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Is Holiday Gift Giving Social Control?

Recently I saw a friend share a post on Facebook. I do not remember the exact wording of the post, but it ultimately argued that people not tell their children that their iPad and extremely expensive gifts are from Santa. The point it made was that that creates the idea in young children’s minds that Santa likes certain kids more than others and puts a massive amount of pressure on parents with fewer means than those able to give their children such expensive gifts. How do you maintain Santa’s existence while also explaining why Katie got an iPad, but Carla only got a sweater?

How does Carla’s parent deal with the act that her child now thinks that she is bad, not as good as her friend, or that Santa just does not like her as much?

The original author of the post I came across argued that those giving their children the expensive gift should not tell them that that specific gift was from Santa. Unfortunately, I feel like this is one of those topics where those it negatively affects will take the time to learn about it and those who feel that it does not affect them won’t.

The holiday season provides a massive amount of social control, from black Friday lines that and ‘deals’ to elf-on-the-shelf to gift giving and receiving. From a young age we are trained how to act upon receiving a gift. Be excited, say thank you, make sure you don’t grimace when you get something you don’t like. As a kid there was no way I would have been able to understand why someone got a gift so extravagant if I did not. I was lucky enough to grow up before the crazy rise of technology and my parents did not allow videogames in our house, so my brother and I knew not to ask. I was lucky in that the sets of rules they had already laid out had made it clear why I did not get certain things, so I was not looking for the comparison there. But what about the kid who is? Is it possible to teach a kid to understand the social strata seen in American society? Should we?

Innately I would argue no. Kids need to be allowed to be kids. But then how do we prevent them from labelling themselves as bad or less than their peers because they got the homemade or hand-me-down gift when their classmate got the brand-new technology? The holidays should not be engraining who is above and below, but in children learning that Santa favors those who are rich, white, and fit the stereotype of person that most closely resembles the one percent in America, we are telling them that if they don’t get the expensive gift they are somehow lesser than. As things are now, the holidays create distinct lines among classes that are not so easily seen the rest of the year.

This does not even attempt to get into the control such gift giving has over parents. Should parents who can’t afford the latest and greatest feel guilty? Absolutely not. So how do we go about explaining the differences to children when we struggle to explain it to other adults? Arguably parents begin to label themselves similarly to children. It is instinctual. You want to be the person to give the best gift, and if you have no means of doing so you feel as though you have let someone down.

So, what do we do? How do we ensure that those who cannot afford the expensive gift don’t label themselves as deviant? How do you make it clear that the norm is NOT a child getting an iPad? And is it enough to stop telling children that their expensive gifts are from Santa?

I honestly don’t have answers for these questions, but would love to hear from anyone that does.


Here are some links to articles around this topic:

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