a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Nov, 2007

musing aloud about Christmas gifts

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

I was in my usual spot, watching, on the deck, while the girls were having their swimming lessons. I was scribbling away in my notebook.

“It’s really loud in here, isn’t it?” said the lady sitting in the chair next to mine.
“Yeah, it is really loud. It seems like there’s more kids here than usual.”

(a couple minutes later…)

“My son found all the Christmas gifts, and showed his little sister,” said the lady.
“Where were the gifts?”
“In my closet.”

She has three kids, two boys (the one who was snooping in the closet was nine, I think) and the little sister was six.

“So what are you going to do,” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It kinda makes me want to take them all back, you know what I mean?  And I was so happy my shopping was all done.”
” …”
“Well, maybe it’s a good thing,” she continued. “I bought my daughter a Little Mommy, and she said it was the wrong one anyway.”

She told me her children had put really pricey toys on their lists to Santa. She’d warned them that they were too expensive, but her little boy reasoned that since Santa made all the toys in his workshop that cost didn’t matter.

I’m not sure if I gave her any good advice. I think she was upset, and this was all fresh in her mind, and she needed someone to talk to about it. What would you do, if this happened to you?

My Christmas needs to be less about the gifts, and more about having fun as a family… which is why I’m liking my advent calendar the more I think about it.

This is what kids crave anyway, right? Time with their family? If I ask my kids what they love most in the world, it’s not their Barbies or their bins full of Polly Pockets. They love making cookies with their Nana, stealing Papa’s slippers, roasting marshmallows by a fire, building sandcastles, feeding the ducks… This is what Christmas should be about. But how can we make this change if we have it stuck in our heads that we need to have a huge pile of loot under the tree in order to make it a happy Christmas? Do all these things we buy ourselves really bring us happiness … not to mention joy and peace and goodwill to all man?

7 Responses to "musing aloud about Christmas gifts"

1 | grrl with a blog

November 29th, 2007 at 11:10 am


Whether we’re parents or not, I think this is something we all think about this time of year. Christmas seems to have changed so much since we were kids. I hate how department stores have convinced us that Christmas has to be about shopping, making us take on insane debt (and cause us enormous amounts of stress).

I think it can go one of two ways for parents: they get caught up in the commercialism because, while completely exhausting, it is easier. Alternately, parents like you, decide to make the effort and enjoy the holiday season for what it’s meant to be.

When I think back to Christmas when I was a child I might be able to name 3 or 4 presents that I received the entire time (a Barbie camper is the only one that sticks in my mind). I do remember making a gingerbread house with my aunt, I remember decorating the tree as a family, I remember mummers visiting the house (that’s a Newfoundland thing), I can go on and on.

My challenge these days is slightly different. Not having children yet  we try very hard to make the holiday more than an excuse to buy expensive gifts. Celebrating the holiday with children gives you an opportunity to make memories that they will cherish forever, long after the toys have broken and the batteries have worn out.

I feel bad for that lady…

2 | Julie

November 29th, 2007 at 12:43 pm


We always buy the children two gifts, one from us (usually books), and one from Santa. And we fill their stocking (which I find to be the pricey part). Even though that sounds reasonable, it still turns out to be WAY too many gifts when you add in each of the grandparents and various other friends and family that like to give. This year my middle boy found his gifts as well, and actually took the boxes down, ripped them open and started to play. Ugh. I can’t even bring them back. One was going to be from us, and the other from Santa, and now no matter what I do, I’ll need to buy another gift. Again.

I saw the advertisement for a french documentary in which four families (from Montreal I think), have chosen to NOT give to each other, but to give to others. In the clip I saw, the mother and her children had purchased and wrapped assortments of things (socks, mittens, grocery store coupons, toothbrushes etc…) for homeless people, had filled a shopping cart, and were walking down a downtown street handing them out to the homeless. It was very inspiring to say the least. Makes me feel like I could do so much more….

For a start, we are going to copy your advent calendar idea. We’ll add lots of activities and include giving to others (baby steps). I made my envelopes last night (it took me two hours) and am going to finish tonight if all goes well. I’ll send photos.

