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In a large family, the gift pile “under” the tree, can get totally out of hand.  So we’ve come up with some fun family traditions that help minimize the gift craziness and maximize the Christ in Christmas, focusing on the togetherness his birth, death, and resurrection promise.  This post is what we do about GIFTS – not what everyone should do.

Think about it for a minute:  7 kids + 1 set of parents + 4 sets of grandparents + 8 pairs aunts/uncles = 1 pile of presents that no longer fits under the Christmas tree.

Seriously, if you do the math, with each household only giving one gift to each person in our house, we’d have 108 presents under our tree.  Most of the time each person gets more than one wrapped package.  And that’s without any gifts from the people who live inside our home or other friends with whom we exchange gifts.

Let me start by saying there are lots of creative ways to handle gift giving.  We know families who draw names each year to reduce the stress of buying for everyone.  Others establish a spending limit per person. Some exchange money and then spend the day after Christmas shopping sales together.  One family spends all their “gift money” to make sure they can travel to be together.  I also love the idea several friends have  of “giving” piano lessons, gymnastics classes, swim passes, sports registration, summer camp, etc.  With a lot of kids and limited income, these enrichment activities are a premium gift opportunity.  Suffice it to say, there are lots of ways to simplify gift giving.

We try to get the group of gift givers to give a gift to the group of us. That’s a bit of a tongue twister, isn’t it?  But essentially, we ask all grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents contribute what they would normally spend for gifts toward one gift or project for the group of TN Quillens.

Some group-to-group Christmas gifts we’ve received have been:

  • A swing set/fort playground (where two of the grandpas even came to help build it! AND we managed to keep it a secret, right there in the back yard, until the unveiling on Christmas Eve!)
  • Playroom Makeover (playroom is 11’x14′) – Shelving for toys, a craft table set up with two slanted desks that also formed the roof of a playhouse underneath, a 6-linear foot Lego center with a building counter and lots of storage drawers.
  • Wii Christmas – with a Wii console and a television (we didn’t have one yet).
  • Playroom Update – adding a 5 foot extension to the Lego center (it’s now an L shape, we just added a new counter with drawers along an adjacent wall) and adding a sewing table to the crafty side of the room.  Keep in mind that our 7 kids play in an 11×14 basement playroom – so the best solution for us is to use the walls and go up, or there’s no floorspace for kids!
  • Adding Cool Factor to the bedrooms – the boys got a “pirate room” added to their room.  My husband finished a small portion of the attic above their room to look like the lower deck of a ship – we built a ladder to the ceiling and opened up the hole… And the girls room got a window bench/cottage out of a nook in their room.  With 5 boys in an 11×14 room and 2 girls in a 8×11 room, space is at a premium, so these “additions” were awesome!
  • Seasonal Experiences – Snow ball makers, snow brick makers, sleds, cocoa, popcorn for a winter experience.  Additional arm of swings for the playground, water toys, and a load of sand for a summer experience.  A movie, pizza certificate, “movie” candy and popcorn,  and fuzzy socks for a fall experience.  A Zoo membership and a restaurant gift card for a spring experience.

Some group-to-group gifts we’ve given:

  • Family Movie Night – a fun movie, popcorn bowls, popcorn, candy each person in the family receiving it would like, and fleece robes I made for each family member with fun fabrics that reflected their interests.
  • Family Game Night – gift certificate for pizza, family games appropriate for the ages of the family members, brownie mix, score board.
  • Family Date Night – gift certificate to a local restaurant and a gift certificate to a local attraction (go karts, arcade, zoo, bounce house, etc…).
  • Contribution to a charity in line with the recipient’s interests along with fleece blankets to keep them warm in the winter.
  • One year my kids made aprons for everyone and we sent them with cookbooks of our favorite recipes and needed supplies that a particular household might not have on hand.
  • Photo journals of the past year, being sure to include pictures of the times we spent with the recipient.
  • Photo calendars for the upcoming year.

I know there are all kinds of ideas out there – so, chime in!  What do you do to simplify gift giving?  Do you do group-to-group gifts?  What are some ideas of things you’ve given or received?

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Photo Credit: By ProjectManhattan (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons