Dear Lydia and Asa,

christmas morning

I felt bad when I went to bed on Christmas Eve. Your presents and stockings were ready for Christmas morning. But I felt like maybe it wasn’t good enough. I felt like maybe we had not done enough. Maybe the whole idea of three-presents wasn’t a great idea. Maybe you’d be disappointed when you walked downstairs. Maybe you’d feel like we didn’t give you thoughtful gifts. Maybe you’d wish for more.

But that’s why we chose to do three gifts when you were just a baby, Lydia. We don’t want our family always wishing for more. We want our family to be characterized by contentment and servanthood. I don’t know if we do that. I don’t know if we chose to do that because it’s something Daddy and I struggle with. But I think it’s important—and there’s something about Christmas morning gifts that flies in the face of contentment and a humble heart.

When I was in college, one of my oldest professors, a very wise, old-fashioned man told us that if we wanted to save money, we should never get catalogs in the mail and never go to the mall. If we didn’t look at new stuff to desire, then we wouldn’t desire it. I remember thinking that was kind of weird at the time–I can’t go to the mall? I can’t look at cool clothes or nice furniture magazines?

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to agree with him. The more I look around at what I don’t have, the more I want! I feel like I “need” a new kitchen gadget, or some cuter jeans, a newer computer. The way to combat those desires is by not feeding them.

So, as we choose three gifts for you each year, we do it with care. We look for gifts that go along with your development, your personality, your desires and your giftings. We give these three (sometimes non-flashy) gifts as a deliberate step in guarding your heart from greed.

And its hard for us! After leaving the Dominican Republic and seeing kids excited about a box of dollar store gifts, I felt sick about American Christmas gifts and piles of presents. But I still wanted to get you five or six different pieces to go with your American Girl doll, Lydia. Asa, I wanted to buy you gymnastics mats and tumbling equipment. I wanted to buy you clothes and books and every cute toy in Target. I wanted to get movies and pajamas and funny joke presents and every little thing I knew would make you smile. Choosing three special gifts is guarding my own heart from pride and greed.

Maybe giving you a few more gifts on Christmas wouldn’t hurt. But in our bumbling, always-a-new-parent way, it’s what we’ve felt like we should do. And I pray that as you grow with this tradition, you’ll see the simple contentment it brings. I pray you won’t long for more and better and faster and shinier. I pray you’ll see love in these three gifts.

As I’ve watched you these few days after Christmas, I see your joy in putting together puzzles, coloring with new markers, enjoying generic toys and reading books. But I’ve also seen confusion and wonder at other people’s bigger and flashier gifts. I’ve heard you whine and pout when your sibling took your toy first.

You’re just human. You’ll go back and forth between enjoying the simple and desiring more. It’s the same for me. Some days I want to be Ann Voskamp and do away with Christmas gifts. Other times I want to buy Amazon’s Top Ten list for you.

So, I ramble through this letter to say that I love you. I want the best for you. I want to give you everything. But I know that giving you everything is not the best for you. As you grow, I pray you find rest in where you are and what you have. I pray you always get your worth from God’s gift and plan in you–not from the people or things around you.

Merry Christmas, to my most precious gifts.

I love you,

:: :: ::



  1. I can totally understand and appreciate your sentiment here. I struggled with all the same things putting Christmas together for our 5 kids. Most of them are older, too, and the temptation is so much stronger to go “bigger” and “better” as they age. But I’m happy to say that we still managed to keep Christmas small and simple, though it was a struggle. We certainly have more resources to have bought more gifts, and at one point I *was* at the mall, ready to spend. In the middle of a store, with items to purchase actually in my hands, I became overwhelmed with the message to just leave. Flee, in fact. To get home, be with my family, and buy nothing else. Even though I was a little embarrassed to just put my items down (the associates had been eyeing me, ready to ring me up at the register), the message was so strong and insistent that I did it in a hurry, and I’m very glad I did. I agree with you that it’s not gratitude is not just a lesson I want my kids to learn, but something I am continually learning as well.

