The answer? A camera! I found a surprisingly good, digital camera (a real camera) on sale at London Drugs for about $70, and we ended up buying one for both Seth and Matthew as their biggest Christmas gifts. Lizzie received a CD player for approx. the same value as her main gift. They were all thrilled with their gifts.
We ended up going a little overboard this year with the gift-giving, despite my best intentions.. In addition to the camera, Matthew received his first ever watch (on sale for $28), a model car kit, two maze books, a book, and an audio book. Seth received the camera, a lego helicopter kit (the only lego kit I could find for under $30 - man lego is expensive!), a playmobil car, two maze books, a book, and an audio book. Lizzie was ecstatic that she can now listen to audio books on her new CD player; and she also opened up a small portable playmobil dollhouse, a purse, two maze books, a book, and an audio book. In addition, the kids all received together a three-unit walkie talkie set, which the boys are using for spying purposes and which Lizzie is still trying to figure out (her favourite thing to do with the walkie talkie is to put it into her new purse and then reach into her purse for the walkie talkie while saying "I need to find my cell phone!").
Because I was pretty careful to spend the same amount of money on each kid (within $5 of each other), I tracked what I spent and know that, including the walkie talkies, we spent close to $200 per kid. In addition, I spent about $20 per child on stockings stuffers.
So almost $220 per child. That seems to me like a lot of money to spend on Christmas gifts. But when I just now googled this question, I discovered that the average American parent planned, a month before Christmas, to spend $271 per child, with one in ten families planning to spend in excess of $500/child. I'm assuming that Canadian spending would be similar. Another few articles suggested that these spending patterns were likely conservative because parents were still at the planning stage when these questions were asked. Is this typical?
When I read the average spending per child I found myself initially feeling a bit better about our spending but then I realized the obvious: That what anyone else spends on Christmas should in no way justify what we think about our own spending. I also remembered that last year we spent approx. $120/child, which somehow seemed more appropriate for us.
One thing that struck me about the gifts this year was Lizzie's reaction. When she pulled the less-than-$2, strawberry-scented chapstick out of her stocking, she shrieked with delight, dropped her stocking, and ran over to me with a huge "thank you!!!" hug. Matthew and Seth reacted quite similarly over the little trinkets in their stockings. I realized right then that I'd spent too much on their gifts and I wished that I could somehow pull a few presents from under the tree. They were truly grateful for just those little things and I fear that we've now set the bar too high.
The other the thing that really struck me this year was that the kids were just as excited about the stuff we did pre-Christmas as they were about Christmas day and gift opening. They loved the crafts, baking, decorating, reading, field trips, advent-related, church-related, movie-watching, carol singing, and other stuff that we did together that was all oriented around the Christmas season.. They loved that every day in the weeks before Christmas we did something Christmasy and I loved that they really seemed to understand the Nativity story soo much better and wanted to talk about what it was like in Jesus' time. This is the first year I've been so deliberate and well-planned about our pre-Christmas activities and it was frankly worth the extra effort. In the coming week or two, I will be spending a little bit of time thinking and planning for next year's pre-Christmas activities so that I can remember what kinds of things worked really well this year and where I could make some adjustments.
But...getting back to spending, I'm very interested in your thoughts on the matter if you're willing to participate in the conversation. What did you spend on Christmas per child? Do you worry about how much you spend? Do your children have expectations about what kinds of gifts they receive? Do you try to spend about the same amount on each child? Is there a taboo about talking about this frankly? I'm not looking to step on toes here, but I'm truly interested in this subject.