Holiday Gift Overload
Berkeley Parents Network >
Holidays and Special Events >
Christmas and Gift Giving >
Holiday Gift Overload
My specific question is, how do you tactfully, politely,
graciously tell your friends that you don't want to do the big
give/receive present thing this holiday tide?? Please no advice
on making your own gifts or any gift substitutes (donations,
offers of service, etc) - I really mean that we want out, but
without offending our pals....we could all use the money we
spend on gifts to pay our own bills - there must be a nice way
to say this? anyone?
stop spending on me I'll stop spending on you....
This is a tough one. We have much-loved friends who decided to include us in their
small holiday gift-giving circle. It just freaked me out. I didn't have the money, time or
interest in getting another five people gifts--people who already had enough stuff, as
did I. I was able to suggest a secret Santa, so I only had to buy one instead. This
worked as we had a gift-giving date each year. Now the emphasis is more on the meal
we eat together and less on the gifting. My husband's family also bought into this
method, thank goodness.
Not ungenerous, just not into so many gifts
I actually opted out of the craziness years ago as well. I was
lucky and could pull the Jewish card, but for my husband's side
of the family we just simply said we would rather everyone get
together and cook dinner than everyone run around spending money
on each other. I don't think you need to sugar coat it in
anyway, if this is your new perspective your family and friends
should respect it. I love not being apart of the madness! Good
We, too went through this and we all agreed as a family (aunts,
uncles, brothers, parents, etc.) to not exchange gifts. It
went like this, ''Hey, since we are always asking each other
what they want for ____(fill in the holiday), what do you say
that we agree on a no-gifts policy?'' Everyone was delighted.
Kids usually are exempt.
Not a Grinch
I would just tell people ahead of time ''We've enjoyed our gift
exchanges in the past, but this year we are cutting back on
consumption and prefer to not exchange gifts'' or ''...plan to not
Dear stop spending on me I'll stop spending on you...
In direct answer to your question, if I wanted to reset
expectations, I'd insert into conversations with family/friends
something like, ''This economy really has us concerned, holiday
gift giving is going to be quite limited this year, likely to
immediate family only. Are you feeling the pinch too?'' But
since when is gift giving a tit-for-tat occasion? We are
completely comfortable setting my family's budget for gifts and
sticking to it, regardless of what others give to us. My
brother's family ALWAYS spends more on gifts to us than we do,
and they have slightly less income and live moderately like we
do. Interestingly, they are the ones asking for ''draw a name''
gift-giving to reduce the number of gifts and overall spending
whereas we still find joy in shopping for everybody since it
doesn't break our bank. My suggestion is simply to set your own
guidelines, feel confident in your choice, and abide by it. If
that means smaller gifts, or no gifts, so be it. There's no
reason to feel like you have to ''keep up with the Jones''' and no
reason you have to give a return gift to everyone who gifts you.
happy gifter and receiver
You're doing the right thing by addressing the issue now, instead
of in December. It's awkward to make an announcement that you
are not doing gifts when someone might have already made the
effort to get your family a gift.
Here is what I did a few years ago. I sent emails (or in some
cases made phone calls or had personal conversations) saying that
I wanted to simplify our family life and concentrate on the other
aspects of the holidays, such as gathering with friends and
family. I suggested that we stop gift-giving, or in some cases,
only exchange gifts for our children. I put the message in a
positive light, and didn't make negative comments about people's
I received a warm response, and almost everyone was relieved that
I had brought it up. No one seemed disappointed. Go for it!
I am looking for advice on how to be tactful in addressing
Christmas giving in my family. This year my husband and I had a
baby and I have decided to stay home with her for the time being.
Understandably, finances are tight. My idea for Christmas is to
give a small donation to a charity for each family member (6
total in both of our families). Not only will this be easier on
the wallet, but we believe it is a wonderful way to celebrate the
season of giving. We would like to ask the same from our
families (small donations for my husband and I in lieu of
presents). I'm not sure the idea will go over well with
everyone. I don't want to ask family members to only give
donations to other family members, just my husband and I. How do
we tactfully address this situation without sounding ungrateful,
etc. We are blessed to have wonderful families and don't want to
ruffle any feathers.
Are you ready to give to a charitable organization that someone
really wants? How about if it's a charity that really makes your
skin crawl? Please consider whether this sort of gift giving is
about making you feel good and not your recipient. How about
unique hand made items?
--not a fan of charities
It is not polite to tell people what you'd like them to give
you unless they ask. So you should not tell your relatives
that you'd prefer a charitable donation. Maybe they will ask
what you'd like and then you can tell them.
As for giving donations in lieu of gifts ...
When I have gotten notifications
about charity donations made in my name, I have felt like I was being
preached to. It feels like it's the gifter's thing, and not about me.
I would rather have
something that was picked out for me, even if it is
cheap or no-cost, like a comic book, or a mix tape, or a bag
of cookies. The idea
of giving a gift is that you want to bring some joy to the
person you are giving it to.
I think everyone should give
to charities, and I do myself, especially at this time of year.
But turning that in to a gift to another person is not really
what gift-giving is about. Furthermore, it could be seen as
a self-serving announcement about yourself
to your friends & family. If your family all agree on a
charity, and that this is a good idea,
fine, but otherwise you should put the focus on the person
who will be receiving the gift.
I have a family member who suggested this to us, and it sparked
an interesting debate in our household about what a gift is and
whose perogative it is to choose what the gift entails.......
Though I think its very commendable to want to make a financial
gift to charity in leui of a physical gift, I also think that a
gift is something chosen and given by the gift-giver - and as
such it is not the place of the gift receiver to dictate what
that gift might be.....
