Last year, my sister posted to Facebook the above picture of our families’ combined Christmas presents under her tree (and all over the family room) and tagged me in it.

In the comments were at least three “wows,” one “geez,” and one “holy shit.”

And I understand the reaction. Even we were sort of like, “Uhhhh, did these things fornicate and multiply?” But still, I couldn’t help feeling a little…judged. I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to explain that those were presents for nine people, and also that many of them were hand-me-down gifts from my sister’s older girls to my little girl that my sister had just wrapped for the fun of it. But all my justifications seemed flimsy, and in the end I felt ashamed of our apparently overboard Christmas gift extravaganza.

This year, I will be much more restrained.

That’s what I told myself this October.

And yet here we are, mid-December, and getting into my closet is like that scene in Entrapment where Katherine Zeta-Jones navigates the web of lasers in a skin-tight Lycra pantsuit, except considerably less sexy.

I keep going through the kids’ lists and trying to find something that I should return (I have an excel spreadsheet. There—now you can really hate me.) But I can’t pick one! I know my kids, and I know they’ll play with and love each doll, each Lego set, each science kit, with every fiber of their being. And they will be grateful. They are grateful kids.

The other day, I lamented to my husband that I felt guilty for being materialistic. He pointed out that we really aren’t materialistic. The only time of year we “spoil” our kids is at Christmas. We never purchase toys on impulse when out and about, and for birthdays they either get a few gifts or no gifts at all, in exchange for a family outing. My husband also pointed out that we’re still teaching and modeling for our kids about the true meaning of Christmas: love, charity, gratitude, family. We talk daily about the differences in how people live around the world, how fortunate we are, and why that makes it incumbent upon us to be grateful and to give back. We donate to charity, both monetarily and materially. We make spending time with family and friends a priority. And we do these things all year long, not just at Christmas.

My husband also said that he loves the idea that our kids will have life-long memories of Christmas-morning unwrapping insanity along with the other, nobler pursuits. And truthfully, I do too. I remember my sister and I having crazy Christmases growing up, with flying wrapping paper, squeals of glee, and an entire afternoon spent wrestling new dolls out of their twist-ties. I remember the innocent, heart-palpitating bliss of believing a fat man in a red suit magically poofed into our living room (Florida – no fireplaces) and dumped a pile of toys onto the couch. These memories are priceless to me, and yes, they are some of my favorites from childhood.

So why can’t I release this guilt about that pile of toys in my closet?

Well… if I’m being honest, which is to say, if I didn’t think anyone besides us would ever know about that pile of toys, I wouldn’t feel guilty at all. My guilt has nothing to do with my personal feelings about Christmas or materialism, and everything to do with feeling crushed under the weight of other people’s judgment.

Facebook is filled with threads of people commenting about how they only allow their kids three items on their wish-list or have foregone presents altogether. Many condemn parents who buy their kids a lot of toys, saying they ought to be ashamed of themselves, that they’re teaching their kids to be materialistic, or even that they are terrible parents.

But, the thing is, it’s really nobody’s business how parents choose to celebrate Christmas, or any other holiday with their children. It’s certainly nobody’s place to judge someone else’s parenting skills based on a solitary piece of photographic evidence from this one day of the year. My family, and other families who go a little crazy at Christmastime, are not doing Christmas “wrong.” We simply have a tradition of big Christmases. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have quite a few presents to wrap.


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  1. Yea, as much as I love social media, it can suck so hard. There’s never a reaction of “Hmmm. Oh. So that’s how someone else does it.” Instead, it’s always some weird power leveraging embedded into a seemingly diplomatic reaction. Mostly: dem be bitches.

    Your family loves how it loves. Screw dem bitches.

  2. I have the same memories–we went to Grandma’s every Christmas when we were little, and my mom was one of the oldest of seven, with several coming home for the holidays, so same thing–it would be this HUGE, cascading pile of stuff reaching across the whole room, BUT it was for 14 people. We actually have a shot of my baby brother when he was about 4 or 5, reeling in absolute shock over the sheer number of wrapped gifts.

    Now that my 3 siblings and I have families, it’s the same thing–the presents can be large or small, expensive or cheap (one year the favorite kids’ gift/stocking stuffer was flavored Chapsticks!), but the pictures tell a story of piles of stuff.

    We love it and like you, practice helping folks, charity, friendship, and restraint most of the year. Crazy Christmases are the best, and we take the pictures every year!!

  3. People are so judgmental – and it makes me sad. We do Christmas and birthdays big over here – I was raised that way – these are special occasions and, particularly when there are small kids involved, how can you not? Ignore the haters – even if you had the opportunity to “defend” yourself (and why should you anyway?) they are still going to argue that their way is the only way.

  4. I think whatever and however people chose to celebrate is fine, do whats best for your family! I also feel like as your kids are truly grateful and will play with all their presents it’s perfectly fine if thats what you want! My son barely plays with toys and I know if I got him a ton he would forget them in a few days, so for now he’s only getting two things (one from us and one from Santa) on Christmas morning! And that’s fine, too! Why do we always have to judge everyone else’s decisions on things so trivial as how many presents one family does verses another? Live and let live! Merry Christmas!

  5. You go girl! Go wrap those gifts! It’s all about the memories…….and trust me, life is precious. You never know when life will change in an instant. Just, please…….don’t forget the cookies for Santa! 🙂

  6. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing Christmas in a huge way – it’s how it was done when I was growing up, too, and how we’ve done it in my own family. I have reminded my husband not to post pictures about how big Christmas can actually be at our house because I didn’t want to invite commentary. And I have scaled back, to my amazing relief over not having so much stuff to deal with at Christmas. The feeling of unease is a familiar one, and you’re right – it comes from fearing other people’s reactions. The older I get, the more I say – “Oh well, to each his own” – and give it not one more thought. But we still don’t post pictures. 🙂 Enjoy your big day, and Merry Christmas!!

  7. I feel exactly the same way! Thank you for saying this. We do not buy our kids anything during the year but for Christmas we go big. Really big! We wrap everything just to make Christmas more fun. We even wrap a box of sugary cereal , which we don’t normally buy, for each kid. We love spending that day as a great memory and I’m done feeling judged about it! I may not post a pic of the presents but I will go on enjoying the day as we like! Thank you for relieving me of the guilt!

  8. Lora Picchi

    Social media is a funny beast. It can be like stepping into battle. So easy for pictures to be taken out of context, to be praised, mocked, loved and reviled. But it happens all time, and will continue. Unless…we take the opportunity to educate with our posts. Then we can have REAL discussion. So don’t be afraid to post photos of your Christmas. Just remember, if you’re going to step into the ring, be prepared to fight.