so your 4-year-old gets eight presents in all (one for each day).


This also connects to the issues I raised in my last column about cultivating thankfulness in children.   Too many presents undermine that.  How much thankfulness can you feel?  This is something you can address in a gradual way through “thank you” cards.  Wait to write each one until AFTER your child has had a chance to play with/use the gift.  So, for example, if your child got a painting easel set from her grandparents, have her use it to make a painting for them and others in the family.  A card that accompanies such a painting with the note “I painted this picture with the paints and easel that you gave me!” means much more to both your child and the grandparents, than a bought (or even hand-made) generic “thank you” card.


Presents and thank you’s aside,  I urge you strongly to plan several other family activities for Hanukkah and/or that are not focused on gifts, but rather on fun times together and generosity towards others.  IF you are Jewish, find a volunteer opportunity for Christmas Day or the week before, such as serving Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter, donating and/or wrapping gifts for needy kids, etc.  If you celbrate Christmas, help decorate a homeless shelter of church where Christmas dinenr will be served.


If your family is an interfaith one and you celebrate both holidays, you’ll have a double dose of presents.  Again, think about a reasonable limit on how many gifts your child gets and balance it with presents to be given.  I’ll write more in the next column about the sometimes delicate negotiations around “Christmas at Grandma’s.”


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Rachel Biale - Parenting Counseling