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    Family Traditions: We Three Gifts

    December 16, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    I wrote a post with this exact title last year. Our family tradition still stands. Jesus received three gifts, and so do our children. As the children have gotten older, they really connect with that idea, which adds some depth to the concept.

    In addition to this, we have also added a stocking tradition. I love, love, love the pretty stockings made of velvet and embroidered with something shiny. Unfortunately, these aren’t cheap. Last year, I tried shopping for some at after-Christmas sales, but didn’t find anything which matched what was already going on with our Christmas decor. I wasn’t in a hurry, since Si and I had already decided that we would simply add one stocking each year until everybody had one.

    Trust me. The one-year-old and the three-month-old just aren’t going to notice that they don’t have a stocking.

    So back to the three gifts. I sort of consider the number three to be a bit symbolic. For instance, there are the verses that speak of Jesus growing in strength, wisdom, and grace and also in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man.

    It is the latter verse which has become a sort of theme for the children’s education, an encouragement to me to make it well-rounded and not ignore any facet of humanity in favor of another. In strength or stature, we see physical growth and improvement. This would include good health and nutrition and also increased physical performance. In wisdom we see not only the ability to know right from wrong and choose what is good, but also the ancient concept of “wisdom” meaning skill. Wisdom involved arriving at mastery of a task. The child grows into an adult who has certain proficiencies. And then there is favor, or grace. The child becomes a man who lives righteously before the Lord and lives well with his fellow citizens. I am sure that could be expounded upon endlessly.

    I always see these gifts as working toward accomplishing some or all of these aims. Just as the Wise Men from the East gave gifts that had true meaning for the Lord, so I hope that our gifts have real meaning for our children, that they are useful and encouraging.

    We have never been in the position to be very extravagant, especially considering that there are four little ones to buy for (our tradition is also that babies only receive one gift, the first book of their libraries, for their first Christmas). However, God is sometimes very extravagant in His generosity toward His children, so I don’t think that Christians need disdain the occasional Christmas lavishing in the name of avoiding materialism.

    I’m just saying.

    Anyhow, I always love the gifts we end up purchasing for our children. I do not like meaningless gifts, and seek to give thoughtful gifts, no matter how small. This year is no exception. Typically, our gifts fall into three categories: an article of clothing, a “toy”, and a book. I am going to have to work on finding a better word than “toy” as they grow older. Usually, this gift is focused on developing a skill or a hobby or enhancing something they have been working on. Something like that.

    So here is what is in order for this Christmas:


    This year, the three older children will be receiving some winter dress clothing. The girls are getting sweater-dresses that sparkle and white cotton tights. Since Baby O. has a nice sweater already, we decided to buy E. a nice sweater and hope to get a good family photo before winter ends. E. enjoys looking nice for church, so I think he will enjoy a sweater similar to what his daddy sometimes wears.


    I don’t usually make their gifts the same, but this year we went with it since they are all sharing some interests right now. The two little girls are getting lap desks (I finally found some simple ones that don’t have Dora plastered all over them) that have side compartments which we’re stuffing with washable crayons and markers. E. is ready to graduate to a more mature art, I think, so we found a beginning artist’s set that has pastels, water colors, and also some nicer colored pencils (he prefers pencils). We also invested in some nice watercolor paper so that he can paint without soaking the paper.


    I think it is probably no secret that this is my favorite part. The children get one book on Christmas and one on their birthdays. I usually seek out hardbacks, though this year I couldn’t find hardback copies of the books I thought were best, so we went with paperbacks.

    We recently read Pilgrim Stories By Margaret Pumphrey and also Johnny Tremain. E. has really been relishing the tales from early America. Incidently, in Johnny Tremain, a Son of Liberty named James Otis (perhaps the author’s namesake?) gives a riveting speech concerning human liberty.

    The Secret Garden
    by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    Every library needs beautiful copy of The Secret Garden, right? We are actually giving a slightly different edition than the one pictured above, but I think it will be perfect for this particular child (Daughter A.), who likes to touch things. The cover is velveteen, and also very pretty.

    Miss Rumphius
    by Barbara Cooney

    I have never read Miss Rumphius, though I adore Barbara Cooney. I am told that Miss Rumphius believes a person should make the world more beautiful, and near the end she does this by planting flowers. I think our cheerful little sprite, Baby Q., will love it.

    Island Boy
    by Barbara Cooney

    This focus of this book is really the life (from infancy to death — a complete life) of the youngest son of a homeschooling family who lives a self-sustaining life on an island. It has a Little House on the Prairie feel in terms of their farming life. It shows a working family economy, an essentially old-American life. The illustrations are beautiful, which is fitting for such a winsome tale. Something about it reminds me of Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House. I love that this youngest son sleeps in his parent’s bedroom as an infant and then there is one big bedroom, separated by a curtain, in which his eleven older siblings sleep. Baby O. sleeps in our room, which is our tradition concerning infants. Can you tell I connected with this book? Our older children did, too, when we read it in a bookstore a while back.


    This year, there are two children receiving stockings. Both will contain some special snacks I bought at the grocery store, and also rolled-up pajamas. They both need warmer pajamas, but I’ve been putting it off so that they can enjoy receiving them on Christmas morning!

