A Thanksgiving Gift Exchange

Written by Sherri Cook, Contributing Writer

The day after Thanksgiving when friends jokingly ask me if I’m finished with my Christmas shopping, I can always surprise them with an answer in the affirmative. At my house, not only have we finished the shopping, we’ve also finished the wrapping as well as the unwrapping.

How do we do this? It’s certainly not because we’re an ultra-organized family! We have simply chosen to have our gift exchange at Thanksgiving instead of at Christmas.

The results? We find more every year, so there are way too many to list, but here are a few for you to mull over:

  • our family can focus on Christ’s birth celebration with all our hearts – not wanting and wishing and hoping for gifts for ourselves
  • we can turn our energies toward others for the entire time between Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • we find peace in being able to serve others without feeling the stress that used to accompany our Christmas season

Why do we do this? To separate gifts and gift giving from our Christmas celebration.

Several years ago my husband and I were in a debate with our consciences. Our children were toddlers (and some weren’t even born yet!) so they didn’t grasp much about the holidays. He and I had quite different experiences as children during the holidays. When we married, we were determined to establish our own family traditions – a mix of all the good we had as children.

But, each year we became and more and more frustrated that we hadn’t found what worked for us yet. Trying to emphasize the celebration of the Christ child’s birth and a servant’s spirit while being surrounded by the consumerism imposed by our culture was leaving us dumbfounded.

Our 10th year of matrimony was a turning point for us. With the birth of our third child on the horizon and our eldest daughter able to form lasting memories we knew we had to “find our own way” and fast.

It was then that I read an article in a Focus on the Family magazine about celebrating Christmas at Thanksgiving. As I devoured the words from the booklet I held in my hands, a distinct peace encompassed me. This was it. This was the answer. The solution to our dilemma. The mother writing the article spoke of how simply giving gifts at Thanksgiving instead of at Christmas changed the lives of her family and I immediately wanted it to change ours, too!

We now teach our children that we are thankful for the people in our lives and that is why we select gifts that expresses the thankfulness we feel in our hearts toward them. We start off our Thanksgiving month with festive Fall decor and our Thankful Tree.

When Thanksgiving Day arrives, not only do we give thanks for all the traditional reasons for the holiday, but we also incorporate one another in a special way. It is on Thanksgiving Day that we show our appreciation by exchanging gifts from our heart – an outpouring of what the people in our lives mean to us. It flows quite naturally.

This allows our children all the excitement of opening presents and the wonder of what is behind the pretty wrappers. And, it kicks off our celebration of others. While we are in a super-sized giving state of mind, we plan what we will do for others over the next month. Just like so many of you do, we celebrate our Savior’s birth as He lived His life – by giving of our lives to show His love.

Many of you reading this article may be thinking to yourselves that Christmas as you know it works just fine for your family. You may be able to get everything done with a cheerful spirit without any modifications. If this is you, I invite you to consider this alternate way of exchanging gifts as an experiment. Your family might like it so much you may spark a new tradition!

From my family to yours, may you all have a blessed, peaceful Christmas, no matter when you exchange your gifts.

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  1. I love this idea! We have a 3 year old and have been thinking through everything you mentioned… we decided to make birthdays a really big deal and only give one present on Christmas to keep the focus on Christ’s birthday but I like this idea so much more! Thank you for sharing!!!

  2. I am trying to convince my husband to do our gift exchange at the Epiphany, a traditional day of gift giving in many countries and a beautiful feastday of Christ as well. Somewhere in the muddle, we have lost the whole twelve days of Christmas…many people think it’s the twelve days before Christmas! I love the idea of spreading the celebration out to celebrate the richness of the feast and have time for family, friends and gifts. I do want my children to connect Christmas with gifts since we remember the ultimate gift we received during this season, but I don’t want it to be the focal point.

  3. this idea is fascinating and one i’d never considered. glad you found a way of celebrating that works for your family and honors your values and beliefs.

  4. How interesting! I would like to try the idea but I don’t know if my husband would be on board. Also, I would assume others would have to onboard in the entire family, really. Extended and immediate. I think it would work much better for your American thanksgiving though…ours is in the beginning of October! 🙂

    1. @Nola, Yes, here there are only about 4 weeks between Christmas and Thanksgiving, so that does link them a bit more. Read below my response to Laura about others in the family being on board. I’m sure it would be nice, but it is not a necessity. 🙂

  5. I love hearing about different families and different ways of keeping Christ as the focus at Christmas! I certainly can’t say that we have it all figured out yet, but I am certainly working on it. I don’t think this plan would work with our family (too many extended family traditions, etc.), but I really like the idea. I like your focus of gift giving being an expression of our thankfulness for others. I think that is something I would like to use. 🙂 Thank you so much for the beautiful post!

