During Advent, many people despair over the commercialism of Christmas. But long before television began blasting news of pre-Christmas sales, people have given gifts to each other at Christmas time. We love to give gifts. We love to be surprised and to surprise. Perhaps gift giving at Christmas persists not because of commercialism but in spite of it. Gift-giving can be a joy-filled experience that reflects Christianity, not commodity.

Preschoolers will naturally be anticipating the joys of receiving gifts at this time of year, but they are equally capable of finding joy in giving gifts. This Advent, help little ones to become the gift-givers.

Start with a Story

St. Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6th, is beloved for his gift-giving. The element of surprise is part of his legacy too. Tell children about St. Nicholas and his gift-giving ways, as well as his other attributes. For a wealth of stories, see www.stnicholascenter.org. You will most likely be inspired to create a St. Nicholas celebration once you have found this website!

The rest of Advent can be spent helping children become gift-givers in the spirit of Saint Nicholas. Remind them of Nicholas’ secret ways of surprising people. Then provide ideas and materials. You will find you have also provided the joy of giving!

Ideas and Materials

The following is a list of ideas of gifts young children can give to surprise someone. The materials you will need to provide are listed. The preparations range from simple to involved.


  • Sneak into the kitchen early in the morning and put the spoons and cereal on the table.


  • Make a gift-certificate for five kisses and hugs. Save it till Christmas and give it to someone you love.

Provide: paper, markers, stickers


  • If your family members leave their shoes near the door, line them up neatly when no one is watching.


  • Make a paper chain to give to someone for a Christmas tree decoration.

Provide: construction paper cut into strips, and tape.


  • Draw a picture of the Nativity and give it to someone on Christmas Eve.

Provide: drawing paper, pencils, markers


  • Give someone a nativity set.

Provide: wooden figures cut with a jigsaw which can look like figures from the nativity story, markers, paint, and shoe boxes for stables.


  • Make ‘bags of gold’ and with an adult, secretly leave these gifts for siblings, neighbors, relatives, etc. as St. Nicholas did.

Provide: yellow tissue paper, yellow ribbon, candy or cookie treats.

How to: Cut the tissue paper into 12” squares; place treats in the center of the tissue paper; gather the paper into a ‘bag’ and tie with ribbon.


  • Feed the birds.


Provide pine cones, bird seed, peanut butter, table knives, sandwich bags, a plate for the bird seed, and a wash cloth.

How to: Help children slather peanut butter onto pinecones with the table knives, then roll in birdseed; place in sandwich bags to take home; wash hands.


  • At home, if you have a pet, give it fresh water without being asked to do so. Only your pet will know this secret!


  • See if you have any treasures in your closet, toy box, etc. that someone in your family would like, such as a small toy, a colorful pen, or a hair barrette. Put it into that person’s shoe and hide and watch for him or her to find it.

Check out Anne's website at www.anneneuberger.com.