I was the receiver of a 'wholesome' gift and that was fine, I
respect the choice of my family member, but I wouldn't want to
have that same family member dictate to me what I might or might
not give to them. Btw - we are not a big gift giving family as a
general rule, so its not like I am hanging out for the big
presents - but finding the perfect little thing that I know will
bring a smile to the face of someone I love gives me great joy!
So sure - go ahead and discuss your feelings with you family and
give what feels right for you, but in return respect the wishes
of your family to maintain their traditions, and allow them the
pleasure of choosing!
a little gift giving can be fun!
Here's what I would recommend: do your donation (you can make a
nice personalized announcement to hand to each relative), plus
give everyone in your family framed pictures of your darling new
baby (frames are cheap at Longs, Ross, etc). Don't try to dictate
what your family should give. Most of the focus will be on your
child anyway--people will be happy and excited to shower the new
little one with presents, so don't rain on their parade.
Gift-giving should not be a tit-for-tat exchange: it is giving
what you can, with love.
How about just telling them what you told us? You wrote it quite
your reason, and even express hope that you won't ruffle feathers. I
that they give donations in YOUR names, however. They may come to that
on their own if you just tell them you don't want gifts.
I honestly think it is rude to tell/ask people what to get for
you. If you really think your family/friends will appreciate a
donation made in their name, then give them that. If they want to
give you a sweater, they can.
I think that if you have a family history of asking each other
what you want, then you can speak up. If not, it comes off as a
little crass telling people what you want for the holidays... and
as far as giving donations in someone else's name or honor, well,
all I can think of is the Human Fund from Seinfeld.
You also could float the idea to family members before the
holidays and see what they think. A good gift idea for those who
have everything, is something homemade and edible: dry soup mix
in a jar with instructions; cookie mix, just add milk, eggs,
water, in a jar; melt down a bar of chocolate, toss in a few
cardamom seeds, let it harden on some wax paper, break apart, and
viola, you're a genius confectioner; the ideas go on and on...
I understand your desire, but man... I sure wouldn't want to be
the recipient of a donation made in my name.
Just my two cents...
While i agree with your thinking and the choice you are making
to donate to charities in lieu of gifts i don't think it's
appropriate for you to request others do the same for you. You
really should never say anything about gifts to you unless
someone asks.it's just really rude otherwise. But go ahead with
the plan you have for other's gifts!
It sounds like you both come from great families so my guess is
that they will be understanding of your decision to simplify the
gift giving. I think if you explain that you are wanting to
donate to charity and also keep things financially doable since
you are staying home, I cannot imagine annoying objecting to
that! I've seen people requesting charity donations for wedding
gifts, baby shower gifts...all sorts of things.
My husband and I both come from very large families (stepparents
and step siblings, etc.) so Christmas was becoming very expensive
We approached one side of the family (who we knew would be open
to it) with the following plan:
Everyone draw one name to buy something special for, and keep it
secret all year. Then you need to only buy ONE gift for ONE
person and you can get something more meaningful.
Everyone also donates 20.00 to a charity that one family member
choses each year (we take turns being the charity choser.) It's
not much per person, but multiplied times all of us, it adds up
to a good amount.
We also came up with the idea that we still buy gifts for the
kids, which are inexpensive, and fun to shop for...and let's face
it, that's who they holiday is mostly for, anyway!
I feel the same way as you - we have a wonderful, generous family
who likes to go over the top. This year we are trying something
new. We are adopting a family for the holidays and each family
is responsible for purchasing the items for designated members of
the ''adopted'' family. We are going to go in on the costs for
food items. Good luck!
I have a Dear Abbey situation and am looking for the proper
response that will minimize hurt feelings. I have a long time
friend of the family who sends gifts to me and my children
nearly every holiday. She will send a big box full of wrapped
items such as markers, stampers, playing cards, candy, stuffed
animals, candles, soaps, etc. It's not that we are ungrateful
for all the wonderful things, it's just that it seems so
excessive. She is frequently in and out of employment, so
sometimes she will call to say that a package will be late
because she doesn't have enough money for shipping (everything
comes UPS).The situation is a bit complicated because she was
in love with my brother who died and has known me and my family
for at least 20 years. Her own mother died, she and her sister
are not on speaking terms, and her sister forbids her two
neices from speaking with her either. So, I know that she
enjoys giving my children huge Easter baskets, etc.for lack of
other family.This past year she blew up at my husband on the
phone, ranting as if we were purposefully being a burden to her
over some delayed package. My husband told her please, that the
kids had enough things and not to worry. I thought the gift
giving would taper down because she just got married. Instead,
we got all the usual plus some really expensive gift cards for
Christmas! Help! My friend is not very emotionally stable and
is on and off medication for manic depression. I don't know the
right time or words (in a letter or on the phone?) to tell her
that we really appreciate all the gifts but that they aren't
necessary. She has a history of flying off the handle and
alienating other friends over much less. Or do I just continue
to accept all the packages? Is it o.k. to just reciprocate with
cards on the holidays and one birthday gift per year? Somehow,
I feel that I must reciprocate with gifts in turn,especially
with such big gift cards. We always send thank you's, with
children drawing pictures, etc. but I really don't want any
more packages. Help!
I am sending a message from the other side -- I am someone who gives
gifts to family members without receiving any in return.
