Dear Family Holiday Letter: More Presence, Less Presents

Photography: Georgia Russell

By Jessica Rios

This post is a letter (below) that I drafted in response to the growing number of parents who want their kids to have less stuff during the holidays. Yep: Less presents under the tree.

Why? Because we notice that it just doesn’t feel good – kids often feel overwhelmed by all the presents, their attention scattered, and we all end up wondering in one way or another, where all the appreciation and togetherness went. We also wonder about what we’re teaching our children through our holiday behaviors…about what life is really about, and also about our impact on Planet Earth, which is nothing less than our life support system. Hmmm…

Perhaps, dear fellow parents of children on Planet Earth, it’s time for us to shift the focus a bit.

As with e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g I write or say, there is no one right way. Something that’s “right” for my family may not be right for yours, and vice versa. Take what resonates with you and leave the rest.

Please feel free to cut and paste this letter and use it as you choose, with your name on it and edited for your family and vision, to support yourself during the holidays. Letter writing is my lifelong pleasure and it gives me GREAT joy to share it with you.


Dear Family,

​As Christmas approaches, I am being courageous and communicating about something important to me, even though it’s a bit awkward and out of my comfort zone. Being courageous in communicating about things that are important to her is what I’d want my daughter to do – so shouldn’t I model this courage myself?

In giving myself permission to communicate this with you and others who I care deeply about, I ask that you first and foremost keep in mind that: 1) I love you, 2) I value you and all the ways you are generous with our daughter, and 3) this is nothing personal about any one person, including you. It is simply an expression of our family values – something we genuinely believe in – and I trust that you will receive this in a spirit of curiosity, with an open mind and a warm heart.

Here’s what we’ve noticed.

Whenever our daughter receives a lot of presents, she feels overwhelmed. It’s like her nervous system is frayed, and she can’t seem to appreciate or focus on any one thing. It’s as if she would prefer quality time rather than a lot of presents. It’s as if she is – without words – asking us to “step up our game” and show her how meaningful life can be without material excess.

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