A Surefire Way to Get Your Kids Excited to Give Gifts to Their Siblings at Christmas

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by Robin

Ask our kids what Christmas traditions they get excited about - they'll both tell you, "Sibling Super Secret Spy Shopping Trip!"  It's one of my absolutely favorite traditions, too.

I'm not sure when we came up with the idea - and the silly name - I think our youngest was about 4 and our oldest 6.  We wanted a way to get them excited about giving at Christmas.  

Getting excited about getting comes so easy to kids, but giving, well...that can take some coaching.

This tradition is quick and seems to reduce the distractions and temptations of finding gifts for themselves, instead of their intended. Which is a perennial danger in every toy store - every single time. No?

This will be our 6th year of enjoying this special evening.  If I'm honest, the idea came from me feeling like taking each kid separately to the store to get a gift for each other was just WAY too many trips to the store.  

Plus, leisurely strolling up and down the aisles was bound to lead to them forgetting why were there - and change to adding more and more to their list.  

Or worse - changing their list after we'd already gotten our shopping done!

Here's how our "Sibling Super Secret Spy Shopping Trip" works:

  • Ed and I each pair up with one of our kids.  
  • The kids have a mission: choose and buy a gift for each other without them knowing what it is.  (Wha..?  You may ask: that sounds a lot like an absolutely normal way to buy gifts for other people.  Thanks for wasting my time.)
  • But wait!  There's more:  Everyone is in the exact same store at the exact same time.  
  • We need to sneak around the store, find a great gift and get through the cash without the other sibling seeing anything!

You guys - it's a blast!  For us all.  And you know, shopping is not my thing (unless I can do it my pyjamas).  We ALL look forward to this night.  We get to look like weirdos creeping around, laugh like maniacs and do things like creating diversions and false trails.

Kids love being secret agents - our daughter's Secret Agent Spy birthday party and our son's Ocean's Eleven Heist party were just the tip of the iceberg.  And c'mon, admit it, you love being a spy too.

Now, our little family, with just two kids, makes this tradition pretty easy, we'll admit.  So we tried to think through some other family scenarios to help our readers out.

What if you have more than 2 kids?

  • If you can find other willing adults to help out - you're golden.  Or maybe a responsible teenager, like the neighbourhood babysitter?  Give them cash to pay for the gift and pair them up with the child who needs the least parental guidance.
  • Drawing names so that each sibling finds a gift for just one could work, too.  (You could "rig" the drawing to ensure the most compatible siblings are buying for each other.)

What if you have one kid?

  • I had to include this one because I was an only child growing up and only children need fun traditions, too!  Heck, after witnessing what a blast my kids have together - just on any given day - I think only children need even more fun planned with them in mind.
  • It could work to do this with a friend, or a cousin.  Or maybe just play the game with the goal of buying for one of their parents, who are also "unsuspecting" in the store.

What if you have a very tight budget?

  • In the early days, this was us too.  We used the night as a learning exercise and gave the kids a guideline of less than $20.  We would say, "look for a number that starts with a 1". (i.e. $1_.00 not over $2_.00) Generally, this works, but sometimes they find something with two more digits after the 1!  We would just bad mouth whatever it is and steer them toward a cheaper better gift.
  • There's fun just in the sneaking around - you can do it at a dollar store and still have a hoot. 
  • Maybe instead of a gift, you give them the mission of searching for a great ornament - or a selection of their favourite candies.

What if they're older?

This activity is part of our annual Countdown to Christmas - our low key, highly fun way to share the excitement of the season - more on that here.

More of Our Christmas Ideas:

There are so many fabulous things to make and do at Christmas! Here are some more of our Holiday Ideas:

And so many fabulous things to cook! Check out some of our Christmas recipe ideas:


  1. My boys are older now, 23, 18, 14, 13, and 11.
    I am thinking this is going to make even them enjoy shopping!

    What do you do if your get "caught"?
    I'm thinking it's a go back to go and start over penalty:). Ideas?

    1. A penalty if you get caught? Hmmmm...you know, Bekki, we've never had it happen. But our kids are younger and maybe easier to distract? That's given me something to think about...
      In the past we've just discouraged them from looking at what they're getting, saying, "Well, if you see what you're getting you miss out on the surprise on Christmas. That would be too bad for you." That worked well enough for us. :)

  2. What a great way to make giving fun!
    We'd add an extra element to it... make a contest out of finding and donating gifts to those who need them! Whether you join the Box Project (http://www.doinggoodtogether.org/bhf/join-the-box-project) or simply find a toy for the Toys for Tots drop-off, add excitement to the shopping by suggesting everyone find "something blue" or "a book with an animal on the cover"... the act of giving is the focus and the "gimmes" are forgotten.

    1. That would take it to a whole other level of giving - nice! :)

  3. When I was young, my sibblings and I gave each other something that belonged to us, that we thought our sibbling would enjoy.


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