The 3-Gift Christmas

Written by Stacy Myers, Contributing Writer

When our first daughter was born, we gave great thought to how we would celebrate Christmas. It was our desire to make sure she knew the REASON for the Christmas season. We didn’t want her growing up thinking Christmas was about Dora and Diego toys or stuffing yourself full of candy until you couldn’t zip up your pants.

Because of that, we set out to make sure we fill our Christmas with family traditions that make Christ the main focus. We focus on giving and having time together as a family and we do Christmas devotions together every day…and we still eat some chocolate because God made it – and I’m pretty sure He’s down with chocolate. Can I get an Amen?!

Our Advent celebration involves a different family activity each day. A lot of these activities involve giving to others – to bless them as we have been blessed. We all look forward to this every year. It’s good family bonding, man.

Along with this theme, we decided that instead of showering our children with more than they could ever play with – and risk going into debt to pay for it – we would give each child 3 gifts for Christmas.

The three gifts symbolize the three gifts the Wise Men brought to Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  I’ll be honest – before we started this tradition, I had no idea what myrrh was.  I will admit though, it’s fun to say. Myrrh. Myrrh. Try it.

Now every year this is something I look forward to! I put great thought into each gift. I also enjoy sharing the gift selection with my readers.

Let’s go over the significance of these three gifts – so if you choose this tradition, you’ll know them and be able to explain them to every family member that asks…and trust me, they WILL ask. And then they’ll look at you like you’re nuts – so be prepared for that, okay?


The gift of gold symbolizes something of great value. It’s to be something the child wants – something precious to them. At this point, I still choose this gift for my children. If I asked my 3 year old what she wanted, we’d be in big trouble. No ponies in the bedroom.

You can let your child choose this gift or you can simply buy something you know they really want. This is the one you can really have fun with…but don’t go overboard. I’ve always found great deals on my “gold” items – and most of the time I buy used things. Buy used and save the difference.


The gift of frankincense symbolizes something spiritual. Frankincense was burned in the temple as part of worship. For this gift, we give something that helps with the child’s spiritual walk.

We’re still choosing this for our children and likely will every year. Since it is our job to teach our children the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6), I think it’s important that we choose this gift and make sure it’s something that is of great value for their spiritual walk.

This gift will vary greatly based on age. My 3 year old isn’t interested in having a commentary on Romans. A few ideas are: a nativity of their own, a worship music CD, a children’s Bible, or a devotional book. Be creative.

Myrrh was a medicinal item back in the day. This gift symbolizes something for the body. I’ve heard it told that the Wise Men brought this gift to Jesus in preparation for when he would die for us.

This item can be any number of things: clothing, shoes, cologne, underwear. When you stop believing in Santa, you get underwear. <– Tweet This.

And for the record, I like getting underwear for Christmas…then I don’t have to spend my money on it. Ha!

Some examples of things I’ve purchased: wool diaper covers, headbands, shoes, and sleep sacks.

So, there you have it. Our 3-Gift Christmas. Is this a tradition in your family?

About Stacy Myers

Stacy is the author of Crock On: A Semi-Whole Foods Slow Cooker Cookbook and a stay-at-home mom to her two children, Annie (3) and Andy (newborn). After an “awakening” in March 2011, her family switched to a more natural, whole foods diet. She likes to blog about how to live on less than you make and how to eat good food while doing it. Her passion is teaching others how to save money and she tag teams with her husband in this endeavor. At Stacy Makes Cents you’ll find information on how to save money in the kitchen, how to have fun with your kids, and how to be thrifty in all areas of life. Her passion is teaching others how to live debt free. Make sure to follow her on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with her daily antics.

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  1. ? For younger children do you still give gifts from “Santa” or not? Our boys will be turning 1 this year and I’m not sure if we will do Santa or not.

    • No, we don’t do Santa here. We speak of him as a historical figure and tell Annie that he’s in the stories – kinda like other fairy tales. :-) But that’s something each family has to decide.

  2. Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular article!
    It is the little changes that make the most significant changes.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. my parents did three gifts, but you kind of took it one step further with incorporating the meaning of the three gifts. We plan on doing three gifts, and will be considering the value/spiritual/body addition.

  4. Angela Smith says:

    Love this idea! We have no children, but have agreed with our families to cut back on gifts. I love shopping for the angel tree kids at church and since our tree rules always state the gift has to be clothes, I follow them- but add in a little treat like Hello Kitty pencils or a lip gloss for the teens. But keeping things practical is best and I like that my church does that. I do have a concern, though. Several posters noted taking gifts back ( which I totally agree with), but then noted they buy things they can’t normally afford like shoes or clothes. If you can’t afford shoes for a child, why in the world did you think it was right to have them? I find that most shocking and very, very worrisome given the current state of the country and the economy.

    • Angela, I think families sometimes go through hard times when it becomes difficult to even afford necessities…and for those times, it’s nice to be able to return un-needed items and purchase things that they truly need. It’s only a season…and children are such a blessing. God does provide. :-)
      I think it’s great your church has its own Angel Tree! That rocks!