  2. Amazing post! We only do three gifts too and it’s so hard. I want them to have everything but know that they don’t need everything. Your words are a great reminder of thankfulness!

  3. Thank you for putting my heart into words! My husband and I have struggled with this over and over…my oldest is 3, and every year we discuss “do we want to just do three gifts” or “can those 3 gifts include multiple things” or “what about a big present” yadda, yadda, yadda…and we make a decision we are going to “stick with” and then we change out minds…this post puts a little clarity to my thoughts and helps me see the “why” of what we are trying to do – explains it in a way I couldn’t explain myself. I can’t wait to share it with him and hopefully once and for all nail down what works for us and not feel guilty about it! (even though I know next Christmas I will probably feel guilty or torn again – and I think that was your point – its OKAY to feel that way, you just have to guard yourself…) Love it!

  4. This is such a good post! I really struggled with all the gifts this Christmas season. EVery Christmas as I see people running around and putting the latest, greatest toys in their carts and baskets it really grabs my heart and makes me sad. We have an extremely tight budget for Christmas but I feel like we still give too much, and at the same time not nearly as much as some of their friends so I’m torn between emotions just like you. Parenting in the middle of it all is so hard and it’s so easy to question if what we’re doing is the right thing. I think you are doing a great job. Your heart is for your kids and I’m sure they know it! ?

  5. Oh my word Amanda- I could have written this. Seriously. Though this is something that we’re starting next year. As we were wrapping gifts for our 3yo (we have a 4mo and he got probably 10 small toys as well), we counted and he had 17 gifts- that’s not including stocking stuffers either. I told my husband, ‘this is way excessive’. At that moment, we decided that we will do 4 gifts total- 3 because that’s what Jesus received and 1 from siblings. I still intend on doing the Christmas Eve gift of new jammies/book and stocking stuffers. We were able to still give to various people/charities but why not do more if we can? This has been a very introspective Christmas season for me that is prompting some changes in my heart and in the heart of my family.

    We’ve also decided to not do the Santa thing… we have an Elf on the shelf but it’s turned from the elf sitting on the shelf to the elf moving around the home, doing all sorts of things. I simply don’t have time for that (still trying to find a balance of spending time with Father/my husband/our kids/running a household/working a full time job/etc). Christmas is complicated enough without me needing to worry if I moved Javier. And I’m totally not bashing anyone who does it because I think it’s a super cute idea- almost all of our friends and family do it. And sometimes I think, am I robbing some of the magic and joy of Christmas from my children? I really don’t know but I pray that they will find magic and joy in Jesus!

    My goal is to simplify Christmas and really focus in on Jesus. I want my family to see Christmas as an extra special time to serve (even more than throughout the year) and to give back. I am already thinking of some ideas of ways to give back next year- things that I can do with a (will be) 4yo and 1yo. They need to see/live a servant life and wash the feet of those around them so to speak.

    When I read what your prof said, I nodded in agreement. If I get caught up in the Amazon lightning deals, I’ll go overboard buying toys and things- same with Pinterest. I will be quick to pin all of these cute outfits, jewelry, shoes, things for the home etc and then it just makes me want to buy it all when I don’t really need it. Because I saw the greed in my heart about these things, I’ve really scaled back on my pins and deleted my ‘fashion’ board and things like that. I don’t need to see it! I have to be adament about guarding my eyes!

    I share your feelings about gifting for your kids- one day I’m fine with just doing a few and other days I’m wanting to buy them everything under the moon. It’s hard not to! But when I look back on my childhood, there are only a few special toys that really stick out in my memory (my first bike, a dollhouse, etc) but what really sticks out are the family experiences. It doesn’t take a lot of money to create those special memories- easy things like a family picnic, going to the beach, etc- those are the things my boys will take with them. And more importantly, it’s eternal, not temporal like toys they will grow out of.

    It all boils down to this:

    1 John 2:16 “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.”

    I’m working on me first to guard my eyes and heart from greed which will trickle down to my children as they grow. This verse stays at the forefront of my mind, though when I see things I know my boys would like, I tend to push it to the back. I’m so glad Father continues to give me grace to repent and move forward as He sanctifies me!

