Too Old for Gifts, But Not for Christmas

Christmas is less than three weeks away. In past years, I would have completed my shopping by now. Indeed, in past years my shopping has always been done by about the middle of October. This year presents new challenges and I don’t know what to do about them. My kids are too old for gifts, but not too old for Christmas.

I prefer not to receive presents at Christmas. For years, my wife told me that I was selfish not to want gifts at Christmas or my birthday because I was generous with everyone in the family and they wanted to return the generosity. I never really saw the wisdom in that. If I am happy giving and everyone else is happy receiving, it seems like a win-win scenario to me.

This year I am beginning to see my wife’s point. I love buying gifts for my kids, but neither has expressed any real desire for anything and I cannot find anything that I think they will actually enjoy.

Unfortunately, both readily admit that they will be upset if they do not have presents under the tree on Christmas morning. (The quandary is even greater for my elder son who has a birthday a week later, and who also wants to open gifts on his birthday).

Please understand that neither son is mercenary. They are not looking for stuff, as much as they are looking for the experience that they have enjoyed for so many years. For them, there is still a magic in the receiving part of Christmas, but they both acknowledge that they really do not want or need anything in particular. Moreover, neither wants to receive cash because it is too impersonal.

What is a Dad to do? I am pleased that my kids are beginning to look at things from the perspective of what they want and need as opposed to their more youthful yearning for things that were far from practical or even desirable. Yesterday, one son was chatting with a friend about Christmas lists and I overheard him tell his friend that the friend was being foolish in asking for football shoulder pads because (i) the friend did not play tackle football, (ii) if he did play tackle football, the pads would come with his uniform, (iii) his Mom would never let him play tackle football, and (iv) since none of the other neighborhood boys had pads, he could not even use them in pick up games.

Everything that my son told his friend was true and I should be happy that he could be so candid and practical in giving his friend advice. At the same time, I know that I now have a greater challenge this year because my son (both sons, really) want to have the experience of a child at Christmas even though they are thinking like adults.

That is a feeling that I wanted when I was a teen, but have never really had since I was about eleven or twelve years old. In order to wow me with a gift, a person needs to know me so well that they can find something remarkable that I cannot find for myself. It is not the cost that matters, but the thought that goes into the gift. That is a very high bar and few people have ever reached it. So few, in fact, that I have asked that no one give me any gifts. I do not ask that out of spite or disregard for my family, but because I am truly happier enjoying watching others open gifts than opening them myself.

This year, however, my kids have set the bar high and I am not sure how I will reach it. They still want the experience of opening gifts. More importantly, I want them to have gifts to open, but I do not want to buy gifts that they will not want or need merely to give them presents under the tree. I encourage them to think about one special thing that would make them happy on Christmas Day but, as one son told me, “I’m happy with everything I have. I could tell you I wanted more stuff, but I would not be telling the truth.” At the same time, he does want the feeling of being a kid one more year at Christmas.

How would you give to older children who seem content with what they already have, the sense of wonder that a younger child gets when he or she first approaches the presents under the tree? I have not many days to sort this one out…

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10 Responses to Too Old for Gifts, But Not for Christmas

  1. Jean says:

    I would get them something they don’t NEED, but you know they would enjoy.
    Books, music, games, etc.
    For example – I don’t consider perfume as a need, so I don’t buy it for myself. But I do enjoy wearing it.
    I don’t really need any new clothes, but I certainly would appreciate it as a gift.

  2. Joan says:

    If they are more adult than child, why not give them things that recognize their “adult-ness” and even enhance the transition? My son had a good start on a serious tool box by the time he left for college. It was not put together all in one year, but over time. An electric drill here, a wrench set there, a soldering iron, an amp meter, then…

    BTW, one of the reasons to accept gifts from children is to teach them generosity and the joy of giving. If you get to enjoy giving, why would you keep that joy from others? Not fair to keep it all for yourself….But the way you explained it sounds like you are just not happy with what people give you. Uht-oh, no further comment.

  3. Natalie says:

    Wow, you ponder a whole lot about what presents mean!

  4. Heather says:

    Rather than giving “things”, what about making up certificates that can be redeemed for an experience? For example, last year I gave my nephew a certificate good for an outing to the science museum with me. I don’t get to see him very often, so the real gift was time with me doing something that I knew he’d enjoy. Bowling, golf, movies, a sporting event, whatever your sons are into.

