How we are managing our children's Christmas gift expectations

8 December 2021
managing our children's Christmas gift expectations

My 4 year old has become fixated on receiving a lot of gifts this Christmas. It’s the first Christmas he knows presents are given by Santa and who Santa actually is. The expectations on the present front are high and the list he wrote for Santa is loooong.

You'd think living in a zero-waste home that practices minimalism there would be no expectations to receive a bounty of gifts. I was puzzled at the start too. Neither myself or his father actively talk about Santa, Christmas, or gifts, to warrant it. Where did this come from? How did a list of 20 trains, 11 Disney Pixar Cars, a new train set, matchbox cars, hot wheels cars, and more, come to sit on a piece of paper front and centre on our fridge?

We discovered the expectations creep in via books, conversations with children in his Kinder (preschool), TV shows, and even the decorations out and about on the main shopping strip and around our neighbourhood. From November onwards it is everywhere. 

I like receiving gifts and our family are not anti-gift giving. We lean towards choosing activities, helpful and useful items. When I went zero-waste I worked hard to tackle the notion my happiness and self worth was dependent on receiving material items, even if they are secondhand or homemade. Ultimately I don't want my children to equate joy or even traditions with consumption or expecting someone gives them a gift for being good. 

The thing is traditions can alter. After all, the original story of Christmas and Santa Claus has changed. Without a doubt the current Christmas expectations around gifts needs shift.

We considered telling the truth about Santa but I'm 99% certain he’d tell e v e r y o n e in his Kinder class, the cousins, a random child at the park, and the old lady two doors up from us...basically everyone.

So I Prompted him to put socks or a new hat on his list as something helpful. Then I tried talking to him about all of the other fun things to enjoy at Christmas time. These conversations kinda fallen flat. As they would. 

Next I decided to try a letter from Santa explaining Christmas can be enjoyed for more reasons beyond a gift. Even though I’ve reiterated the contents of the letter I think hearing it from someone other than Mummy will have more impact. Especially if it's from the person my 4 year old is anticpating all these presents from.

In the letter Santa says thank you for his list of gift ideas, then goes on to gently share there is more to Christmas like:

  • Getting to see his cousins and playing with them
  • Eating yummy food
  • Singing songs and dancing with the family
  • Helping other people
  • Walks in the neighbourhood with friends
  • Visits with loved ones we don’t see nearly enough

These are what Santa enjoys the most too. Or so the letter will tell him.

Will it work? I don’t know. But I can try. The letter will appear the week of Christmas to help keep Santa's wisdom fresh in the 4 year olds young mind. I've left the letter below if you'd like to use it.


Dear xxxx,

Thank you for your letter. I read it with my reindeer and elf friends. We liked the list of gifts you have asked for – they are fun toys. I like giving gifts and will ask my elf friends to help me find the ones on your list from secondhand stores. We won't be able to get everything on your list. I don't always receive everything on my list at Christmas time and that's OK. My favourite things about Christmas are seeing my cousins and playing games with them (I like playing hide & seek and tag with my cousins), eating yummy food, singing songs and dancing, going for walks to explore the neighbourhood, visiting with friends we don't see nearly enough, and being helpful.

I hope you have a lovely Christmas with your family and make many fun memories.

Best wishes,
Santa Claus


[tip: if your child is older and knows your handwriting, then asking someone else to write it out or printing it out would be advisable]


I managed to find four secondhand Disney Pixar Cars he'll get from Santa. My husband and I will gift a new bike. Grandma & Grandad will surprise him with a secondhand Flik Flak watch. And no doubt he'll spend most of the day playing hide & seek with his cousins and that is probably what he'll remember the most. 

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