  5. Thank you SO much for this idea. I wish I had read this BEFORE Christmas, but now that I have read it, it fits PERFECTLY with what my husband and I talked about. We have 2 young children and were shocked and a bit discouraged at the MOUNTAIN of presents (from grandparents/aunts/uncles/etc…) they received this year – some items were needed (clothing for the youngest because there were no cold hand-me-downs from the older one), but a lot of it was just “stuff”…Stuff that is going to get put away and forgotten about! What is your suggestion (or how do you handle) the extended family gifts? We only bought a few necessities for our girls, but the massive amount of presents came from relatives, and it was quite overwhelming (not to mention it took literally HOURS) – we felt even though we did a devotion before presents talking about the greatest present of all, that was lost in the moment. Thank you again!!

    • Ruthann (love your name by the way), I wish I knew….because we’re struggling with the same issue. This year it seemed even worse – which is why we really stress simplicity at home.
      After chatting with my husband a bit, next year we’ve decided to IMPLORE our family to give our children only a few gifts and a stocking – instead we’re going to ask them to use the money they would have spent on us and sponsor a family off the Angel Tree.
      Because this will be a huge mindset change for them – we’re going to start early in the year so that it will be something they can think about and so that they won’t begin buying gifts.
      We’re praying this will change how we celebrate when we’re not at home. :-)

  6. I admit it, I’m a deist but I still love this blog and get a lot of good information and ideas from it.

    Anyway, my husband and I don’t have children, yet because of crazy infertility but we know we can get pregnant, but since we don’t do presents for ourselves we decided to stick to the four gift rule…something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. Christmas doesn’t need to be some kind of huge production at our house. It’s not who we are. Besides, I have a mama who speaks the language of love in many ways, including gifts.

  7. We do something similar: 3 gifts, ” something to read, something to wear, something to play with” and it has served us well. During Advent, we do a Jesse Tree, which is a daily devotional with a little tangible item that hangs on a tree that goes from Genesis through Gospels (Birth of Jesus) and it is a favorite tradition.
    Sarah M

    • We are planning to start the Jesse tree next year with our daughter and yet-to-arrive sons! We also do something similar: Something you want, Something you need, Something to wear, Something to read. For the “need” each kid picks out something for someone else in need, since we are blessed to not lack anything we truly need.

    • I have several friends who do the Jesse tree and love it! We celebrate Advent with a daily devotion and family activity.

  8. This is such an amazing idea! This is most certainly going to be a new family tradition at our house!

  9. I absolutely LOVE this idea, Stacy! Well done! Our two boys are two-and-a-half and five years old. Instead of removing things each day for the advent, we “deposit” money. We have a lovely advent calendar, hanging at the entrance to our family room, with numbered pockets into which goes money every day. Just before Christmas we donate the proceeds to charity. The gift of Christmas is about giving and not only receiving. xxx

  10. I love this! I had heard of giving three gifts because of the Magi’s gifts but had never heard them broken down into parallel “types” of gifts. I had been planning on doing “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read”, but I think I like this better. Particularly because “something you need” and “something to wear” is often the same thing, particularly when your kids are two and under and don’t need things like school supplies!

  11. Stacy, I love this post. I had never heard of anyone doing this before. Although, personally we don’t give the kids tons of gifts, they end up getting quite a few when you throw in grandparents, aunts, and uncles. What are your feelings on that? I mean really, my kids have direct family that love to SPLURGE! One thing I do feel okay about is that this is the one time during the year that they have to stock up on toys and like you, we’re observing advent this year.

    • We do get lots of gifts from others – so we handle it a few ways. If the gifts aren’t appropriate for our family, we take them back to the store and use the money to buy things we do need – like clothing or shoes. OR, if they are gifts that Annie really likes, I let her keep out about two. Then I put the rest away. Throughout the year I’ll take out one here and there when she needs a special treat – a road trip for example. :-)

  12. We used to give lots of gifts, just whatever we thought they wanted or needed.. as times have gotten tight and they are older we have changed our focus. Last year they got 4 things, inexpensive $5-15.. I have had the tradition for years of buying a board game or card game for the family, maybe a book, a new favorite movie (Brave this year). I usually go to the dollar tree and dollar bin at Target for stocking stuffers, a new ornament. We bake a cake for Jesus’ birthday and sing for him on Christmas morning. My husband and I want to reach out and serve more on Christmas now that the kids are older, my DD 8 still believes in Santa though so I can’t see not giving them anything. I have told them if 3 is good enough for Jesus it is the same for them. So far this year we have our game and movie, I did also get some Lincoln logs (I am nostalgic as well) for them to play with together. They also get a new pair of pj’s to open Christmas Eve, they like that tradition. That is about it. I still have to get their ornaments and a snack or treat for their stockings, otherwise we are pretty much done.