    Sorry, this is so scattered! All of these thoughts have been swirling in my head for a couple months now so they kinda all came out jumbled (and I’m writing this while I’m at work ;))! Thank you for sharing your heart. You’re not alone.


    • This is so good, Shannon! I think the main thing is being purposeful regardless of what you do–so you don’t get swept away!

      When I was growing up, we didn’t do Santa & I can tell you I never felt like I was missing out on “magic”. My philosophy (something I stole from my parents) is not to take things away from my kids but to fill them up with FABULOUS alternatives. Our Christmas was filled with a different kind of magic. I try to do the same thing w/my kids with Truth in the Tinsel, etc. And I try to take this same idea in other areas where we don’t do what the world does–fill them up with a beautiful alternative.

      I think all your thoughts are great–God will lead you if you ask him!

      ps–did you see someone else responded to your comment below? Just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it!

  6. This year, we gift giving was not only limited in the number of gifts (3 each plus stockings) but also in a total dollar amount per person. In a world where a single gift I give my kids can feed another in a third world country for between a month and a year depending upon the country, I am finding it harder and harder to justify the newest version as a gift. When my teenagers began reaching for the next present before even really seeing the one in their hand a few years ago, my husband and I knew it had gotten out of control. The older children were resistant to the change at first, but now they value the gift more knowing that a lot of thought and consideration went into picking it out. We focus more on the person and less on what advertising tells us we should want.

    My pastor actually preached about this the Sunday before Christmas and challenged the congregation to really examine whether WE as Christians were really keeping Christ in Christmas or if we were letting the comercialism steal the celebration as well.,html

  7. Beautiful post! We, too, limit the amount of gifts our kids receive at Christmas and I feel exactly the way you described! My kids are older and acutely aware that they only get a fraction of what many of their friends get. I really hope that one day, they’ll realize it wasn’t because we loved them less — it was because we loved them MORE.

  8. I am so thankful that you decided to hit publish! I resonate with everything you wrote. I was struggling with all of these things prior to Christmas and we were praying around the Christmas tree one night when my kids prayed and thanked Jesus for the gift of Emmanuel- and they prayed that we would not forget that Christmas is all about Him. I was kind of blown away and realized that I was way over thinking all of this. They get it and I am so very thankful!!!

  9. Traci Mellick says:

    Thanks so much. This explains my own struggle this Christmas. We stick to the 3 gift rule but I always struggle with it. I was even struggling with it today although my kids seem perfectly content I can’t help but feel that I have slighted them in some way. I keep seeing things that other families gave their children and I question myself. Financially we are not in a position to buy Disney trips and ipads. This is an issue within my own heart and I have to remember that I’m protecting them and this is part of the training God wants me to do. I greatly appreciate your ministry, God Bless you and your family in the coming year!

  10. My husband and I were just having this conversation on Christmas Day. We have 3 kids, our oldest is 5. We have never gone overboard on gifts and always have a budget that we stay under, this year though we had a little extra and the kids got 7 gifts each. And looking at everything scattered across the floor after it was all opened we both said it was just too much. My husband says he wants to do 3 per child from now on and I honestly thought we would be depriving them but after reading this I feel this is the direction we are being led. Thank you for sharing this. By the way, my youngest is named Asa :).

  11. I really appreciate the honesty of this post Amanda (as if you’re not always honest;)). It seems like that 3-4 gift concept with clever little words and a catchy phrase is becoming more of a “trendy” thing to do right now and I wonder if people are doing it because they really want that message for their kids or just because it’s another way to make ourselves feel better about a decision we’re making (and then tell others about it to reinforce those feelings;)). I don’t know if that makes any sense or not. For me it’s more about feeling good about the decision I make each year – . I don’t want the kids to be spoiled rotten but I also know I could never stick to just 3 or 4 gifts. I just love to find those perfect gifts – watching them open something they really love or would be excited to receive. But I’m also going to be realistic with them – they know there’s no Santa and that they won’t get everything they’ve ever wanted! They know the real meaning of Christmas. They know the excitement of giving to others. And they know the fun of receiving too. At the end of the day, I just want to feel good about our decision:). And that’s what I want for all other parents too – no keeping up with the Jones’, going broke, or going with a 3-4 gift idea if it’s just not them.

