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From the Hart

Don't agonize about the largesse under the tree
Scripps Howard News Service


December 23, 2005

One Christmas, when I was about five or so, my Grandmother Victoria came as usual on Christmas Eve. The imperial matriarch of our family, she traveled from her home in Ohio to ours in Chicago.

As I found out much later, dear Grandmother Victoria had something of a disagreement that night with my mother and father. She was so completely appalled at the largesse that my parents (and, um, Santa) had laid out under that Christmas tree for the five of us children - the packages, boxes, presents and gifts spilling far out into the living room floor - that she put her foot down. She let my parents know that she thought we children were being far too indulged. So Grandmother Victoria packed up every Christmas gift she had brought for us kids - those presents never even saw the underside of that tree - and she put them right back into her car then and there, and took them back to Ohio with her a few days later!

Knowing Grandmother Victoria, I'm quite sure that those gifts turned up as our birthday presents throughout that year. But she was almost certainly right. Neither my older siblings nor I remember looking around for Grandma's presents that Christmas morning because apparently, we already had SO MUCH STUFF we didn't notice that there weren't gifts to us from her.

In other words, the "out-of-control Christmas" is not exactly a new phenomenon.

Flash forward, and I confess to more than a few eye-popping Christmases my own kids have enjoyed. Sure I may talk about not over-indulging the whims of kids - but gosh it's fun to watch their eyes bug out of their heads Christmas morning.

Still, it was pretty clear that Christmas in my house was getting REALLY crazy. So when I moved the children back to the Chicago area from Virginia and we had our first Christmas here last year, I decided to make a change. I explained to the children, then ages 10, 8, 5 and 3, that Santa did things differently here. He (together with mom) only brings three presents to each child, in honor of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. (I've heard some other parents here explain it's for the three gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child, but either way I think it's those Midwestern values at work.)

So, the kids were only allowed to ask for three things, and same again this year. Boy, do they agonize over that Christmas list. Talk about being forced to prioritize. Only here's the thing - my kids have been great about it. I'm the one who can't prioritize.

I've already noticed "Christmas Creep."

The original plan was that while Santa and I together would bring each of the children three gifts, of course there might be a few extra "little things" and "stocking stuffers" added to the mix. But, I've noticed that I'm classifying (ital) everything (end ital) as a "little thing" and a "stocking stuffer." Oh yeah, that video game - that's a "little thing!" That stuffed animal the size of Montana? That's a "stocking stuffer" if ever I saw one! Talk about rationalizing my over-indulgence.

My snowy side-yard is full of things tucked away in dark plastic sheeting waiting to be wheeled in and/or constructed late - and probably late, late, late - Christmas Eve. (Don't worry, my kids won't read this 'till long after Santa and I have done our work.)

Yes, that tree is going to "pop" on Christmas morning. But is it for them - or for me? I think every mom and dad, or any adult who has a child to love and to give a Christmas gift to, knows the answer to that one: It's for the kids, and for the kid in us, and gosh it is fun.

So, I've decided I'm not going to agonize so much about the largesse under the tree this year. I'm going to think about how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to work with Santa for a night and produce it all, to have little ones who will love it all so much, and I'll just be grateful to be given the gift of having my eyes "pop" along with theirs.

What a blessing. And what a merry Christmas.

And I'm wishing you and your family a merry Christmas, too!


Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover
Parenting is Hurting Our Kids - and What to Do About It."
She can be reached at

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