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Holiday Gift Overload

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Holidays and Special Events > Christmas and Gift Giving > Holiday Gift Overload


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Only grandchild and too many gifts

Jan 2013

My daughter is 3 and she had a terrific time seeing family and friends over the holidays. She is an only grandchild and has many aunts and uncles, and she ended up with lots and lots of new toys and books. Does anyone have any tips on how to handle the receiving end of so much gifting? This might be a temporary issue, as I bet some of our friends and relatives will quit bringing her gifts as she gets older. But in the meantime, how can I help her focus on these people as loved ones rather than the source of presents? Anon


First, she is only 3 and will not notice when you give some of her things away. If you choose to tell her, it is a great way to teach her about giving things to other children that may not be blessed with as much as she has.

Second, it is perfectly fine to asks relatives to give money for college and/or as few gifts as possible.

Last, since everyone else is giving, you don't need to.

What a blessing to have the problem of overabundance. We have the only neice and grandchild as well. Maya


hi, I feel the same way and we just started our first christmas, but I think the relatives want the kid to be overjoyed with the gifts and remember them by the gift that they gave. I was thinking of doing what you are saying about making a list of things he needs and handing it to them, but it didnt work much with the baby shower, they just wanna give something unique, and mostly it's plastic and flashy. My favorite xmas spent was volunteering to serve xmas lunch to an elderly group and another to the homeless, and as the kid grows to bring him along to these things, or giving gifts to the less fortunate, or even giving old toys to the less fortunate is a good way to stay grounded. that's what xmas is about isnt it?. it also came to mind that whenever my mom threw me a party when I was young, we would always go buy party favors, like little toys and put it in bags to give to guests when they leave and that is a pretty gesture of giving not just taking, I saw one of my cousin-in law do that this xmas, she had her kids make crafts and give to all the guests. give and take
I just wanted to empathize! I also have a 3 year old and found it kind of intense to receive so many material gifts for the holidays. One thing we've sometimes done is to suggest ''Hey, do you want to make a drawing for Auntie X to thank her for the nice _____ she gave you?'' Then we mail the drawing to the relative. Usually makes the relative feel good and I think it helps the child to feel they have given something back. My child likes to draw but if yours doesn't, you could do something else, like taking a little video of the child playing with the toy, and tell the child ''We're going to show Auntie X this video to thank her for sending you that toy.'' Mama

Want to give & receive charitable donations, not gifts

Sept 2008

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. anon


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 tactfully, recorded your reason, and even express hope that you won't ruffle feathers. I wouldn't suggest that they give donations in YOUR names, however. They may come to that conclusion 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. anon
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... kevin


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! magaliusa
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 and stressful. 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! Good luck! Simplyfing


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! anon

Friend who won't stop sending extravagant gifts

Jan 2006

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! unwanted recipient


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. gift-giver


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. anon
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. anon
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.) Good luck. Lori
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 support. anon

Help! I buy too many gifts for my children

December 2002

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. Dana
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 fun.

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 count.

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 little.
gargagesale queen


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.
Nina
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?
Deborah
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.
Tasha
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