Ask an Apostle: Saying ‘no’ to Christmas presents?

Teresa Coda answers your questions this week.
Catholic Voices

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Q: My mother always wants a Christmas list from my daughter, but my wife and I are trying to avoid encouraging consumerism and the idea that our child should ever “want” things. But grandma is insistent she make a list. I also don’t want to rob my mother of this simple joy. How can we best compromise here?

—Listless in Seattle

It sounds like both you and your mom have really good impulses: Your mom would like to give desired gifts, and you and your wife hope to avoid encouraging consumerism. The only problem is that the two impulses conflict with one another.


I have two ideas on ways to compromise. The first is to encourage your mother to ask your daughter for a list instead of asking you to solicit the list on her behalf. This might seem like a negligible distinction, but given your concerns, I think that it makes a difference who requests the list.

As a parent, you resist encouraging your daughter to want things, and for good reason. But most children understand that their grandparents are allowed to do things a little differently than their parents do. Parents push nutrition; grandparents pull out the ice cream for dessert even if the rest of the meal wasn’t touched. Parents discipline when kids talk back; grandparents marvel at how precocious their grandchildren are. Parents tell kids no when they ask for a toy on the end-cap at a grocery store; grandparents indulge. It’s a special relationship. So why not let that specialness apply to Christmas gift-giving as well and let your mom have a cozy chat with your daughter about toys or books that would delight her? You don’t even have to be involved!

The second thought is that you can still integrate the topic of avoiding consumerism into the conversation around Christmas with your daughter. For instance, you might point out that your mom asks for a Christmas list because she finds joy in giving gifts and wants to give thoughtfully chosen items instead of random toys that will be enjoyed for a moment and then cast aside.

The reality is that most children—no matter how their parents do or don’t talk about consumerism and do or don’t allow the creation of wish lists—want” things. If you can encourage your child to carefully consider and joyfully anticipate, you’ll still be acting in opposition to a blindly consumerist culture.

About the author

Teresa Coda

Teresa Coda works in parish faith formation. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two young daughters.

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