I wondered occasionally if this felt like a burden to my family members
-- it was fun for me to get or make the gifts and send them, but I
didn't want them to feel obliged. It was really about the pleasure I
derived from sending the gifts and thinking they might get a kick out of
some of them. And I live far away, so I wanted to have a way to touch
them. I do not feel sad or resentful that they don't send gifts -- it
is their decision as to whether this is something they can afford or
want to do. But I didn't want them to feel obligation. This Christmas
my brother separated from his wife and he and his young son moved out of
their house. He wrote to tell me that my Christmas gift (a Cal mug...)
was the only wrapped present he received this Christmas. So I was glad
that I kept up the habit.
It sounds as if your friend has a deep-seated need to give in order to
affirm connection. It is unfortunate that she is unstable and develops
resentment about the cost of sending, etc -- I think it is right in that
case to tell her that you don't want her to overextend herself on your
behalf, that you are happy whenever you hear from her, gifts or no. But
I would think about just continuing to accept the gifts and continue to
teach your children to express gratitude. That is your gift to her.
I would suggest you possibly invite your friend over (better face to
face, if possible) and make it clear to your friend in a very loving way
that she does not need to send gifts to your children as they love her
regardless. That the best gift is her time and her attention. She is
probably sending extravagant gifts because she is insecure and wants to
ensure that she will be part of you and your families lives given her
relationship and loss in her own family.
We had that problem ... No amount of polite requesting seemed to help.
We finally intervened by actually opening the packages (when the
children were asleep), then determining which ones to keep. We then
donated the unwanted gifts to charity. This way, more children than just
our own could benefit from the well meaning of a generous gift giver.
embarrasment of riches
Awww. Cute problem -- except for the part about getting angry at your
husband. Sounds like you're one of the few people in the world who can
put up with her. I'm not sure there's a way of telling her to stop.
Can you just donate the gifts, say to a shelter?
Halfway through your message, I started thinking ''her friend sounds
really unstable,'' and then sure enough, a few more sentences, and you
say she's bipolar. My mother is mentally ill so I'm very familiar with a
lot of the attempts you're making to manage your friend -- all the
twists and turns and machinations and wondering if it's better to do it
by phone or letter...I've been there, and I can tell you, it doesn't
work. She'll still find a way to get pissed off at you, and she'll still
find a way to send you extravagant gifts, if that's what she wants to
do. If you want to continue this friendship, I would suggest reading up
on people with bipolar disorder and/or talking about this with a
therapist or a support group, maybe something like a codependents
anonymous. If you're not that invested, I would break all contact and be
glad you don't live in the same area. I'm sorry if that sounds callous,
but from what you've written, you're not going to be able to ''solve''
this by being diplomatic. Good luck.
How sad your friend must be to need to do this, she really wants to be
loved. It sounds like she is trying to fill some void in her life by
showering your family with attention. I'd go so far as to say she needs
some therapy, but perhaps that's too hard to deal with. Is there anyway
you can tell her that you care for her, and maybe not even deal with the
gift issue yet? Also, maybe saying that you feel uncomfortable because
you can't afford to reciprocate? (Don't know if that's true.)
You mention, almost in passing, your friend's manic depressive illness.
There's no cure for that, only medications that can help control it. So
if the diagnosis is correct and she's on and off her meds, then her
illness has a lot to do with her extravagant gifts, not to mention her
relationship with her family. With the bipolar person in my life, when
the illness takes over, it is impossible to have a reciprocal
relationship, and even in the best of times her needs tend to dominate.
In deciding how to respond to your friend and what relationship works
for you, do you feel you have enough information about her illness? It
sounds like you care enough to want to stay in her life. In another
post below, responding to the woman with a ''Husband with mental
illness'' I recommend the NAMI East Bay chapter for information and
As the holiday season approaches I find myself in conflict again
with my family over gift-giving. We are all adults over 40 and I
don't think we need to exchange gifts at Christmas any more. My
brother and his wife agree but my two sisters do not and my
parents are on the fence--therein lies the problem.
I personally feel that, after 40 years, I've run out of
interesting and affordable gift ideas for my family. We're on a
tight budget and have two small children to support, plus I have
very little time to devote to Christmas shopping for the
grownups. I'd be happy to make everyone a home-baked goodie and
receive something similar in return but my sisters cling to the
idea that Xmas isn't really special without lots of store-bought
presents. Not to mention that they're very particular about what
they want and even make ''wish lists'' of things to get. I've
suggested we all save the time and effort and just spend the
money on ourselves or our kids but they seem to think I'm a
crazy party-pooping scrooge.
I've also suggested just giving gifts to the kids but they're
resistant to that as well.It's become very dreary and tedious
for me to have to shop for useless trinkets for my family every
year and I'm really starting to dread the holiday season again.
(Not to mention that I'm morally opposed to rampant consumerism
but that's another story.)
Anyway, is there some other way to get out of this vicious
cycle? I've tried to just not bring anything Xmas morning but
then I feel guilty and end up having to shop at the last minute,
which is really not fun. As you can tell this is quite a dilemma.
What if all the siblings and their spouses (and perhaps parents
too if they wish) put their names in a hat and each draws one
person to give a gift to? My big group of sibs has done this for
a uite a while someimtes my mom rigs the name drawing if she
thinks one person is a better match for another, and we also
hint to her about gift ideas so that if the buyer asks her, she
can share some ideas. We set a dollar limit - usually $25 or $50.
And I also think there is nothing wrong with you doing homemade
gifts! What personal effort and thought you are putting in vs.
the ease of grabbing something at a store and slapping down your
credit card. Maybe your sisters whould just buy for each other!
You may just have to decide what is best for you and your family
and stick to your guns regardless of what the others think.
I think baked goods are a fine present. It's inexpensive (and
fun for some people) to bake, most people enjoy eating baked
goodies and you feel like you've given something meaningful.