    One Last Tradition

    I think it worth a parting mention that I always do laundry on Christmas. This way, everyone can wear their new clothing right away. Sometimes I do it in the morning, sometimes in the evening, but I always make sure it is done.

    What are YOU buying for Christmas?

    I’d tell you the rest of what I’m buying (or making), but too many of the adults in my life read my blog…

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  • Reply Rebecca December 22, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    My good friend developed a 3 gift tradition and I love it. Her categories are based on the wise men’s gifts:
    Gold: something long desired (or mom knows they would love it if they knew it existed, haha)

    Frankincense (being very fragrant) is Something to share— in our house this often is a game. Sometimes every child gets one and sometimes on tight years it is literally a shared present.

    Myrr- something useful or practical or educational. This could be a book, new snow boots or other clothing…

  • Reply Don't be the White Witch (Thoughts on Advent and Christmas Traditions) | Afterthoughts December 15, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    […] love our three gift tradition for a variety of reasons. First, it draws a parallel. We tell our children, “Jesus received […]

  • Reply HKB December 7, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Brandy, I love this idea! We began giving our children gifts on Thanksgiving morning, and taking the opportunity to share why we’re thankful! And we would just give them their stockings on Christmas morning. I didn’t have a Christmas stocking growing up (not being American and all) so it’s all news to me what goes inside. I’m enjoying reading your past Christmas season blogs to help us solidify more of what will become our traditions in the coming years.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts December 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      I meant to tell you that your giving of gifts on Thanksgiving was so interesting to me! I meant to ask you more about that and how it developed. It sounds like fun! Someday we will have tea {or coffee!} again and you can tell me. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy December 19, 2008 at 12:00 am

    MidnightMom, It is nice to meet a fellow 3-gifter. I am noticing that the more children we have, the more reasonable three gifts sounds! I like you idea of saying “something they need” and “something they want.” That is a good distinction, though of course they enjoy the things they need also.

    Toothbrushes! I hadn’t thought of that. Last year, we bought the oldest a Big Boy Sports Bottle for his stocking. He likes to take water with him everywhere.

  • Reply Kansas Mom December 18, 2008 at 3:55 am

    I love getting toothbrushes and toothpaste in stockings! In fact, I consider it a tradition. (This year, I asked Grammy to provide them in her stockings for the kids.)

    I like the idea of a recycled gift. Maybe for the Epiphany, we’ll pull out First Daughter’s exersaucer for Second Daughter. We were going to anyway…but we could put a bow on it.

  • Reply MidnightMom December 18, 2008 at 3:37 am

    We do “3” gifts, for that was what Baby Jesus received, as well. I used to do pj’s, but sometimes, someone needs a different item of clothing. (I have 4 children). Last year, I began saying this: “something the child needs”, “something the child wants” (rather than saying “toy”–or some call it a wishlist item, but we don’t make a big deal of lists, and, the top toy catalog picks go to Grandparents so they can enjoy the child’s enthusiasm; I am very picky and prefer to spend money carefully on toys or activities with “play power” over plastic)…anyway, then of course, our last gift is “books” (my personal favorite–and, I often shop for good condition used books too). Our first Christmas gift for a baby may depend on baby’s age. This year, is my baby’s 2nd Christmas and she is getting a recycled toy from big sister that I think she’ll LOVE. Why buy new if there’s perfectly good toys in the garage, just waiting. Right?

    Loved reading your family traditions, and thoughts. We do stockings also, usually containing mini M&Ms, needed items like new toothbrushes, socks and so on, and then a small toy item. It is so great to read of others who choose the “3 gift” rule and generally choose to remain conservative in Christmas spending as well. 🙂

    Blessings this lovely season!!

  • Reply Murmer December 17, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    I just have to tell you how much I LOVE Mrs. Rumpus…it is a beautiful, brilliant books and one that I reached for many times when I was teaching 1st grade…

  • Reply Kansas Mom December 17, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    I haven’t read Roxaboxen, but it’s on my list to check. Our library has a copy so maybe I’ll grab it when we swing by tomorrow before our trip.

    I really shouldn’t comment so late at night; so many errors!

  • Reply Brandy December 17, 2008 at 6:03 am

    KM, I didn’t go into it, but The Secret Garden was a PBS find! When it arrived, I immediately stashed it in the gift closet…it was perfect. 🙂

    We received Miss Rumphius today via UPS and let me tell you…it was as beautiful as I had hoped. I just love Barbara Cooney!

    By the way, have you read Roxaboxen? I saw that on my Amazon suggested list, and I don’t know anything about it. If you like it, I might try to find it on PBS.

  • Reply Kansas Mom December 17, 2008 at 5:40 am

    We never buy a gift for baby’s first Christmas; I say they’ve received the gift of life! (Ok, there might be a book, but those hardly count?)

    I love the idea of three gifts. We has stockings for the Feast of St. Nicholas and I’m saving their books for the Ephiphany. I think next year I might try for three books each. (I also go for hardcover, but mine are usually from PaperBackSwap or the used bookstore. With PBS, I just save any that are gift-worthy in the closet until Christmas.) We didn’t buy any other presents for the kids. They’re young and will receive lavish gifts from grandparents so they won’t miss them.

    I would also like to add Miss Rumphius is one of my favorite books of all time! I like Island Boy, too.

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