  6. I love the concept… but I dont think my non Christian family would a) go for it b) understand at all…that being said, I am going to mention it to my DH anyway… thanks for the challenge 🙂

    1. @Jessica, Prayers for you as you discuss these ideas with your husband. You are a wise woman to seek his counsel. Sometimes we have to make choices that fly in the face of our family and friends, and other times, we have to choose our battles. This particular idea is not for every family, but I hope you and your husband will find some that are perfect for yours. Some that line up with YOUR morals and values. I can tell you’re already taking a good attitude – looking at the thought of change as a challenge. Way to go!

      On a side note, before I read the article and we finalized our family plan for the holidays, my husband and I already talked to the children (yes, they were very young) about consumerism. These discussions were a wonderful passageway into our decisions regarding Christmas. Perhaps that’s an approach that might be helpful with your non Christian family.

      I’d love to know what you all decide!

  7. I love this! What a great way to celebrate and teach children about giving! I love the way to think differently and go against the grain. I would think it would also give your family more ways to share Jesus with others when other people see how differently you celebrate your holidays.

  8. Great idea!! In our family we do gift-giving on St. Nicholas Day, which is Dec. 6th. We only use our stockings (in traditional St. Nicholas Day you’d leave your shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill with treats!), and our gifts go in them. They hold a mixture of candy/oranges as well as a couple of actual “gifts” to one another. It allows us to have a fun day of gift-giving and then on the 25th of Dec. we can focus on Christ’s birth. Being a Canadian, and having a much earlier thanksgiving, this date works for us! 🙂

  9. We actually decided not to do gifts this year (other than a few practical stocking stuffer type things) and have asked family not to buy gifts for our family. As a family, we found ways to give to those in true “need” (we bought chickens, goats, medical care, school supplies, mosquito nets, etc through Compassion Canada), rather than focusing on “wants”.

    I want my children to learn from a young age what Christmas truly means! Thank-you for sharing this encouraging post!

    1. @Kris, I love it! We enjoy giving cows and goats and the like via Heifer international here. What a wonderful way to show the Lord’s love – all the way across the world! Good for you!

  10. I’ve been talking about this with my husband and we like the idea – but can I ask – what do you do with gifts from extended family/grandparents/etc.? Do you still exchange gifts with the on Christmas Day? And then don’t the kids just look forward to gifts from them instead of anticipating Christ? I would love to know more details of how this works.

    1. @Laura Stiller, Ahhhhh, the Achilles heel. Unfortunately, our extended family does not “buy into” the way we celebrate. (no pun intended) :}

      We have been very clear about how and why we do things differently, but not all of them are so accepting of our choices. We have realized that we cannot change their viewpoints anymore than they can change ours. So….we do have this concern. We have elected to share gifts with them at Thanksgiving if we are together then and at Christmas if we don’t see them prior. What we have witnessed happening in our children is that their immersion in our home has already made them begin thinking differently about commercialization and consumerism. They are more ready to focus on Christ and less on themselves.

      They DO look forward to receiving gifts (as any child does regarding gifts received at anytime) BUT they are with us every day before and every day after December 25th. They witness and participate in the focus we set within our home. I can say that even though I can’t limit gifts from others, I can shape the values of my children by the choices made within my home.

      In conclusion, Laura, it is not always easy. It is, however, worth it…to us. We see such a difference from the “gimme” attitude to a “what can I give” mentality.

      I hope this reply is helpful to you as you and your husband navigate the waters of the holidays. I pray you will both come to a mutual agreement that works well for your immediate AND extended family. Many blessings to you on this quest!

      1. @Sherrie,

        Thank you for that reply – it was very encouraging and a great reminder that I have every day to shape my kids and that that won’t go unnoticed for one day of gifts! I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog more and more every day. Thank you for writing.

      2. @Sherrie, I like that response too. I think it applies to many things in life. That one incident or a few incidents that are presented to our kids doesn’t shape them entirely- its the overall flavour of our household that shapes them most.

  11. I think this is a wonderful idea, thank you for sharing it! We no longer celebrate christmas because we’ve chosen to celebrate Christ’s birth around the time it actually happened, and I have a problem with how the focus of christmas is on gifts and spending no matter what people say. This is a lovely way to keep the focus on something more important and still be able to show the ones you love that you are thankful for them. I had been trying to find a time to still do a few presents with my daughter, and this works out perfectly! 🙂

  12. Nice! I really enjoyed the information you provided hear. I’m sure I will be looking forward to applying it to great uses this Thanksgiving Day. I’ll be sure to pass this post on to others. Thanks you so much, I enjoyed this so much.. 😉

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