Want, need, wear, read: Will the 'four gift rule' take off?

By Bethan Bell
BBC News

  • Published
gift tags

Are the days of rampant spending on children at Christmas coming to an end? A trend which has gained traction over the past few years on social media is the "four gift rule". Parents pledge to give their offspring just four presents: Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

Is this sensible, stingy or merely sanctimonious?

Here's what some parents around England have said.

Image source, Heidi Loughlin

This is the I first time I've heard of the four gift rule and it's actually a great idea. Although it would require all [gift givers] to sign up, it certainly solves some problems in terms of expense.

Personally, I love a guideline, so would enjoy shopping for each item without having to think too much. It would also solve the issue facing Johnny from the Block who wonders why he only gets one present when Tarquin has been bought three cars, a life-size fort built from Lego and the actual child who voices 'George Pig.'

All kids get the same so none think they've been bad. That's assuming kids can't differentiate between Prada and Primark.

This does not stop the deluge of toys that wash in from all other angles though. Does the four gift rule just apply to Santa? In which case it would work perfectly.

If it applies to all Christmas presents, then we'd have a problem in my house. After all, we have three sets of competitive grandparents - that's a heck of a lot of knitted bird jumpers.

Sara Crowe

I've got three teenage kids and we actually did the four gift rule last year. We explained beforehand and it meant we really thought carefully about each gift.

I think children today get too much, so they don't appreciate what they have. Pictures I've seen online of heaps and heaps of presents actually make me feel quite sick as no child needs all of that.

Christmas is a time to celebrate and enjoy yourself, whether you're religious or not. We found the four gift rule helped us all appreciate what we received.

Image source, Cass Bailey

I agree with the sentiment behind the pledge, especially in these financial times, but it's not something I would want to implement in our family.

I work hard to save for Christmas throughout the year and as a parent I look forward to seeing my children's faces when they open their presents.

I can't imagine them only having four presents to open and personally, I think I'd feel sad if that's all they had.

I do make sure we get the best deal possible for everything we buy and I don't go overboard but I don't think the four present rule is for us as a family.

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Chris Frost, blogger of NewDad

First I've heard of this and although it sounds like a good idea, actually putting it into practice will be hard depending on the ages of the child.

Our little one is only 14 months, and so what he "wants" is anyone's guess!

Another factor that would come in to play is the cost of things. If a child really wants a toy that costs £25 is it fair for a sibling to want a games console of £400? As little ones have no concept of money, personally we would feel awkward with such a difference between them which may in later years be seen as having a favourite.

When ours grow up, we'll probably put a monetary limit in place so it's fair all round and they can decide how they wish to spend it.

Image source, Jo Middleton

I would be absolutely rubbish at the four gift rule.

I go big at Christmas and absolutely love buying presents for people. I have about three boxes full of stuff under my bed already. None of it is super expensive or throwaway kind of things, and the kids' stocking always have useful things in too, like pants and socks, but I definitely couldn't limit myself to four things.

If I was a child, I think I'd be pretty disappointed if I only got one present that was something I actually wanted. I know there is the risk when you give a lot of gifts that children don't appreciate the value of them, but that's why you have to be thoughtful about it too. I don't just fill stockings with tat that will get thrown away - I choose things carefully.

I know that for my children, stockings and presents are a big part of Christmas. Not because of the quantity as such, but because of the tradition - we always open stockings together in the morning in bed, even though my daughters are now 14 and 21, and they always have a pile of presents under the tree each that they prod and poke in the run up to the big day.

My daughters have inherited a love of giving presents and both spend their own money every year on presents for other people. This helps them understand the cost behind it too.

I'm definitely in the no camp for the four gift rule.

Lizzie Olley

I haven't heard of this rule but have to say I find it a tad sanctimonious - as I find many of today's what-I-call "competitive parenting" trends.

It's also incredibly smug and I would hazard a guess designed so parents can get all over social media telling everyone how great they are (as per all the stupid breastfeeding selfies/I only feed my child broccoli and unicorn tears/my three-month-old can spell/walk/play the piano) - it's, as usual, nothing to do with their children.

My son is four in January and he will get a few things but they will be what he has chosen to ask Santa for. It is the first year he has really understood what it's all about and he'd be incredibly disappointed to get a jumper and a book and only one thing that he wants.

My daughter on the other hand will be eight months this Christmas - and if experience is anything to go by she'll just want to munch on the wrapping paper anyway, so I have asked people to get her clothes as that is useful when she doesn't have a clue what's going on.

Just like memes around the 'rules' of bedtimes, discipline or routine, the four present rule could certainly make sense in some contexts, but not at all in others.

Do practical gifts, clothing, educational tools count as gifts, for example - especially if it's something the child "needs".

And while a book makes a lovely present, if yours is a household that is filled with reading then there may be no need to follow a prescribed format for when and how to provide books.

There's no single answer.

Vikki Voyce

Image source, Vikki Voyce

This is similar to what we already do.

In our home, Santa brings one gift that they want and fills their stocking. I buy them one main present that they have asked for plus a full outfit, a couple of books and a few small items such as shower gel, pens, colouring items, chocolate.

When my older two were young (they're now 20 and 17) they were spoilt. We spent a fortune on them, on toys that they rarely played with.

With my youngest two (now 12 and nine) we have stuck to what I said. This year we will narrow it down further and stick to the four gift rule.

I have three granddaughters and four children to buy or make for. I have two sons and a granddaughter with Asperger's syndrome so Christmas and birthdays can be hard for them. It's overwhelming and it can take all day to open their presents, so for them, less is better.

I have taught mine that present quantity is not what Christmas is about, and that Christmas Day does not need to be spent unwrapping presents but rather spending quality time together as a family and extended family.

Image source, Karen Malpass
Image caption,
Babies are just as keen on the wrapping paper as the gift itself

Generally I don't like prescribed ways of marking any occasion privately - you celebrate your way, I'll celebrate mine.

I do have sympathy for the reasons behind it though. I'm old enough to remember when you just had one present from any loved one and it didn't mar any enjoyment and I don't particularly like the over-commercialisation of anything.

Since having kids I share many parents' desire to make it a magical time for them.

At the moment they are young enough to be happy with the process of opening presents, the excitement of the season and virtually anything that's inside the wrapping paper - as well as the paper itself and, of course, the proverbial cardboard box.

I do hugely sympathise with the pressure on lower income families with older children though.

The more financially restrained you are, often the more need you feel to be extravagant because of the enforced restriction - which is sad, potentially dangerous and, whilst I often recognise it in myself, I also realise it's just plain silly too. No-one wants their children to be disappointed or have to deal with undue peer pressure.

Can we all get back to the pure joy of giving and receiving, of simply celebrating new life and new hope? I don't know, it would be nice.

And of course that would be the best present of all we could give to our next generation.