How to Keep the Element of Surprise in Holiday Gifts for Older Kids

I love surprises. I’m the type of person who can put an early gift someone sends me aside and wait until my birthday or the actual holiday comes around. That anticipation, wonder, and—finally!—the thrill of when it’s time to open the box to see what’s inside are all part of the celebration for me. This is why I make a point to put in a bit more effort to keep the holiday gift-giving exciting, even though my own kids are now old enough to ask for exactly what they want. Here’s how I keep the element of surprise alive.

Wish List Sneakiness

Our extended family is peppered throughout a handful of states, so it’s easier for grandparents, aunts and uncles to shop for my kids if we put together a wish list for them to select from. Both kids sit down and put items big and small on the list (HOLY MACARONI AND CHEESE is it nice to have them old enough to plug it all in on their own now), then I log them out, change the password (very important, so they can’t peek in later), and make some tweaks. Just passing along that list with everything the kids know they added lacks that element of surprise I love so much, so I get to work on adding some flair.

Most online wish lists allow for comments with each item. Not only do I say which kid the item is for, I’ll give additional ideas to the shopper for other stuff that relates to it so they can personalize their gift. For example, when my daughter asked for a ten-layer cake baking pan set, I put in the notes that it’d be fun to include things like cake mix, food coloring and sprinkles. This way, the main gift is exactly as the kid wants, but they won’t expect the other goodies that show up with it. BOOM: cue the surprised faces!

Note to Self

Another thing I do is keep an ongoing note to myself on my phone that I update with things my kids seem interested in throughout the year. If my son raves about a video game he played while at a friend’s house, I’ll casually ask the name and pop it into my note. If my daughter swoons over funky sneakers she sees in a shop as we pass through, I’ll stealthily snap a pic with my phone to look them up later. If either of them can’t stop reading a particular book, I’ll save the author’s name to check out their other work (because books make great gifts). Since our family celebrates Christmas, I add an event in my calendar in early November with a reminder to check my note and start shopping or add them to the family’s wish list. This makes sure I not only don’t procrastinate on this very important task, but I have a list of ideas at the ready to get me going right on time!

Friendly Neighbors & Hiding Spots

Finally, what a kid can’t see is always a surprise to them. This is why I’ll have some of my shopping sent to a neighbor’s house—and theirs to mine. Some companies ship bigger items without packaging that hides what’s inside, so this takes care of that problem, too. Also, my kids know that leading up to the holidays we regularly get deliveries here that don’t belong to us, so they don’t go sniffing around the boxes. What they don’t realize is that I’ve been receiving, wrapping and hiding presents under their noses the whole time. We have enough luggage for a family of four to travel together. When I need to keep presents away from prying eyes, I simply zip them into an unused suitcase. Not only do the kids not suspect a thing (seriously, I leave them in the same spot they’re always in and no one has ever checked), packing them into rolling bags with handles makes it easy to transport it all to under the tree Christmas Eve. 

These little things I do don’t take up too much extra time or energy, and it makes my holiday gift-giving all the more special each year. The looks on my kids’ faces when they discover they received the unexpected—and very much wanted—makes it totally worth it. 

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