  13. This is awesome. I started the 3 gifts 2 years ago when my entire family started attending church. My husband wasn’t a believer so it was hard to keep just MY perspective about Christmas. Once he became a believer (and we are on a limited income), we agreed that if 3 gifts are good enough for Jesus, then 3 is good enough for our children. However, I really never looked at it the way you do with the symbolic statement. Now after reading this, my husband and I have agreed once again, that this will become the new tradition in our house. Thank you for your inspiration. I have so many people tell me that we are weird because we do Christmas like this, but my children need to understand that Christmas IS a gift, and that it’s not about THE gifts. :)

  14. You absolutely crack me up! You and underwear…no wonder it gets googled and you show up. LOL

    Anyhow, we do 3 gifts as well because someone really wise told us last year that’s what they did. *ahem* We tend to listen to them. We even do Advent Activities because they do them. We want to be just like the Myers’ when we grow up. ;)

    • These Myers sound like pretty cool people. I wonder if they also have broke friends who line dry their clothes – because those people make awesome Advent calendars. They also make kickin’ awesome wall clocks.

  15. It is so encouraging to know that others feel the same way I do about Christmas gift giving. The commercialism makes me so sad. We began the 3 gift Christmas when our children were born. We have been doing something very similar to what you do for the last 17 years. Our kids never missed the over abundance of gifts because they never had it to begin with. This year they will each get the one gift they really want (within reason), they are each getting a new Bible since they are all transitioning into new stages in their lives and I thought it was a good time to update, and new bedding for their rooms. As they get older I find I am having to spend a little more money to get these things, even though I am as frugal as they come, but it is well worth the cost knowing they will be used and loved for many years to come. Even so, our budget is set at $150 per child, including the 3 gifts and a stocking (which honestly is their favorite thing) and since we have been saving and will pay cash it will be even better. An interesting thought about giving used items I thought you would appreciate Stacy-my youngest child’s “want” gift is an “old typewriter that works”. Now tell me how on earth would I get that for her if I didn’t buy used? :)

  16. Stacy, I really, really, liked this! Do you not do stockings then? We usually celebrate with my family at Christmas so we go along with our family traditions, but I’m thankful we’ve never gone crazy with gifts.

  17. When time machines get invented….you should travel back to where I wasn’t a parent yet….and write this somewhere I can read it. K? I really like it. Gift-giving is not my love language, but I would naturally take it too far in the direction of “how little can I get away with spending?”. This gives a balanced and Jesus-centered basis for simplicity, yet retaining extravagant love.

  18. I wish I would have done something like this when my kids were little….. With my kids being older now, it makes it hard to implement something like this when they are used to a certain amount of presents. Christmas for me as a child was most children’s dream…. I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning, not able to sleep from the excitement… and then have my eyes pop out of my head at all the presents. But you know, the funny thing is that I really don’t remember everything I got (only certain ones) but what was memorable about it was how beautiful it was just seeing it all… it’s kind of hard to explain… it was picturesque and magical, but it wasn’t the actual gifts themselves. It was seeing all the pretty packages under the beautiful tree and all the things we did getting ready for Christmas…. decorating while listening/singing to Christmas music, baking cookies, driving around and looking at the Christmas lights, etc. Wow, the things I am just realizing in life…. (I have been saying this a lot over the past couple of years) So long story short, I followed the same path with the amount of presents and what activities I grew up with, but somehow my children don’t have the same feelings and appreciation about Christmas like I did as a child (and as a grown up). They are missing the beauty and magic of it all….. It makes me sad. I think part of it is a generational/society thing…. Lots of things about my children’s generation make me sad. Well, maybe this is the perfect time to make this kind of change. I guess I’m concerned that my children will get a “teenage attitude” about it…. then again maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen. What do you think?

    • Hmmm, that’s a hard one because I don’t have teenagers yet. I think I would discuss it with your husband and see what he thinks. A sense of entitlement with children is really hard to handle as a parent. I would agree that it’s the age of consumerism that is likely the culprit.
      You could try it and see how it goes – they might actually enjoy it…especially if you let them choose their three items.
      Keep me posted.

  19. Stacy, I have already bought my gifts this year but will definitely remember this next year. I only wish I had read this when my kids were little. I can now however share it with my first grandchild. You have done it again! Another brilliant idea.

  20. My children are 20, 19, 13. When the oldest was born we started the 3 gift Christmas. All of them have been taught and have happily stated to anyone that they get 3 gifts from mom & dad. Ours is a little different in that I let them make a list & would get some things from it. They have always received a gift they wanted, a gift they need & a gift of frivolity. Santa came to see them and they received a gift, their big one, and something little. We also gave them a gift to all 3 ….like a board game or family movies.

  21. We have a very small limit on our kids for Christmas so we can focus on the real meaning of the season. It’s usually ended up being 3 gifts. Thanks for the idea of the 3 Magi gifts. That would be a great tradition to include in our small family observances. Our biggest problem is grandparents. Santa doesn’t come visit so the grandparents feel the need to make-up for that fact (in spite of agreeing with our decision not to have Santa come visit). No amount of gentle discussions is changing their point of view, unfortunately.

    • Mia, I’ve heard this happens to a lot of families…and to us just a bit. Perhaps you could make the rule that they’re allowed to give as many gifts as they like, but only a set number (1, 2, or 3?) get to come home with you – the rest of the stuff stays with Grandma.
      Or, like me, you can take the items home (some you can return to the store) and put them up for taking out one or two here and there throughout the year – as needed for “treats.”


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