That is a loaded phrase. It immediately induces worry, stress, guilt, anticipation, wistfulness and sometimes joy. There really are no guidelines to gift giving, but there are strategies. Below are some that have been tried by my clan.
Exchange. This is when everyone picks a name, then buys for that name and exchanges gifts only with one person. It makes things simple and easy, but that personal connection is with only one person. And, some families will agree to do the exchange, then go out and buy gifts for each person anyway. So, only the people who followed the rules will feel awkward and inadequate.
Buy only for the kids. This is when the decision is made to buy gifts only for those 18 and younger.
Simple gifts. Give to everyone, but keep it simple. This strategy is somewhat impersonal but has its benefits. It’s not stressful and you connect with everyone. For some, it’s a home made treat like chex mix. For others, it’s a $15 gift card. Get some people a gift card to Amazon, others, Starbucks, others iTunes. Or, make your own family fudge for everyone (except those under 14–you may have to just give them a gift card). Or maybe you knit something for each person. That’s not simple, but it’s hand made and so that makes it seem simple.
Buy for everyone. Just go ahead, get off your butt, and buy a gift for every single person that will attend your family Christmas event. In my case, that’s 30 gifts and spans many generations. This is a very tough strategy to pull off and involves research. You might contact your brother and be told that his daughter would love a pair or earrings to go with a new red sweater, only to find out he shared that idea with four other people and your niece was bombarded with red earrings. This particular strategy is losing ground, especially in large families.
White elephant. This is my favorite, and I’m trying to have it replace traditional gift giving, but so far, no luck. It has simply come to mean more gifts. If you are not familiar with white elephant, it’s basically a chance to re-gift what you got last Christmas, or other well-intended gifts you have laying around. And some people in my circle buy the white elephant gift! I think that should be forbidden.
Donate. Some people will request no gifts, and suggest the wanna-be givers donate the money they were going to spend to a local food kitchen or toy for tots outfit. It’s a great idea, but can end up making the giver feel judged for wanting to buy a gift to spread holiday cheer.
I hear from many in my circle who have a desire to declutter, downsize, simplify. Yet there is guilt about giving and about making Christmas as special for the young as it was for most of us when we were kids. We know intellectually that gifts aren’t what makes a great Christmas, but we’re in a rush and we’re scattered and we impulse buy cheap things made overseas. Then, on the special day there is a mad flurry of opening gifts–one gift is tossed aside–barely seen–for the next unopened package. It’s like a feeding frenzy; it’s consumerism at it’s worst. All that work and it’s done in a flash.
I don’t have the answer. Traditions die hard and the desire to give to another is not a bad thing. I’m hoping that more and more what I give will be home made and consumable, keeping me out of the stores and allowing me to enjoy the process as well as the giving.