I understand your feeling like you have to get something at the
last minute.....We celeberate Christmas every year with my
husbands family (I'm Jewish). Although the entire family agreed
years ago that we would only give gifts to the kids, and just do
baked goods for the rest of us, they would all still get gifts
for everyone and I'd be the only one giving only plates of
cookies and breads....I just keep doing my baking and enjoy the
company...no one has complained that I know of.
Your situation is different, but maybe you can set the new way
of doing things if you just do it and keep your head
high...maybe the others that are waivering will follow. Good
luck. I hate this kind of family yuck!
I feel exactly the same way. So for the last year or two, on
agreement, we either cut out, or cut back, on the gifts to the
one sibling who seemed comfortable with that. We still exchanged
gifts between our kids. With the other relatives, I'm just
accepting that they don't want to change things (in which case
one might as well be grateful for those wish lists).
As for what to get the relatives (who don't supply lists), I
think your ideas are good -- baked goods, wine... things that
won't sit around gathering dust. And I figure giving a book I've
really enjoyed reading (and think they might like) is at least
thoughtful, even if they never read it.
Our siblings ganged up on my mother who always went way overboard
and set up a system as follows (yeah, she still cheats). We have
two families who have shared xmas since we were all small
All adults' names (14 of us) go into two pots - each grown-up
picks one name (not spouse) from each family and really goes to
town for those two people.
Kids & your own spouse/ significant other - no holds barred -
So now instead of buying for 13 grown-ups, it's 3 people
(including your partner). In fact my kids are the only
grandchildren for ~7 grandparents so I tell everyone to only give
them something if they find something perfect. This works
because we are all together at Christmas and everyone has a
minimum of two people focussed on them. We don't do this for my
husband's family because they are out of state and scattered.
Our gifts are intended to make them feel included in our lives
(we have the only grandchildren in the family).
The very best argument I have for doing this is that you get to
concentrate your attention on a few people and give them
something very special. Often, the gifts have been amazing - 1
yr subscription to netflix, earthquake kits, skis, shoes, etc.-
things you couldn't buy for 15 people on your list.
The other thing that works is to buy time together - ie a special
event or trip, etc. Often pooling money to do something
unforgettable can stop the package-itis.
For extended family members, we have grab bags (~$10-15/ gift.
These are often silly - gift for male = beer + Joe Namath
pantyhose, for example. In addition, we have cookie exchanges.
I dislike the gift buying ''just because'' & wouldn't go back for
the world! Don't give up - I think it is important to return
because you want to please someone & not due to a sense of
With two small children and the way our economy is, it's a fact that most
everyone is on a tight budget. So, if I were you, I'd stick to my guns. This
Christmas, make home-made goodies, disregard the wish-lists (they
should be wishes anyway, not demands or expectations), get gifts for
the children, and see how it turns out! Your brother and SIL would
probably be thankful for that and may do the same the following year. If
you continue to do this, then everyone else will eventually do it. I tend to
think that birthdays are the time to splurge more on people, esp. since
it's usually only one person at a time. Christmas should really be just for
being together, IMHO.
We do a gift exchange. We set the gift price limit of $20 -
$25. We ask all adult family members if they want to
participate. If so, we draw names. We ususally do this at
Thanksgiving. Even if not everyone is at the same Thanksgiving
Dinner, we know who wants to participate. Someone then makes
sure to give those not attending, the paper with the name of the
individual that was drawn for them. No one knows who picked
who, unless they try to figure it out (that's sometimes fun
too). All kids get something regardless, and each adult is
guaranteed one gift. Saves a lot of time shopping and a lot of
If your family can't agree to give or not give, why not
compromise by drawing names. Our family, which is big, like
yours, enjoys the day without much pressure or hassle. We
simply draw names every Christmas for the following year. One
gift only, and no wish lists! You have all year to happen on
that perfect something (or wait until three days before
Christmas, if that is your habit). We have a moderator (me)
who is the only one who knows the identity of the giver and
receiver, so there is a bit of intrigue. I keep a record of
who gets who and send out a simple reminder card in August or
September. This method has worked great for our family for
about ten years, and counting. The only catch is, you are
supposed to stick to the one-gift-only rule. This means, no
giving gifts to parents (who are also included in the draw) or
a favorite sibling. Save those special gifts for their
birthdays or surprise them with your generosity on some other
day of the year. No one will feel left out. Oh, we also put a
limit on spending, which changes as the years go on. Come up
with an amount that all family members can afford, or stick to
gifts that are not purchased at all. Hand made or found.
Adapting holiday traditions can be a real struggle within
families, as your story indicates. We have a couple of
solutions within our two families, and both have provided some
relief from the rampant consumerism you (and we)try to resist.
In one of our families, we have a lottery among the adults every
year. All of the names are placed in two hats, preferably in
two different homes. One sister on the east coast pulls a name
the 'gifter', and one mother on the west coast, pulls another
name, the 'giftee'.
