Creating Holiday Perspectives and Expectations

— Written By Julie Lyvers
en Español / em Português

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Each year the holiday decorations appear earlier and earlier and consumers are flooded with advertisements full of “must have” or “must give” products. This year advertisers are offering “discounts” and in-store experiences to entice people to visit the store instead of shopping online. With “Black Friday” around the corner, it is the perfect time for individuals and families to reconsider their approach to the holiday.

First, the adults must examine their own perspectives and feelings about holiday giving to their children. Parents often want children to have everything they may not have had as a child. Notice that this desire belongs to the adult(s) rather than the child(ren). Parents need to start with their own expectations about what it means to have a wonderful holiday.

Broaden the Meaning of the Holiday

A good first step is to consider how to broaden the meaning of the holiday beyond the brief period of gift-opening. Help your children understand the holiday is also about giving or helping people in need. Parents might explain to younger children that some children might not receive any toys at all if unless your family helps to provide gifts.

Younger children can be involved in selecting a toy to donate to the Toys for Tots program operated by the Marine Corps or some other similar program. Some organizations request donations of gently used or new winter coats. Children can be involved in selecting coats they can no longer wear and preparing the coats for donation. Some places of worship participate in Shoeboxes for Christmas program; families prepare shoe boxes of personal care items like tooth brushes, toothpaste and small toys to be sent to children in other countries.

Older children can be encouraged to spend time packaging food for families at the Salvation Army or a local food pantry. Even better, the family could volunteer together to spend a day or an afternoon assisting a food donation program. Once you find a form of giving that the children enjoy and fits for your family, consider making it a family tradition.

Plan Your Spending

Second, create a holiday budget. Having a defined amount to spend and allocating the money across family members will help you be intentional about shopping for the items that will be enjoyed the most. All adults must agree on the budget. 

Make a List and Check it Twice

Ask the children to make a wish list. You may be surprised at the modesty of their list (save for the occasional puppy request). Then go over the wish list and help the children decide which items they will really enjoy. This process might include a discussion of whether the toy will actually perform as shown on television.

For the big ticket items, consider whether grandparents or other relatives might like to participate in giving that gift. Gifts, like game systems, can be a shared gift for more than one child. Relatives can purchase one or more games to go with the system.

Items desired by older children – tweens and teens, often come with adult price tags. Have a discussion with them to let them know there is a budgeted amount for each child, so high dollar value items will reduce the number of gifts. Have them identify what they really want most.

Giving Strategies

The very young :

Young children like tearing open the wrapping paper and typically are not quite so concerned about what’s in the package. To increase the amount of “ripping joy,” wrap inexpensive and useful items like pajamas, socks, and underwear.

Older children:

Go over their list and select items that have lasting power. Use your knowledge of your child’s interests to avoid items likely to end up in the back of the closet or under the bed. Everyone likes a surprise, so add a few well selected inexpensive gifts to the list to expand the “opening joy.”  These might include small cars, soap bubbles, nail polish, an action figure or two (don’t go overboard), and so on.


As noted earlier, presents at this age are typically expensive. Teens are old enough to know the difference in cost between a video game and a toy truck or doll. Include some useful surprise gifts, such as pajamas, socks, underwear, or a reasonable amount on a gift card for music downloads. It’s likely they will appreciate the gift and the gesture. Involving this age group in selecting their primary gift helps ensure the child receives the most valued gift.

Keep Everyone Involved with a Role

Try to have equal numbers of things for children to open. The older children can open “family” gifts like board games or boxes of candy and so on. Or you can appoint older children to be the “family recorder” taking photos or record video of gift opening once they have opened their gifts.

Go Shopping

Use the children’s refined wish lists to complete your 2019 Holiday Planner, available at no charge from North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Decisions Program. Monitor newspaper flyers, store websites, television and radio ads for prices on these items and make note of the best prices. Take your Planner with you when shopping. It will help you recognize a better deal or at least purchase the item at the planned price.

Planning for Next Year

Remember to keep your 2019 Holiday Planner. The information in the planner can help you plan for next year’s holiday. Make note of what was spent for holiday foods, entertainment, giving and so on. These numbers can be used to set up a monthly allocation (holiday account) for next year’s holiday season.


Finally, enjoy wrapping the gifts and look forward to a wonderful holiday with your family.