    Another thought is to make a gift to charity in their honor, and then wrap up a box with some information about the organization and what the gift will do. They still have something to “open”, no more “stuff” to clutter their lives, and you’ll all feel wonder for helping those less fortunate.

  5. Joanna says:

    I would suggest books as well. They make great gifts and Barnes and Noble has books about EVERYTHING. If you can find ones that will really interest your sons, it becomes a personal and practical gift. And it’s a nice afternoon activity to just peruse the bookstore and see what you can come up with. Good luck!

  6. Gail says:

    As a mother of a December baby I can sympathize with that quandry! I go along with starting to give the ‘adult’ type presents. My older son is getting a set of Corelle dishes as he is moving into a new apartment and doesn’t have any also for stocking stuffer things I got him some cheap ‘silverware’ packs that should do him for awhile. The other son who has always been a Christmas/birthday problem due to his autism (very blunt about what he wants doesn’t want, etc.) is getting money for new jeans that he desparately needs. But, the money will come in a tiny pair of homemade blue jeans so it is more of a gift than handing him cash.

    Our Christmases have always been rather frugal out of necessity, but like you you still want to do something for them. Some kids have so much and have so few genuine needs that is does make a quandry for a giver. So I heartly endorse, the apartment type stuff, tool box stuff, etc. as eventually they will need and be grateful for those items. Last year hubby got a flashlight which he uses a lot in his work. Not a glamorous present, but one that was very much needed.

  7. Princessperky says:

    Personalized letter, stating your pride in them as a father over the past year. (be specific about the good things)

    Ditto the gift cert for places, gamespots, bowling, dinner out (with or without parents depending on age)

    If you have the money, might be worth it to go all out and make the gift for a trip, mission trip overseas, or longer trip to someplace ‘fancy’, along with the the necessary items for travel if they don’t have them.

    Ditto also any grown up item that might be more useful when they move out if they are close to that age. Girls tend to get into that more though.

    Replacement batteries for stockings :). Along with razors, toothbrushes, and or appropriate ‘theme chocolate’ (computer or book, rather than traditional candy cane)

    Also I ditto the letting others try to give you items, stop buying things for yourself around late summer and leave hints, if you are good enough folk will never know you did it on purpose, they get to give, and you still get the ‘thing’. Even if it is a shirt, or hand towels, or brand X rechargeable batteries, or bowling night, not fair to keep all the fun of giving for yourself.

  8. A very common situation.

    Now is the time for you (and your kids) and ME to learn how to be gracious in receiving gifts. I am terrible in letting my eco/frugal side speak out upon receiving a present.

    Sooooooo …

    you must be creative and exercise your right brain.

    Forget about a ‘bar’ and focus on the joy of giving. FOCUS!

    Boys. Really. All they want is little itty bitty electronics. Gadgets.

    All kidding aside, teen boys are hard. Show that you are proud of them, that’s what they secretly crave. Right dad?

    Idea: If you give a book, write an inscription to this effect and DATE IT!!

    Or give something of yours to pass on such as an heirloom handkerchief (put it in a box with a new dress shirt), or a cherished tool (include a book on home projects or additional hardware that is needed).

    Girls are loads easier. There is never a problem with giving jewelry (I have great stuff at inexpensive prices), classic clothing (nice sweater or gloves or accessories) and even great bath stuff (go for the better perfumed soap and shampoo). Just stay away from any cleaning and cooking ware (these represent work!).

    Hope this helps.

  9. Melvin says:

    for whatever reason my mom’s idea is that 18 is the cutoff point for everything, including gifts. i dont think anyone is ever too old it’s a gift. you may be too old for certain ones like an easy bake oven or a mini truck to drive. but i see nothing wrong with getting someone a video game, clothes, or even cash is always welcome.

    if its christmas eve and you haven’t gotten anything just give them cash, some people say that’s in bad taste but i don’t see how. they may take a new cell phone or something small like a wallet or earphones or something.

  10. Pat Merritt says:

    My nephews are 20 and 18. I think they are still excited about Christmas. They got pretty excited about gift cards last year, and told me all about their selection of what they wanted.

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