A Meaningful Christmas Gift Idea: Wrap an Empty Present

Last week I offered the following Christmas present choice to my 4-year-old twins:

“Mommy and Daddy are planning to get you five presents for Christmas. But we want to give you a choice. You can choose to receive all five presents or you can choose to receive one less and we’ll let you pick a gift to give to someone in need.”

If they made the choice to give up a present so someone else could receive one, I planned to use the money that would have been spent on their gift for something they would pick from the World Vision Gift Catalog (e.g., 2 chickens for a family in need).

I held my breath waiting to see what they would do.

Kenna spoke up first: “Mommy, I want to only receive four presents and give the other one to someone who doesn’t have as much.”

My heart leapt for joy, and I gave her a big hug to tell her how proud I was that she would choose generosity as Jesus would want.

Then Nathan responded. “I want five presents.”

Total meaningful moment buzz kill.

I talked to him about it for a while, to better help him understand why it would make a big difference to another child if he wanted to give up a present so they could have one. With a little hesitation, he later chose to give up a present as well (albeit with less conviction!).

Here are the key elements of what we’re doing with this choice to ensure it will be a meaningful part of the kids’ Christmas:

1. We’re making a big deal out of it. I’ve been talking about the gift they get to pick for someone in need on a regular basis so it stands out to them as something important and not just “one more thing” going on this Christmas.

2. We keep reminding them they are getting four presents instead of five because of the generous choice they made. I believe it is far more impactful for them to experience 1) making the decision themselves and 2) needing to give something up to make it happen. Ultimately, we want them to learn that true generosity is not a matter of giving from surplus (Mark 12:44).

3. We’re wrapping an empty box for them to open on Christmas with their other four presents. The empty package is symbolic of the gift they would have had, but chose to give up so another child could be happy this Christmas. When they open it, we hope they’ll be reminded that they chose less so others could have more. It’s a more tangible experience than explanations alone. That said, we do realize we are dealing with 4-year-olds, so we’ll be sure to let them know before they open that gift that it won’t have anything in it (but that they will get to pick what gift they want to give after they open it…read on).

4. After they unwrap the box, we’re giving them a page I created with pictures of five gift options from the World Vision Gift Catalog. If you visit the World Vision site, the catalog is featured on the front and you can choose an appropriate price range. From the $25 and under page, I’m letting them each pick from the following choices: 2 soccer balls, seeds for a family to plant, 3 ducks, a Bible or a birthday celebration for a child in need.

It’s a simple idea that we hope will begin to teach the meaning of generosity.

What is your family doing this year to make Christmas more meaningful? Please share your ideas!

9 thoughts on “A Meaningful Christmas Gift Idea: Wrap an Empty Present”

  1. Just curious, Natasha, there is nothing more to this question than curiosity!…but what would you have done if your son didn’t change his mind? I know some kids may not be mature enough to say yes to that option, and given the twin dynamic, I’m just wondering how you would have handled that so N wasn’t made to feel bad, or K wasnt made to feel “better than”. I’m sure you would handle it wonderfully, as you are a great mommy! 🙂

    1. lol! It’s a great question! One that I wasn’t prepared for when I first asked them. 🙂 If Nathan ultimately did not make the choice, I would not have forced it upon him. I think it’s very important that for this to be meaningful, THEY are the ones choosing to give something up. Otherwise, it’s not them giving of their blessings, it’s us making them give. If I have learned anything from having twins, it’s that it’s OK to treat different kids differently. Nathan and Kenna could not be more different. If Kenna is ready for this type of teachable experience and Nathan isn’t, I’m OK with doing it only with her. She doesn’t see it as “better than” at this point so that isn’t an issue yet I have to deal with. 🙂 For Nathan, I’ll continue to give him other opportunities to learn generosity that will be more impactful for where he is at personally right now. It’s always a fine line when kids are so different! One of the toughest things about parenting!!

  2. Excellent idea, what a cool way to bring your family closer together by helping someone in need. What a difference we could make in the world if we all decided to do that not just at the holidays, but all throughout the year. I like the fact you’re teaching your kids at a young age how to give back, be generous, and see that life is more than just stuff. I think you hit the nail on the head Natasha I wish more parents were like you.

    Brian Sandell http://www.youtube.com/user/brianwrites15?feature=g-all-u

  3. This is a fabulous idea. Something we have similarly done but never thought of the empty present to open. Can I make a suggestion? Or an alternative for those children (like my own) who would be opening an “empty” present with a picture of what they purchased? I know for my own, that would solidify what she chose to do, go without a toy to give something much more important-love! That being said, well done, Mom. I love reading the stories of your children and what you do to encourage them in Christ. Thank you!

    1. That’s a GREAT idea, Shaana! My husband says he likes that idea better, so we may indeed end up going that way. 🙂 I was looking at it from the perspective of having the excitement of selecting something on Christmas morning, but there would be just as much joy in seeing the picture in the box. Thanks so much for sharing, and for your kind words!

  4. Natasha, I really love your idea. I’m going to suggest it to my husband and see what he has to say. 🙂 Although we do Jesus and Santa in our home so I’m not sure how we’ll discuss who the gifts are from.

  5. Wonderful life lesson. I saw your blog because I googled empty gift box with poem. Years ago I made gift boxes for my family with just my breath inside and a poem attached to the ribbon. I cannot remember the poem. It was short & sweet. Wanted to help my grandson make one for his mommy. Has anyone who reads your blog ever heard of this?

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