These two keep the master list, and then call or email everyone
with their assignment. The list is kept secret, theoretically,
everyone knows only to whom they are giving, but there is a lot
of colluding. We are usually pretty specific with our spouses
about what we want the most, and our spouses or sibs find our
gifter and make our wishes known. This works out really well,
because NONE of us really wants stupid clutter, or calendars or
tchotckes, and we end up with one REALLY good present, kitchen
aid mixers, spa days, digital cameras, etc. We all give gifts
to the children, and in a family of our size they end up with a
ridiculous 50+ presents each. Some family members refuse to
abide by the rules and still show up with a tchotke for
everyone, but frankly, I consider this really rude, and would
welcome a consumable like the baked good you mention or maybe a
plant or flowers instead of something I will inevitably throw
In my other family, we tried something new last year which was
brilliant. We read about adopt a family in the newspaper, and
we contacted a social services agency. They matched us with a
needy family of 5, gave us their list of needs and clothing
sizes, and we bought them bedding, cookware, clothing, toys and
books. We did not exchange gifts among ourselves. The
experience of buying basic necessities for a family was
incredibly powerful for me, it really drove home for me how
lucky we are, and that we actually really do not NEED one single
thing, which made it completely okay to not receive any gifts,
and served as commentary during the high pressure holiday
shopping buzz of what was really important, I highly recommend
this adopt a family project, you will feel proud of your gifts,
and it keeps the consumerism in check.
I think this is a wonderful and thoughtful gift, and you don't
have to spend a lot of money.
I agree that it does feel pointless sometimes to continue
giving gifts to adults, and can also feel more like a tiresome
obligation than a joy.
But, your sisters sound attached to the ritual and I doubt
you're going to get out of it.
The good news is that they do most of the work for you by
providing a list of what they want. If I were you, I would just
go online, order the things they want, have them gift-wrapped
if you don't enjoy doing that yourself, and just finish the
duty in as painless a way as possible.
My family has definitely reduced the holiday excesses, and I
must say it makes the holiday season easier. On the other hand,
my husband's family still makes a point of adult exchanges of
gifts, and I have delegated that job to my husband, since it is
his family that values this.
I fall into the ''more is more'' camp when it comes to holiday
gifts, so like your sisters I'd be very grumpy about proposals
to stop giving. But since part of your family is open to the
idea, a compromise is probably in order. Dollar limits or a
homemade-gifts-only rule are fairly common among adult members
of the same family, but feel too restrictive for those who enjoy
One family I know has a tradition that I think is nice, and it
cuts down on the craziness while still allowing everyone to
enjoy giving and receiving an abundance of gifts. Each member
of their family receives as gifts, ''something you want,
something you need, something to wear, and something to read''.
Each item may be as simple as new socks or as elaborate as fancy
electronic gear, and I gather that in my friend's family, the
parents still tend to buy things in all four categories for
their children while the siblings divvy up the giving categories
for each other.
Likes being Santa
I know it's hard when the whole family is not on the same page.
A gift is something YOU choose to give! It's up to YOU to change
your giving to something more affordable/reasonable/heartfelt.
And then you have to deal with the possible backlash. If your
sisters are well-bred, they won't dream of saying, ''All you got
me was these cookies?'' And if you're really committed to this
idea, then you won't worry if they say it behind your back.
I suggest you soften the blow by announcing in advance, ''I'm
giving everyone homemade gifts this year.'' or ''I'm giving
everyone chocolates this year'' or ''Everybody's getting a book
from me this year.'' And then follow through. My guess is, in a
year or two you'll be getting whatever you're giving.
NB: In my family we rotate yearly among food, books, and games,
with a preset spending limit of $25, and you only buy one gift
that would be suitable for anyone. We play a game where you pick
a gift from the table and unwrap it, and anyone can choose yours
or choose a different wrapped one. Everyone ends up with one
THING which is consumable and not expensive. The rest of the
money we would have spent gets donated to charity. The key to
converting my family over was to guilt people about the
needy...worked like a charm and now everyone overwhelmingly
Happy Again at Christmastime
This won't tell you how to stop giving gifts, but how to make it
I give the SAME THING to EVERYONE in my extended family. I come
up with only 1 idea/year. And if I think of it early enough, I
can buy on sale, sometimes one year ahead. And if someone isn't
thrilled one year, there will be another year. It also allows
you to pay more for certain people but buy the same thing.
Animal slippers at about $12 each. Even Grandmother got a pair!
Clocks (inspired by catalog sales)
The year that they all come to my house for Christmas, I found
red plaid PJ's, which made a nice photo.
Plain white T-shirts with each family getting a package of
tie-dye ink and instructions.
Disposable cameras with an album or frame.
Hats, scarfs and/or mittens.
It ends up more inexpensive since you can buy on sale and early.
This year my holiday shopping for extended family is over already
and in December I can concentrate on immediate family gifts.
Friends and neighbors also get the same gift: one year bulbs,
another candy, or cookies, or ornaments.
ENJOY the holidays!!!
I got to this same point with my family. So a couple of years
ago, I started giving gifts to charitable organizations in honor
of my family members. If I know one special to a family
member, I'll donate to that one. If I don't know who they'd
like to support, I make a donation in their name to Heifer
International. You can donate a hive of bees, or a flock of
chicks, a sheep, or even a heifer to a family in need
somewhere around the world. Heifer International does
good work, and it seems really to be in the spirit of the
season giving where the need is great. They will send you
gift announcement cards that you can send on for your
family to open. You can find Heifer International at
www.heifer.org. BTW, the first few years I did this, most of
my family members didn't even mention it (perhaps they
thought I forgot to send a gift?). But last year, I got some
wonderful letters--not just notes--of thanks for these gifts.
We dealt with this same issue in my family by choosing ''Secret
Santas'' (or ''Kris Kringles''). You put everyone's name in a hat
and then each person draws the name of the family member who
he/she'll be getting a gift for that Christmas. We include
brothers, sisters, parents, brothers- & sisters-in-law in the
drawing. The kids still get presents from all of us.
We usually buy gifts for the children only and do the Gift
Exchange GAME for the adults. Basically everyone who wants to
participate brings a gender neutral gift. We have a $40 limit
to make it worthwhile.