3 | Psychgrad

November 29th, 2007 at 1:25 pm


The comment about the gifts being inexpensive because Santa makes them would irk me. If he knows the whole Santa story, then he must know the part about deserving the presents by being a good little boy.

My concern would have less to do the little boy ruining the surprise and more to do with the parents buying their kids too many presents. My parents used to buy us way too gift (to the point where you couldn’t even get near the tree itself). I didn’t like getting so many gifts. Probably mainly because of the stress my parents would feel upon spending so much on presents. It doesn’t take a whole lot of awareness for kids to realize that presents they’ve received (and are supposed to enjoy/appreciate) are creating financial difficulties for their parents.

4 | Claudette

November 29th, 2007 at 2:46 pm


The timing of this post is funny given what happened to me today (http://javaline.wordpress.com/2007/11/29/brainfart/).

Your advent calendar idea is neat! When my mom became a grandmother 4 years ago, she started something for her only grandchild when Maia was 2. A little gift to open every day until the 24th (we celebrate the European way), little things she collected all year, like a tiny candybar, or a barrett for her hair, or a glitter pencil, an eraser, a polly pocket thingy, that kind of thing. She now has 4 grandchildren between the ages of 4.5 years and newborn, two of which live in her vicinity (mine). I asked her what she will do should we decide to have 4 kids and she just gave me this incredulous look…but anyway. The idea is lovely, especially the little envelopes! You are very inspiring to us artsy people!

(I’m formerly from Nutty Notes, so I come visit here often!)

5 | Marla

November 30th, 2007 at 2:02 pm


I’m thinking a lot about what we’re doing to Josephine’s idea of “Santa” – both by asking her what she wishes for and then talking about the naughty list and all that. I think we’ve tried to stress that Santa is both a real historical figure and a magical idea now, and that he gets a lot of help from parents, and that Christmas is about giving. But, the reality is that she only likes the decorating and presents.

Now, when I was about seven I figured out the tooth fairy, and blew it for my younger cousin. But that Christmas, my aunt warned me that the presents were under the bed in the guest room, so please don’t play in there – and treated me like an adult. Christmas is for the kids, really, and after a certain point, I’d hope that there’s still some joy in helping others to enjoy it, especially littler kids. Maybe the ones that found out could be encouraged to keep it magical for the others, in that lady’s case. But the wrong doll? I think we gave Josie the wrong horse last year, and she simply didn’t play with it as much as she might have if it had been the other colour. But we’d also coached her that everything is a gift, and we must be grateful for the idea behind it as much as the object. It’s just so hard, because I’m very specific in my likes too..

6 | tanya

December 5th, 2007 at 3:13 pm


We say the kids can only ask for one thing they really want from Santa. My 10 year old son made a list for our whole family. It included 3 front teeth for his sister and a new job for his dad. He wants the first 2 Harry Potter books. He’s already read them but, they are getting pretty shabby and he wnated his younger brother and sisters to have new ones. Other than that he doesn’t have anything he really wants. He knows we won’t buy nintendo of x-box etc. He knows we don’t have a lot of money to spend.

I have explained to all but my youngest kids that I will tell them up front what they are getting if they want but, it would ruin their surprise. They seem to understand. For the child who snooped I’d show him the gifts and let him know Christmas morning won’t be very fun. I doubt he’ll do it again.

7 | katie

December 16th, 2007 at 4:35 am


Ugh, the wrong doll? I’m 12 and I have only ever peeked once at one gift (I was caught but only planned on peeking at the one gift) it really does ruin christmas morning and if I was that lady and the boy who showed his sister, I’d let them keep the toys but they are grounded from them for 2 weeks. Hey they wanted to ruin X-mas! And now what about the ones that were supposed to be from Santa??? Now not only has he ruined his x-mas but the other X-mas’s for his little sister! Man! My older siblings tried to convince me santa wasn’t real and I didn’t belive them I figured it out, on my own when I was 11. They shoud have found out that way to, not to have had it wrecked because they wanted to be snoopy little buggers

I’d take a movie on the couths munching hot pop corn on x-mad morning insted of gifts any day (and we wouldn’t be fighting)

Man… Katie

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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