Baby's first Christmas
So your little one doesn't really know what's going on but you still want to make it special…. Andrea Mara suggests how to mark Yuletide for small children
You have a small child who knows little or nothing of Santa, and you're adamant that you're not going to go over the top - it makes no sense to have a roomful of presents on Christmas morning for a baby or toddler who is too young to be focused on anything but their next meal. And yet, you still want to do something special to mark the occasion. And perhaps in years to come, when your child asks what Santa brought that first year or two, you don't want the answer to be: "Um… nothing."
So what to do - how do you celebrate Christmas for small children, without losing the plot?
The good thing is, there are no rules. You can do as much or as little as you like - go full-blown elf outfits and full-on Santa presents, or give one small gift to mark the occasion.
But if you are torn between an instinctive wish to do something, and guilt over splashing out on someone too young to know what's going on, there are lots of small things you can do to celebrate.
Many families have a tradition of buying a new decoration each year, so why not include your newest member?
"I always treat the tree to a 'nice' decoration every year, so it's kind of a tradition already," says Emma, mum to a nine-month-old. "This year, I'll get one for Issy. It can be her tradition thereafter. So long as I can veto any bad choices!"
If you'd like Santa to leave toys under the tree, but you're worried that the concept will be lost on your small child, why not ask him for educational toys - you can feel virtuous about your choice, and your baby will definitely get use out of them when she's a little older.
Sinéad, a mum-of-three, agrees. "Definitely future-proof gifts; my three-month-old got a push-along walker, which he obviously didn't need much then, but he got plenty of use from it over subsequent years."
A Christmas stocking
This is a gift that will be used year after year, and there are some lovely personalised options available, particularly at Christmas markets. "Personalised stockings are a big thing for me," says mum-of-three, Naomi. "I had mine from when I was 10 - it was knitted for me, with my name on it. So that was the first thing I got my daughter, Caer, but the shop only had big ones left so hers is enormous!"
There are many charities through which you can buy Christmas gifts for those in need, like animals, trees, educational sponsorship, and water sanitation kits. Try Bóthar, Concern or Oxfam.
Babies are never too young for books - reading can start from early infancy. A Christmas book is a lovely gift that can be taken out with the decorations year after year.
"When my eldest was a baby, my aunt gave her a bear who reads The Night Before Christmas," says mum-of-three, Áine. "When we take it out each year, the kids get so excited - it's become a real cornerstone of Christmas for us."
A Christmas Day outfit
There's no guilt attached to this one - your baby needs to wear something on Christmas Day anyway, so perhaps Santa could leave a new outfit under the tree.
"My eldest daughter was just three days old for her first Christmas, so I bought a little going home outfit that she wore on Christmas Day too," says mum-of-three, Lucy.
A personalised memento
A snow globe with a photo of your baby, a hand-print ornament, or a personalised tree decoration are all small, simple ways of marking that first Christmas, plus you have a souvenir for years to come.
"We bought little Christmas tree decorations with photo frames, and put photos of the kids in them," says mum-of-three, Emily. "Every year when we take the tree down, we laugh at how small the kids were the year before."
A Christmas 'experience'
It doesn't have to be all about gifts, especially if it's a first Christmas. "My girls were only eight months old, so hadn't a notion," says mum of twins, Sadhbh.
"I remember lying them down under the Christmas tree to look at the lights and pull at the decorations, which they loved, and we bought a jar of chocolate dessert baby food for a treat after their Christmas dinner."
A day out
Your baby may be too young to appreciate a visit to Santa but a day out to see Christmas lights, the live manager (in Dublin's Mansion House) or to visit a Christmas market will feel very festive and could be the start of a yearly ritual.
"I like the idea of setting traditions," says mum-of-one, Beth. "I think we'll have a day in town to see the lights, followed by a lovely festive lunch - of course!"
Do's and Don'ts
Do celebrate Christmas with gifts if that's what you'd like to do - don't feel that just because your child is young, you shouldn't do something to mark the occasion.
Do take photos - when your child wants to know about her first Christmas in years to come, you'll have lovely photographic evidence.
Do take the opportunity to pick and choose from rituals you and your partner had growing up, and come up with some of your own too.
Do remember that relatives may buy lots of (noisy) toys for your child, so perhaps consider some non-toy options from Santa - he can bring babygros, vests, bibs and teethers too.
Do make sure that Santa takes toys out of boxes, untangles wires and inserts batteries - it makes Christmas morning go more smoothly.
Don't spend a fortune - unless you really want to. Your small child doesn't need lots and lots of presents, so only buy them if you want to - not because you feel you have to.
Don't worry - there are no rules! Do what feels right for your family, enjoy establishing traditions, and know that with small kids, Christmas just gets better and better - it's the gift that keeps on giving.