1. All gifts go under the tree.
2. We pull numbers from a hat to see who goes first.
3. The first person picks a gift and shows it to the group.
4. The second person either picks a gift OR ''steals'' the first
person's gift, and so on...
5. If your gift is stolen, you can immediately either pick
another gift from the tree or ''steal'' someone else's.
6. You can't immediately ''steal'' your gift back and once a
gift is stolen 2x it's out of the rotation.
This game is so fun and it's hilarious to see some of the
reactions when a gift is stolen. Some only bring one gift per
couple and strategize together for the one gift to bring back
home but most bring two because everyone wants to play. It cuts
down on the adult gift buying, it's a fun event to look forward
to, participation is completely voluntary, no planning and
coordinating names before hand, and you get one decent gift to
It's time for your sisters to realize the true meaning of
Christmas and that the massive amounts of gifts are for the
children. Who needs a ton of extra stuff to store? It's hard
enough to find room for all the toys the kids bring home at
Xmas time! Save the wishlists for Santa a.k.a. Their OWN
Sorry to follow up late, but
along with the good suggestions already posted, I thought you
might like to know what my large family is trying this year. Mom
set a $5 per person limit - at first I was sort of dismayed, but
now it seems like a totally fun game. A $25 limit wouldn't be
meaningful because that is how much we might spend anyway, and
you still might think you were trying to get a ''real gift'' with
$25. The $5 limit makes it clear it is just silly and fun - more
fun by far than no presents, but very different from our usual
pattern. I think everyone is happy to go along with it because
we're all spending extra $$ at Christmas to all travel to my
sister's wedding (and none of us have much extra to spend).
my husband's side of the family has (what i consider) an
extravagant gift exchange for christmas. there are his parents,
his sisters and their husbands, as well as his nieces and
nephews. we all get together on christmas morning and each
person gets multiple presents from each individual family. for
example, my son will get a few things from his grandparents, a
few things ''aunt sue and uncle jim,'' something from ''cousin
jan,'' yet something else from ''cousin todd,'' etc, etc, etc. it
was a little much when the family was small, but now it is
ridiculous. and i almost forgot to mention the stocking stuffer
gifts too! when opening the gifts, i feel like my young kids
are not appeciating each item. they just seem to rip open one
after the other. they even get tired of opening gifts!
i feel like i have no say in this because i am just the daughter-
in-law. i come from a family with a much smaller christmas
budget. i have some ideas like drawing names, or setting
spending limits. has anyone had any experience with HOW to
approach the in-laws without insulting their traditions? is it
ever okay to ask them to just buy one gift and contribute the
excess $ to the kids' college funds?
We had the same issue at my parents' house. I have four siblings
(plus spouses) and each sibling has two or three kids. The amount
of gifts under the tree was embarrassing! We decided to draw
names for the kids (thus, only one gift per kid) and some years we
draw names for the adults and some years simply decide no adult
gifts (except for the grandparents, which often receive one gift
from all of their children). We have three kids, so we draw three
names and buy each child (our children's cousins) ONE gift. This
has worked much better.
My sister's husband's side of the family gives group gifts, where
everyone donates a certain amount of money into a pot, and the
others plan what to buy each person. Again, the idea is that each
person only receives one gift.
Too much of Christmas!
Hi, I've been through this with my in-laws. Long after my side
of the family was drawing names, they were still giving
mountains of gifts. When my son was about 2 he didn't even open
all the presents--just lost interest! If you don't feel
comfortable bringing it up as the daughter-in-law, get your
husband to do it. Or start lobbying the other ''kids'' in the
family. I convinced them to draw names, although the first year
most people ''cheated'' by buying little gifts for people whose
name they hadn't drawn and buying multiple gifts for the person
whose name they had drawn. Then the name drawing worked pretty
well for a couple years. Last year my husband and I made a big
point that we wanted donations to non-profits in our names as
our gifts (I should add that we e-mail a ''wish-list'' before the
holidays). This year I was pleasantly surprised to receive a
letter from my parents-in-law saying they are giving no gifts
this year except to the grandkids because they want to donate
the money to charity instead!! And they were the most
extravagant gift-givers. So hang in there, these patterns can
change. (And in the meantime, I would recommend just taking a
bunch of the gifts you and your kids receive and donating them--
when my kids were little I did this behind their backs, but now
we talk about it--there are usually gifts they don't mind
anon this time...
No, you can't tell your in-laws to contribute money to college
funds rather than buy toys. It's probable that they cherish
their extravagant traditions and would feel very deprived if
they couldn't indulge. (If anyone suggested that my family draw
names, I'd be appalled and sulky. Even though I know it works
well for many. Remember, this really isn't about right or
wrong. Just different.) Of course, it's also possible that
everyone would be relieved that somebody else suggested reining
it in. But you need to have a heart-to-heart with your husband
on this topic before either of you says anything to his parents
and siblings. Does he agree with you? Or would he seriously
miss the Christmas morning chaos? If he agrees there should be
a change, he's the better one to bring it up with his family.
And he's the better one to gauge what type or level of change
will be accepted.
And if nothing changes, that's okay. Focus on teaching your
children to acknowledge and appreciate *every* gift -- whether
it's the first, only, or tenth item they've received on the same
day from the same people.
This really is a hard issue, because family traditions can be
difficult to change. You certainly should try to at least limit
the number of gifts your children receive. I would try to be as
diplomatic as possible, and plead limited space or the fact that
they only play with a few toys anyway, no matter how many they
have. If you can't get your relatives to limit the number of
gifts, you could also suggest practical gifts such as clothing
(or your idea of a contribution to a college fund). If that
doesn't work either you can either put away most of the gifts
after your kids open them, or ask your kids to give some of the
toys away. My mother-in-law has a habit of giving my kids far
too many toys at Christmas. I think this is in part because she
feels bad that she can't see them more often. So, I try to be
sensitive to this and accept the gifts graciously, but then put
them away for sometime later in the year when they will be
appreciated more. Gifts that are simply inappropriate or I know
will never be used are given away (once my kids are older, I
plan to ask them to participate in this process).