    • OK so I was going to write a response but Mandi wrote it for me. Ditto!

    • I have no idea where we got that 3 gift idea. I mean, we totally stole it from someone else, but I know we did it Lydia’s first year. Anywhoo. I think the thing is I want to be purposeful, so I like that we plan for 3 gifts & the kids know it all the time. I’d hate to give them a ton of gifts one year and then do 3 gifts the next.

      But you’re right–it’s different for everyone. When you have one kid versus five kids. When you have two incomes or one. When you don’t do big birthdays or you do. It all depends on what works for your family–and where you feel good about it in your heart/spirit.


  12. I think this is a great idea! A quick question about stockings-do you limit what you put in the stockings too (candy, toys, price limit, etc.)?

    • We do stockings. And the limit is–whatever we can fit in it! 😉 Lydia got an American Girl Doll hat (like a girl-sized hat), a mini LaLa Loopsy, some sparkly hair bands, some scented school supplies, a brush and spray bottle for her American Girl and two ornaments for her tree. So, it’s all over the place. 🙂

  13. This touched my heart; I especially connected with that part about wanting to be like Ann Voskamp one minute and wanting to buy Amazon’s Top Ten List the next. 🙂 My husband and I have gone back and forth about the whole gifts thing. He’s not a gift person, but I personally love to find the “perfect” gift that absolutely suits the receiver. However, whenever I just buy stuff to buy stuff and don’t put a lot of thought into it, I feel guilty, like the person receiving the gift will be able to tell I didn’t try hard, or that I wasn’t being a good steward of our funds. I also hate to disappoint people, so if I can’t find a good gift, I freak out! And I won’t lie, I get a little unhappy when I don’t receive something practical or something that I actually really wanted. Sooo, yeah, basically I understand where you’re coming from! Lol! I read a little phrase before that talked about giving 4 gifts each year: Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. If the kids know to expect those things, that can help squelch disappointment, although I don’t know that it would really teach them contentment, especially because grandparents, relatives, and friends may not always follow those rules. 😉 And what if your child’s Love Language is gifts….? Well anyway, for now I plan to continue on with gifts every year, and I try to keep the focus on Jesus’ birth and not the gifts. Still working on that one too, of course. 🙂

    • It’s so much to think about, isn’t it? I’m like you, I love finding the right gift! And we definitely have the grandparent issue, too. (Which is good! I’m not complaining about grandparents who love their grandkids!)

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  14. Shannon,
    I can tell you that I only wish I had thought to be so wise when my children were younger, like yours. I have four kids, ages 10, 8, 5 & 2. Unfortunately, the older kids have grown accustom to having many many gifts at Christmas, not only from us, but also grandparents. They have come to expect it, and it’s frustrating now seeing what we have created (greed) by giving too many material things. This year, as my two year old was opening presents, he was so happy and content with each toy he got. He would try to start playing with the toy, and then he would hear his name being called saying, “here, you have another present to open!” and I could see he was getting overwhelmed. I told my husband, “see, this is the age, where they learn to start to expect more and more because we just keep pushing it, even though he was so content with that first toy!” I love the scripture you posted. I will be praying about this for this coming year, and see where God leads us. Also, I wanted to encourage you about not doing Santa. We have always been truthful with our kids, and they’ve always known Santa isn’t real. We didn’t want to lie to them and have them question us later and maybe think we lied about Jesus too. They have never missed any joy or magic of Christmas, and our 10 year old told us he’s so glad he “wasn’t tricked” like his friends at school.

    Thank you for a great post, Amanda. You have encouraged me to really seek Gods lead on this issue for the coming year. Blessings to you.

  15. Thanks for sharing this post. It gives me a lot to think about for next Christmas. I have a question……do you do Santa?

