Your Toddler’s First “Real” Christmas
My daughter will have just turned 2.5 when Christmas day rolls around (she is exactly 1 year younger than your youngest, Ike!) so I think this is the first year she’ll really understand what’s going on around her. Last year she was thrilled to eat Christmas cookies and get fun new toys, but really didn’t get the bigger picture. She doesn’t know anything about Christmas or what is to come– at this point she doesn’t even know who Santa is.
Basically, my question is: What is the best way to introduce everything to her? My husband and I are very subdued and practical people. While we do celebrate holidays, we tend not to make big deals out of them. We live modestly and certainly within our means. So we don’t want to go overboard with this Christmas stuff, but we also don’t want to be Grinches about the whole thing. We want to be sure she has fun and enjoys the holiday, but we don’t want to start off on the wrong foot with focusing only on presents or overdoing the special events etc.
Do you have any age-appropriate tips to get my daughter excited about and involved in her first real Christmas, without overemphasizing the hectic, crazy, and materialistic parts?
Honestly, there’s really no need to overthink this one, or to suddenly CHANGE ALL THE THINGS about the way you like to celebrate holidays. Keep doing Christmas the way you do Christmas. It sounds just lovely, honestly. Cookies, some pretty decorations, and a couple presents — what’s better than that? At 2.5 years old, she’ll still likely be too young to really remember anything specific about this Christmas, so think of it more as building a gentle foundation of nice fuzzy-but-vague happy-time memories for next year, when she’ll see a Christmas tree and suddenly start talking about cookies or having a fire in the fireplace, so you know she’s starting to connect the dots.
That’s not to say that having a child means NO NEW TRADITIONS or anything. But you can still keep it simple. A new set of Christmas jammies to open on Christmas Eve, followed by a holiday TV special like Olive the Reindeer or Charlie Brown, or just playing some holiday music and reading a special Christmas book at bedtime. She’s probably too little to help with tree decorating, but she can help pick a tree out, either at a lot or a farm. Make it a fun outing, even if the whole purpose of it goes over her head at the time. Bake cookies and let her pour in the chocolate chips or “decorate” some sugar cookies. (They will be the ugliest, messiest, most precious cookies you will see. Take a million pictures!)
We started the Mall Santa Photo tradition right from the very first Christmas, first as kind of a joke (tiny confused bored-looking baby + cheesy Mall Santa = hilarious), and then it sort of…stuck. Now we do it every year and the kids genuinely look forward to it, and I admit I love looking through our collection of goofy photos every year and seeing how much the boys have grown. Some kids are (justifiably) weirded out or scared of Mall Santas, though, so again, don’t feel pressured to drag her to GO SEE SANTA!!! if you’d rather not. Read her books about him instead, if you’d like the Santa story to be part of her Christmas at some point.
My almost 3.5 year old STILL doesn’t know who Santa is, though, if you ask him. He was your daughter’s age last year and was still mostly confused about a lot of what was going on. He loved our Christmas tree, the cookies, and dancing to a musical Charlie Brown tree over and over and over. That was really enough for him. I’m looking forward to this year, just to see what exactly he’ll remember or if it’ll be all new, all over again.
We bought him exactly one present for Christmas morning (besides some trinkets and treats in his stocking), but thanks to friends and relatives his bounty under the tree was still totally ridiculous for a small toddler. So don’t worry about being grinches if you stick to just a small number of presents. Two years old = two presents, plus a stocking is more than enough. Ike got tired of opening gifts last year so I let his older brothers open them for him. Let your daughter take a break as well, or open gifts slowly, one at a time, rather than a big videotaped frenzy where she’s not allowed to play with or even look at one present for very long before you’re egging her on to open the next one. (I admit we’ve done this. Then I watch the video like, “CALM DOWN CRAZY PEOPLE. GIVE THE POOR KID A MINUTE.”)
One final tradition to consider: Taking your daughter to a toy store to buy a toy for Toys for Tots or an Angel Tree every year. Do it this year just because it’s a kind thing to do, and each year she’ll slowly come to understand what you’re doing, and hopefully it will temper the GIFTS GIFTS GIFTS ME ME ME stuff with a little real-world experience in giving without the expectation of getting anything in return.