If you are feeling more ambitious (or if your initial
suggestions for your own children work and you think more change
might be possible) you could attempt to work a greater change on
the whole gift-giving program. When my mother and step-father
married there were five adult children, numerous spouses and a
few cousins we celebrated with. These adults were quickly
joined by what a number (now 12) little children. So, my
stepfather set up a new exchange program. The adults (other
than the grandparents) pick one name and exchange gifts that
way. Each family gives one gift to each child (so the kids get
more gifts). And each adult/spouse pair can give one gift to
the grandparents. (Grandparents are exempt -- they can give as
many gifts as they like, although they are usually pretty
restrained.) There are ceilings on the amounts that can be
spent on each of those gifts. This has worked very well for us,
especially because each adult has the opportunity to find out
what the one adult he or she is giving a gift to really wants.
So, people get one gift they really want, instead of a number
they don't care about. The kids still get a lot, but not as
many as if there was no plan, and each kid ends up with the same
number of gifts which is very helpful. We also open only one
gift at a time (yes, this takes a long time, but we usually
divide it before/after church on Christmas Eve and some
Christmas morning). Each gift is appreciated, and each giver
thanked before we go on to the next gift. This makes it more
meaningful for us, and also gives us a lot of very pleasant
I too am the daughter-in-law of a large family that spent hours
Xmas day opening gifts. What I really hated about it was not
how expensive it was (there was a $25. limit for all the good it
did!) but how much TIME it took to shop for all these gifts
(even if my husband took care of his family).
Now that my sister-in-law is back to work with 2 kids, she
seconded the ''exchange names'' idea and we've finally moved to
that for our generation (small children are exempted and alas
still get lots of gifts). So raise the issue as one about TIME
and you can hopefully avoid some of the hot emotions people have
about money and presents and Christmas. Good luck.
I was in a very similar situation last Xmas and in combination
with post 9/11 introspection, I proposed that we donate to a
needy family in our area. There is a great website in our area
that listed family social services and shelters. I did the
research and made the suggestion at our annual Thanksgiving
gathering where we pick names for Xmas gift giving.My father-in
law was probably the most resistant but when it was explained
that it was a large family (as is their's) where a set of
grandparents are trying to raise the grandkids,they seemed more
receptive. We were given a list (so touchingly modest) of items
requested by the family (the list included clothing as well as
dolls and balls). At that point, everyone was a convert. Each of
my husband's family member was responsible for a gift for the
recipient family. For our own family, we opted for buying a nice,
not expensive, generic gift for a ''male'' or ''female'' and went
around the room picking out a gift from the generically marked
pile. It worked out very nicely. No one felt deprived or upset
about the deviation in holiday tradition. I'm hoping that a new
tradition has been established and that we can continue it this
year. It will be especially important since the economy is in
such dire straits plus the grandkids all got an important lesson
in community service
Heather in Berkeley
I understand your 'problem'. In my family, we changed our
tradition once boyfriends/husbands got introduced into the
family. We realized we were all spending a lot of money and no
one really got what they wanted. Can your husband 'find out' if
anyone else feels overwhelmed (besides Grandma & Grandpa)? Are
you close to any of your husbands brothers or sisters? Perhaps
they can be an advocate to their parents on changing the
I don't know who wouldn't want to spend less $ and buy less
presents. I advocated the change in our family and prefaced it
by saying 'let's just try it this year and see how it works
out.' Its been 5 years and we love it. Our family decided to
draw names and everyone gets one big item ($100-$200). We also
make lists to help out. On my husband's side of the family, we
decided to spend money on an outing together - like Cirque du
Soleil or 49ers tickets. Both have worked out quite well.
Have your children ever received too few
Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza gifts? If so, what were the
circumstances? Were there any lasting consequences?
Every year, I buy too many Christmas presents for my children. I
overbuy for fear of disappointing them, and because I keep
seesawing back and forth about which kid will feel stinted
compared with the others, and because I perpetually underestimate
the kindness and generosity of friends and relatives. So the
constant in Christmas is excess, followed by a nasty hangover of
moral queasiness and financial stress, not to mention the stuff
itself which instantly mutates into an intractable mess that
devours time and space.
So tell me: if I throw caution to the winds, and buy less, what's
the worst thing that can happen?! Will it?
Sign me: Grinch envy
We do it by focusing on the meaning of the thing. For Chanukah,
it's always been the lights, the food, and the activities at our
synagogue. This year my kid got new shoes as a present. For his
bar mitzvah, it was the tremendous meaning of the thing, his
present was a silver pointer with which to read from the Torah -
and family that came across the country to celebrate with him.
If I were Christian, it would be the decorations, which are so
lovely and fun, and the anticipation of going to midnight mass
or services to hear the wondrous story retold, especially if
staying up that late is unusual. (Sunrise services at Easter
would be a big deal, too.) Wonder, I guess, that's what it would
be about for us. My kid commented the other day that he didn't
understand why people gave all kinds of presents to each other
when it was Jesus' birthday they were supposed to be
celebrating, and Jesus wouldn't have cared about the presents. I
suspect that there is much to the holiday itself whose beauty
and meaning will be uncovered without the stress and frenzy that
is pushed on families.