    • We don’t do Santa. I just never wanted to mix him up with Jesus’ celebration. When Lydia was young we just never mentioned him and he never came up (it was easy b/c our families never did Santa either). When she got older, we just treated him as equal to Frosty or Mickey Mouse: he’s fun, we like him but he’s fictional. Then, when she was old enough to understand we showed her the Veggie Tales movie about Saint Nicholas and talked about how the legend grew from him.

      That’s just what worked for us!

  16. I love your heart, Amanda. While we’ve always had a modest Christmas compared to others, we initiated the rule of 3 gifts when our oldest was around 4 or 5. He is now almost 15. This was our first year without Santa visiting our home. The kids actually slept in! I lit candles, put on some Christmas music, and waited for everyone to wake. We gathered in the den, read the Christmas story from Luke, and then the kids went to the living room to gather up the gifts –wrapped for the 1st time ever! (Santa never wrapped presents). They took turns opening their presents with everyone ‘Oohing’ and ‘Ahhing’ and thanking one another. We said a prayer before our Eggnog Pancakes w/Blueberry Sauce Breakfast and sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. We are blessed. Yes, Christmas Day was wonderful. I hope and pray it will be that way every Christmas here on out, though my Momma-heart wants to give them the world.

  17. What a beautiful letter. I wanted to cry as I read it because I could see my heart in so many of your words. I had the same feelings as you did Christmas Eve. I even threw in a “group gift” (it’s my loop hole for the 3 gift rule) b/c I was worried there wasn’t enough. (Even as I write that it makes me feel a little sick, that our way to much could even be thought of as too little.) I laid in bed debating that extra gift and in the end took it out in the morning before anyone could notice. And guess what, it was fine. There was more than plenty.
    I think I need to work on changing my understanding of what giving them the world can look like. More grace and Jesus and less stuff. This is a new thought, maybe 30 seconds old, so I’m probably going to have to mull it before it makes sense.
    So, thanks for sharing your heart.

  18. I struggle with this balance each year. It was especially worrying this year, but I’ve found peace with our family’s Christmas celebration. Our children have no living grandparents. All of their aunts and uncles have grown children and even grandchildren, in some cases, and they don’t get presents from them. The presents we give our children are the ONLY ones they really receive. So, if we chose to follow a three-gift rule, it would truly mean only three gifts. We only give one small gift for birthdays and we have small numbers of guests at parties. This year, we had small birthday celebrations so the children only receives one or two gifts. I know that’s plenty, but our children are surrounded by friends with grandparents who visit, take them places, and buy them gifts. We feel that it’s all up to us. We tell them stories about their grandparents, share photos and keepsakes with them. We observe the quiet waiting of Advent before Christmas and the focus of our celebration is attending midnight mass, so the first thing we do on Christmas Day is celebrate Jesus’s birthday. Then, we go home and unwrap the first gift: the baby Jesus from our nativity, wrapped in a box w/a big now. They carefully place him in the manger and we sing “Happy Birthday!” Everyone goes back to bed and they wake up hours later to magical Christmas gifts. So, we’ve tries to strike a balance as best we can. We each have to make decisions bard on our own families, after prayer & deliberation. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to you!

  19. Thanks for sharing your heart here. I really appreciated it! I also appreciated the many comments people made that we each have to look at our family situation and seek God’s heart on how He wants us to handle Christmas with the children and the ministry He has given us. We live overseas for the main purpose of making disciples, and so the way we do Christmas is on display for many to see as well as impacting our own children. We’ve had to put a lot of thought into what we communicate through our celebrations and gift-giving. I’m sure things will change for us every year, but I think God is pleased when we approach everything, including these celebrations, intentionally, really looking to represent Him well both to our children and to the world. To see where we are with this as of this year, please stop by my blog at – I posted about how we use both Advent and Kings’ Day to make Christmas morning just one small part of a huge celebration of God’s generosity to us and the world. Bless you all as you continue to seek Him!

