August 21, 2011

None for You This Year !

None what you are asking. What am I suggesting you don't get? Even though it is still several months away, the holiday season always bring with it a spirited debate within our family: should the adults receive gifts from each other? Should we be sure not only our daughters and grandchildren receive wrapped presents to tear into on Christmas, but also the grownups?

I will insert a disclaimer here: Christmas is the holiday we celebrate. Other folks and other cultures celebrate the end of the year in different ways. But, giving gifts is part of many traditions. So, if you don't celebrate Christmas, the following may still resonate with you.

I wonder if this is a common debate. Do other families have the same "discussion" every year about the need, or appropriateness of gifts for the grown ups? The arguments are always the same. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus.It is also a time for family, friends, food, and togetherness. Society has turned it into a frenzy of consumption that we don't want to support.

Or, this is a time when we get to surprise loved ones with gifts that we hope will bring a smile to their face. To give can be even more fun than to receive, but all of us have something that we'd like to find under the tree. It is part of our tradition and good for the kids to see their parents and grandparents getting gifts.

Of course, the amount of money spent on all the gifts seems to increase every year, regardless of what we do to stay within a budget. Sometimes there is a new grandchild. Sometimes a relative or good friend has added a child, husband, or wife to their family and we would like to make them happy. Our extended family seems to "extend" more each year, meaning more presents.

With the economy the way it is, all of these purchases can add up quickly. With all family members on a tight budget, the purchase of presents for everyone can become a real obstacle. Even making gifts has a definite cost: time. With three children under 5, free time is something one of my daughters is seriously lacking when she has tried to make all the presents for everyone.

Beside the cost, the debate seems to be about keeping the focus on the youngsters. They are the ones who are absolutely thrilled by the promise and reality of Christmas morning. They are relatively easy to buy for and easy to please.

At least in our family, adults are much more difficult to buy for. "Practical" usually wins out. That often means sweaters or needed clothing. It often means each grown up is asked what he or she needs/wants within the limits of the budget, so true surprises are rare. The gifts usually is what we'd buy for ourselves at some point in the year anyway.

So, every year we bring out the same arguments and have the same debate: presents for adults, or just the children?  I'm happy to report that this year we may have had a break through. There seems to be universal agreement that adults don't need to receive a few gifts Christmas morning. Instead, there are plans afoot for a grand experience: the parents, our youngest daughter, grandparents, and the three grandkids to spend 3 nights up north in the snow in a rented house. The real thrill for the kids will be a nighttime train trip on "The Polar Express" complete with hot chocolate and snowball fights.

John Robinson's ESL Five blog
Since Betty and I have seen the movie about 700 times we know how big a deal this will be for the grandkids. The cost will be as much as presents for all the adults involved, but the experience will be so much more memorable. Unwrapping a sweater and new belt, or going on the Polar Express and spending 3 nights with family in Flagstaff at Christmas time? That question isn't even worth asking: family and experiences over things every single time.

Tradition is a powerful force. I know. It has taken us many years for us to try something different. What about your family? Do adults still participate in all the unwrapping and gift-giving, or is everything under your tree just for the junior set? I'd love to know if we are with the majority on this, or breaking new, uncharted territory on a choo-choo train.

Don't tell the grand's a surprise!

Exciting news: Betty and I will be featured in a national magazine in October. The story will be about folks who despite all the bad economic times are still enjoying a satisfying retirement. More details shortly.


  1. Well, bob, in our family we've decided not to do what you do. In general the gifts re not "generic" though, there the kind of gift that we may not give ourselves permission to buy. Of course this only works if your comfortable sharing what you really like. Last year I asked for a simple stove top kettle, for example. I couldn't justify buying it in my mind when I had a perfectly good microwave for tea water (i know, I know...) Ill be updated on my 400 holiday soon.

  2. Barb,

    Thanks for sharing the approach in your family. I'm interested in reading how different folks handle this issue. The idea of getting a gift "we may not give ourselves permission to buy" makes a lot of sense.

  3. The holiday season has and always will be my least favorite time of the year. The gift giving, the fattening foods, the one-up-man-ship of gift giving. Maybe this year it won't be so bad since I am no longer in an office environment.

  4. A while ago, I read a great article on Slate about how it's just plain bad economics to give gifts. I love this dissection of giving and getting, and am quite content with its conclusion. My family does exchange small gifts at the holidays (no grandkids; just parents, my sister and I, and our spouses), and we've always been rather frugal, so presents tend to be under $30. I don't think I've ever spent more than $200 on gifts for everyone in my family.

  5. Roberta,

    My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. No gifts, no pressure, all family. I liked Christmas when our girls were young and now that we have young grandchildren. Otherwise, I would prefer to avoid the whole part that doesn't deal with the real reason for the celebration.

  6. Hi NETBG (Jennifer),

    Our gift budget is pretty frugal by most standards, too: around $50 per person, except for my wife and me. But, with the number of people now involved is adds up quickly.

    By the way, I read the same Slate article..interesting.