I'm sure the network will be flooded with responses on this one.
I come from a family where too much is never enough, including
food, presents, drink, etc. My husband's family, on the other
hand, believed in moderation, if not downright aceticism. Once we
married and had a child, these differences raced to the fore.
What I have found, however, is that his family's way is ultimately
much more comfortable, reasonable, and unfraught. We ask our six-
year-old what he wants for Christmas, and he usually comes up with
two or three items. We make sure that one of those comes from us
and one or two from Santa. The rest comes from his grandparents
(only one side; my husband's parents unfortunately passed away),
his aunts and uncles, and the occasional friend. Even this is
more than he can really appreciate. Children (and most people, I
think) quickly become sated and then overwhelmed with gifts. In
your shoes, I would go with the inclination to be very limited and
choosy. Make sure the child gets at least one thing s/he wants
and will treasure (those two things do not necessarily go hand in
hand). Maybe make one or two other smaller purchases. And then
hold yourself back. There will be more than enough presents; I
think its really the ritual and togetherness that makes up the
Hope your holiday was happy!
a former spendthrift
Is there such a thing as too few gifts? The only way to have a
positive impact on the excess we all experience is to actively
and consciously refuse to give in to the pressure of "More is
better". Here are some suggestions. Buy one or two presents
that they really want - no more than that. Teach your children
about being gracious for receiving gifts. Talk to your kids
about excess, and about all the kids who don't get presents.
Then ask them to donate one toy (ideally new and unopened) to
charity. Make your own presents (my favorites are baked goods,
jams, stained glass, and ornaments). Volunteer with your
children to serve food in a soup kitchen, hospital, shelter, or
nursing home. The people who work in these places year round
love to get a break and it feels good to help others.
Rediscover the meaning of the holiday season by visiting your
neighbors (we bring cookies to ours, even ones we rarely talk to
the rest of the year). This is becoming an instution in my
neighborhood - it is really fun.
Good luck and have a happy, wholesome, holiday
Quality not quantity
I have the same problem with excessive gifts. Luckily one of my
children is several years younger than the other (and they are
the same sex), so if I ''overbuy'' for the older child I put it
away for the younger child. I tend to buy books and clothes and
educational toys so usually the difference in storgae time does
not really affect the usefulness of the item. I also shop at used
book stores and second hand toy stores and garage sales
throughout the year for nicer toys that I would never be able to
afford otherwise. I have a large tote that I put things in
throughout the year as I find them starting sometime in the
summer. I try to not buy ''the toy of the year'' or whatever until
the very last thing because kid's change their minds rom August
to December and returning things is more of a pain than buying
them. Also, if a family member wants to give it to them that's
fine and if its not overbudget then that would be the one
''special thing.'' If they send the child a check that's great and
it goes into the bank. If they send the child a present then I
put that under the tree with their name on it.I always have a
couple extra books or something to put an uncle's name or
grandparents name on if they are far away. That way the child has
something tangible to open from Uncle Jack or Aunt Betty Sue. I
put the check in the child's bank account and let the relative
know what ''they'' put under the tree.
This isn't so hard to do with relatives that live far away, but
with many relatives close by who always want to bring a little
something over, its hard to ask for money instead. In that case,
it's helpful if they bring it wrapped and put it under the tree
and I will put away something equivalent for another time.
I also try to limit the total number of gifts per child so that
they are pretty much equal.
Over a period of a couple of three years you will kind of know
who is likely to bring a gift so you can add that to your total
Also, I always ask that my oldest child choose from a few
items I have put away for gifts for other children and for the
''Toys for Tots'' program or similar programs. I hope this helps a
I finally did what I've been saying I would do for years, and
cut way, way back on gift-giving this Hannuka. I bought a few
*small* (not ''big-ticket'') gifts, but not enough for the kids to
open one every night. I didn't even make sure that they got an
equal number of gifts! My kids are 8.5 and 3.5, and the younger
one has few and nonspecific expectations about gifts, while the
older one was old enough for me to talk about there being more
to the holiday and the celebration of it than wallowing in stuff
(besides, with the presents that came from grandparents and aunt
and uncle, she still had quite a decent, if modest, haul). We
talked about other ''gifts'' we could give: the gift of self,
time, willingness to help out, charity, etc., but because of the
squashed time issue this year, I didn't get my act together
enough to follow through on all the good ideas we had come up
with. Bottom line: the kids were fine. The emphasis was on
being together, singing songs, lighting the beautiful menorahs
and appreciating the candles' glow, all of which made it much
better than the greed-fests of my youth. Good luck for next
year--it can be done.
What we do that works really well is buy all those just-in-case
gifts and bring them to all the Christmas parties we go to, but
we keep them in a bag so the kids can't see them! Then if one
child is getting fewer gifts we can run and get one
unobtrusively. (We also bring a few generic adult gifts, in
case those are needed!) After the holidays we usually save them
for birthdays, etc, but you can also return them.
I have a somewhat related question--I have been trying to
reduce materialism related to the holiday, but I found myself
discouraging my children from buying presents and then I felt
like I was squelching their generosity. We do make some gifts,
but my 11 yr old son is not into making presents for his
friends. And they do participate in our name-drawing gift
exchange, but generally they receive much more than they give,
which is fine at their age. They also each used their own money
to make donations this year. I'm not sure how to raise them to
be generous and giving but not super-consumers! Any ideas?
What's wrong with buying less? Maybe just buy one special gift
at Christmas/Holiday? Don't other people give gifts to the
child? And there's always birthdays ... and Valentines,
Halloween and more.
this page was last updated: Dec 3, 2009
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2013 Berkeley Parents Network