  20. Sweet mama heart. I can so identify with your post. Your kids are blessed to have a mama who searches to be the person God has called to be THEIR mom. It is so easy to look around us and feel like maybe we should do more of what others are doing, but we each have a unique purpose in this world, children certainly are no exception!
    Blessings to you in 2013 🙂

  21. You said: Choosing three special gifts is guarding my own heart from pride and greed.

    Oh, girl…I so agree!!! When my friends post pictures of their Christmas Eve trees – with presents piled high and spilling out into the room, I have decided to not post mine. Why?! Because it looks like my kids aren’t “getting” as much as theirs. Really? Really, Gina? Really?! Yeah, really. But at the same time, I look at those huge piles of presents (usually for just ONE kid) and feel sick – and sometimes, I confess to feeling a little self-righteous, too. :/ Ugh at the whole pride thing! It never ends!!!!!

  22. Our kids (22 months and 3.5) got pyjamas, one toy, a book and a stocking this year from us and we tried to encourage other relatives to just buy them one thing too. It was actually much nicer than last year which felt very overwhelming with a lot of presents from everyone so I think we will stick to this. I was determined that Christmas would be about Jesus so we did ‘Truth in the Tinsel’, which my eldest loved and we read lots of different versions of the Christmas story throughout December. It’s so great to find other people with the same mindset, thank you so much for your blog.

  23. Wow. Thanks for sharing. We had the same idea after our kiddos had too many presents this year. We scaled back from last year, but didn’t factor in gifts from relatives. It seemed excessive and they were both overwhelmed. Going to make it much more purposeful next year. Baby steps, right?

    Loving your blog – thanks for sharing!!

  24. Hello I just wanted to day I loved you letter. My family two does three gifts and 1 from Santa. Growing up in my house Christmas always was about mom worrying about us not having enough. As an adult my mom worried about the gifts she gave to others. It was during those times I thought I would be different. Some years we slipped and brought one too many past three, at those moments we would wrap two together or save for a birthday. My kids watch tv and desire everything. Last year I introduced a family past time tradition, the Elf. We did things thought the year to remind them of the story of Jesus. This year I will add things to help others. We will make homemade treats for family, one that are edible. It was so nice to read your letter and know I am not the only mom out there struggling. Thanks for sharing Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

  25. Beautiful!! Jesus in your heart shows like the northern are a blessing to youe family.

  26. I just wanted to let you know that I’m not a parent but this really spoke to me – not just about Christmas and gifts for others, but to my heart about my life. Thank you for sharing it.

  27. As I sit here reading this I know that in years past we overdid. Then there were very lean years where we had little and so I did small Christmas instead. I found my kids were so much happier on the small, intimate Christmases than the few that we went overboard a bit. I would watch my nieces open HUGE piles of gifts and then turn to their mom and ask in a whiney “poor me’ voice, is that all of them? They had flew through the opening so fast that they didn’t even know what they had. I wanted to pick it up and take it back to the store and slap my sister w/ the boxes on the way out! SO kids, This year when you get your three gifts, I hope they are things you really love and realize I bought with care and lots of love. May your generous hearts continue to grow and may you always remember the TRUE–Reason for the Season. Jesus was born. The greatest gift!

  28. Christopher Barnes says:

    Wonderful. I am proud of your commitment. As a pastor, I wish all follow this simple wisdom at Christmas time. We may not drive the economy, but we will create a kinder community.

  29. I have this struggle too – the “want to give them everything” and then knowing that won’t make them happy and that I need to be intentional. It gives me new perspective on why sometimes God, who could give us every “thing” doesn’t always do that, sometimes asks us to wait. Because we have lessons to learn, just as our kids do. And like you said, because we’re “just human” and constantly consuming isn’t healthy for us.
    I’m glad though that God gives us richly those things that aren’t “things” and we can never consume too much grace, truth, praise, worship, love, hope, and His Word! 🙂


  1. […] Dear Lydia and Asa – Oh Amanda I know this is a Christmas post, but I was so moved by it.  Amanda shared her mixed feelings about their decision to just do three gifts for their kids for Christmas.  I love how real she was about it! […]

  2. […] Dear Lydia and Asa – Oh Amanda I know this is a Christmas post, but I was so moved by it.  Amanda shared her mixed feelings about their decision to just do three gifts for their kids for Christmas.  I love how real she was about it! […]

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