  7. We have the BEST Christmas tradition. It started about 15 years ago- with the last economic downturn.
    Anyone over the age of 13 participates in a white elephant. All 28 of us gather at mother's and gifts are wrapped. The gifts CANNOT be new unless they are an addition (like a bottle of wine to a wine rack). We then draw numbers and proceed to open. You can take a gift from the table or take someone else's gift.
    I am telling you- it is the most fun we have ever had! We laugh until we cry. It has become a favored time- including children of a divorce that has gone terrible---everyone shows. The first one was uncomfortable- with one sister deciding to still buy presents- but that has melted away.
    Our only problem is that my family is the only one who does not live in state- so just getting to the celebration is a very costly thing. Maybe we will try Skype.

  8. JBO,

    That is a tremendous idea. We have done that a few times at our church's small group Christmas dinners, and the results are hilarious. My wife had a reindeer head, complete with red nose, made from two dried cactus spines. It was the hit of the party.

    This year I think we'll stick with the decision because of the expense of the Polar Express trip. But, Christmas of 2012...maybe!

    BTW, we will continue one family tradition that includes everyone: table presents. At the dinner after Christmas morning each person gets a small ($10) present, complete with a poem that gives hints what it is. The person receiving the gift tries to guess what the present is before opening it. It's fun and a nice way to wrap up the gift giving.

  9. Our family has had to deal with this issue also. My parents and my wife's parents are still living (thankfully) and are 80 (+ or -). Our generation is in the 50s bracket and our children are no longer "children". In fact, there are no real "children" in either of our families at this time. The adult siblings have stopped buying gifts for each other but we all still get something inexpensive for the older 4 parents. This is mainly because we know that no matter what we discuss or decide, they are STILL going to get all of us something. Most of the time they give each adult child and grandchild an amount of money. It seems that their generation (born in the 30s) just cannot separate Christmas from gift giving. I like the idea of a family experience/trip instead. Unfortunately, at the age of our parents, that is not practical now.

  10. Hi Don,

    Part of your comment really caught my eye because it happened in our family, too. Even if there was an agreement that the adults didn't need presents, my parents would always insist on buying anyway. That kind of forced all of us back into that mode.

    Even when my mom was too ill to do any shopping on her own (and Dad didn't have a clue) she'd insist my wife do all their shopping plus our own. That was quite a burden.

    You are right: their generation equated Christmas with lots of presents under the tree.

  11. My wife is one of 10 children and for years we would gather at the parents house, easily 40 of us for a long day of church, basketball, food and presents. It was chaos. As we had our own kids, each family started their own Christmas morning tradition, but we still got together for a round of gifting and eating on Christmas eve. We had a silly "White Elephant" auction where we laughed over the junk gifts and vied for the few real prizes.
    The year my wife's "baby" sister,, 42, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the meaning of gift giving changed. All 52 of us pooled all of our gift money meant for spouses, children, and relatives and used it to send our sister and her wife to Hawaii on a vacation they had dreamed about for years.
    The impact of that gift is one of our family's greatest treasures. We still host Christmas Eve, and we still exchange small gifts. In the morning we have a quiet breakfast and try to delight each other with a gift that expresses our love. With every gift we think of Jane,and we know that the gift we gave her was a gift that expressed the core value of our family....our love for one another, and how it brought every family member together in its giving.
    So yes, we give gifts....because it can be one powerful way to express our love for one another.

    Dr Keith

  12. Dr Keith,

    Your powerful story needs no additional comments from me. Thank you very much for sharing this powerful story of love and family.

  13. Now that the kids are grown, Christmas has lost some of its magic. After years of going all out with decorations and holiday entertaining, visits to Santa, and so on, I decided last year I was ready to hand over the reins. I told the kids we would have whatever decorations they put up. I would help, but I would not be in charge. Guess what--it was a barren year. I felt a bit sad about that, but the disappointment was far outweighed by the absence of pressure and burdensome tradition (as opposed to tradition that is valued and enjoyed). Everyone got presents, including me, but scaled back from years past. I was very content with that. In fact, other than the midnight Christmas Eve service at church, I would be very content to spend Christmas away from the throngs and frantic shopping. Christmas, for those who celebrate it, should be a time of worship (for those of faith), family and friends, and meaningful gifts like Dr. Keith's story. A time to connect and express our love and appreciation for each other. I think it's sad that so many businesses are dependent on consumer shopping during the holiday season. Thanks for bringing up an important yearly topic. (And for posting this meandering comment!)

  14. Hi Galen,

    I can't remember the exact figure, but something around 40% of a business's yearly sales volume happens during the one month holiday sales season. No wonder there is such a vested interest in keeping those gifts flowing.

    When our daughters were in their early teens we spent two Christmas holidays on Maui. Those trips were the presents and created memories that live on 15 years later.

    Like you I wouldn't mind minimal decorations, dinners with friends, time with family, and church on Christmas Eve.

  15. In '07, I put my foot down: I would buy no gifts for adults and preferred that none be bought for me. I think my kids, who were struggling to buy something for their own children, were grateful to be let off the hook, although they could never have initiated that rule change themselves.

    Now, if there's enough, we spend it on getting us all together from our corners of the continent. I have stories from my father, who remembers that a good Christmas was one that centered around an orange and some pecans. It helps to have memories from the Depression tales told by my parents and grandparents.

  16. Nance,

    My dad tells the story of their Depression-era Christmas celebrations after his father had died. The family had one chicken a Christmas. That is one of his strongest memories.


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