In Search of a Non-Materialistic Christmas


My family celebrates Christmas, but I’ve never liked the centrality of presents. For the past few years I have been working on getting my little ones to celebrate the whole season, not just the day, and especially not just the gifts.

Presence Over Presents

This year was the first time I bought all the gifts early. I had the kids make their lists early, and I just got gift-buying out of the way before December even began.

Then on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, at our reunion de familia, I presented the family with an empty December calendar. Here are the things we filled in, spaced out enough to make the whole season special.

  • Bake something yummy
  • Buy a tree
  • Decorate the tree (after letting the tree settle for a day or so)
  • Drink hot chocolate and listen to Christmas music
  • Put the exterior lights up (my husband does this while we watch, but it’s festive!)
  • Take a night walk to see the lights in the neighborhood
  • Sing Christmas carols
  • Build the puzzle (we always do a holiday puzzle on December 26 in order to ward off that disappointed feeling when Christmas is over. It’s another thing to look forward to.)
  • Watch a Christmas movie
  • Go to Grandparents house
  • Make crafts/cards/gifts for family members
  • Holiday scavenger hunt

So far, this list has gotten the kids excited, and I always remind them to look at the calendar to see which of those events is coming up. The things on the list can be pretty arbitrary, but it gives the kids a feeling of togetherness, especially if they think of something to put on the list.

A Christmas to Remember

I want the whole Christmas season to be one that is special for my kids. After looking around through a lot of resources, here are three key ideas that we are implementing this year.

  • Pick a theme word or phrase for the season: My word for this holiday season is “warmth,” so everything I do has to match that, and if I find myself being cold or rude to the children, I will hopefully (!) remember my word and change into a warmer Mom.
  • Playing Santa: I have always told my children the truth about Santa Claus, because I don’t want them to think I am a liar. So instead of talking about Santa a lot in the house, we talk about kindness and generosity, and how fortunate we are to have each other. Eventually I want to work us up to playing the role of Santa for other kids. I know of families who buy gifts for children who don’t have anyone buying them presents, and I think it’s nice to give my kids a chance to be “Santa” for someone else.
  • “Like list” instead of “gift list”: Instead of having kids write exactly what they want for Christmas, next year I want to have them write a list of things they like. That way, their loved ones can look at the list but not feel like they have been directed to buy a very specific item. And it gives the kids a chance to be surprised.

These are just some of my traditions and ideas. What are yours?

Previous articleThe day I got caught sexting
Next articleMagical Green Holiday Juice!
Mariana loves sandwiches best, although going 95% vegan two years ago means having traded in ham and swiss for eggplant and roasted red pepper. Her boys, Santiago (5) and Sebastian (3), agree that sliced bread is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The boys are native Spanish speakers despite the fact that neither of their parents is, which has made raising them in Spanish a labor of love. Her commitment to raising bilingual children was made possible by being a first-generation Chilean-American born and raised in New York City, and by having spent two pre-kid years living abroad in Mexico City and Salamanca, Spain. Mariana moved to the RGV in 2010 and never wants to live anywhere else. While the kids are at school, Mariana is a full-time Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UTRGV. She has written for the New York Times, Womankind Magazine, and Yahoo Parenting.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here