On Gifts: The Complexities of Giving and Receiving

On gifts: The complexities of giving and receiving

For many, the winter holidays mean gifts. Finding them, buying them, giving them, receiving them, using them, returning them, regifting them. I have several friends who are at their absolute happiest this time of year. They adore creating or hunting down the perfect, thoughtful gift for each and every friend and family member, and delight in being surprised by the gifts they receive in turn. (I’m looking at you, Trin.) I long for that skill set and gift-related mentality. Because I find the complexities of gift giving and receiving to be utterly perplexing.

I have a fairly small home that has become packed with belongings after more than ten years of residence. Husband Mike and I both enjoy shopping for clothing, art, gadgets, and most of the items that are deemed gift-appropriate. So we tend to request specific items from our families. They’ve come to accept this, but there’s still a little disappointment whenever we hand over our wishlists because a few of our rellies would rather surprise us with items they’ve selected on their own. I have no idea how to handle this. Still. I don’t want them to feel like we’re sucking the fun out of the holiday season, but I strongly prefer to give a few hints as to what I could most use when it comes to ย … well, stuff. Goods. Purchase-ables.

And when it comes to gift giving, I become overwhelmed instantly. The mere thought of giving a loved one something they don’t like or cannot use fills me with anxiety. I end up demanding wishlists from my folks. And while it feels anticlimactic to give them an entirely unsurprising item, at least I know I didn’t guess wrong.

For the past couple of years, we’ve dealt with this in two ways: The adults have skipped holiday gifts altogether, or chosen a charity and all pitched in for a donation. This makes me so much happier. I have a passel of nephews who are at prime gift-receiving ages, and watching them dive into their games and toys is an absolute hoot. But the rest of us? We buy what we need on our own throughout the year, so the pressure-cooker of holiday gifts seems like a stress we can easily eliminate.

How do you navigate the politics of gifts? Do you do wishlists? Does it seem like there are some adult-specific social landmines littered around the holiday gift landscape? I mean, it’s no big if kids give a holiday wishlist …

Image courtesy ‘smil.

Next Post
Previous Post
  • Garcia

    I’m a practical gift giver…which usually means I give you things you actually need, such as clothing or appliances around the house (one year, both my mom and aunt needed a microwave at their houses, so I became the microwave giver).
    This year, though, I wasn’t sure what anyone needed, so I either did what I usually do and put a thoughtful and helpful gift together or got them a gift card to their favorite store (my aunt loves her books, my brother and cousin are into video games, etc)…
    Usually I get it right, but I always do offer the original receipts in case I get the wrong size, color, or it’s something that they already have…
    I do think as I get older and less aware of what my family/friends need, I’ll probably just resort to gift cards completely…I know people say they aren’t as personable or special, but I have always believed it’s not what the gift is, but the thought behind it that counts and if I get a gift card to a store said receiver loves, I’ve not only have given them a choice of items they want/need, but I have also showed them that I pay attention to where they go and what they do during their down times…
    Now I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and have a great time during the holidays!

  • JD

    I too feel the holidays have become a pressure cooker of gifting! While I prefer thoughtful and/or homemade gifts, not everyone is as appreciative. My family asks for hints and accepts that some years we don’t have any idea what we want. We are a military family that moves all the time and life changes, we prefer not to shlep a ton of ‘stuff’ around the country with us. Some times my family has come up with the most amazing gifts, things I never would have done for myself and I love them for it. My husband’s family on the other hand has turned to demanding a detailed specific list, down to color and website. I find this impersonal and a bit like ordering my own gifts. Mind you a list of suggestions is request of them that is never produced. I try hard to find something the person may enjoy and like it when someone thinks I’m worth the effort too. Many years ago his family used to give us things they picked that were wonderfully thoughtful and I would marvel at his mother’s ability to pick unique and stylish things, I miss that. I guess that is my long way of saying gifting is hard. I provide ideas and lists when requested, buy from lists provided, but also throw in something I that wasn’t on the list (be it hand made, small, or fun).

  • Angela

    I like wish lists too. At least it gives you ideas for the person. But I would like to give up adult gift giving. I don’t mind little gifts for service providers like the teachers, hair stylist, etc but giving to my adult siblings and in-laws feels wrong. I am going to carefully suggest it next summer.

    • Angela – I encourage you to give it a try. We gave up adult gift-swapping about ten years ago, realizing we all had Plenty of Stuff to last for years! I was the instigator and I got a little resistance, but everyone’s come around and really enjoys our get-togethers more. And no more shopping for “cocktail glasses, not too big, with flamingos, but not too many”! : >

      • Angela

        Thanks Patti, I am going to seriously give it a try. I don’t mind buying for the niece and nephews but the common law brother in law I see 3x a year?? Very difficult

    • Sara

      We’ve given up adult gifting for my family and my husband’s family. It’s wonderful!! We still have nieces and nephews who are young enough to buy fun gifts for, and of course, our own kids are at prime gifting ages. So we get all the fun of shopping for kids and none of the stress of shopping for other adults. It’s fabulous, and has really made Christmas more enjoyable for everyone. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

  • Allison

    Sweet Sal – we gift my nephews and niece – though the older ones are at a point where it’s just a gift-card-palooza! The adults, for the most part, have given up on gifting. Instead on my hubby’s side, we do a $50 secret Santa – BUT wish lists are shared so that everyone gets it right. We all just got to the point, as adults, that 1) we don’t NEED anything and 2) if we need/want it, we just buy it.

  • Stephanie

    I’m a big fan of giving experiences–especially tickets to concerts, plays, or sporting events. It requires a bit of advance planning with the calendar and certainly won’t work for everyone on your list, but it cuts down on unnecessary stuff. And often, it means actually spending some time with that person or people (if you get a ticket for yourself, too), which to me is what the holidays are all about.

  • LinB

    No small children in our family right now, so teenagers/young adults get a small piece of money, when we are in funds. For the rest of us, my sister concocts a Christmas Quiz each year. All of us empty our junk drawers, wrapping the items as if they were gifts. Whomever correctly answers a quiz question gets to (HAS to) choose a Christmas Quiz gift from the pile and unwrap it. It’s considered fair play to steal someone else’s gift instead of a wrapped gift — a variation of Dirty Santa — the bereft recipient gets to (HAS to) choose another gift from the pile and unwrap it. The rest of the time together is spent trying to secret your Christmas Quiz gift in someone else’s coat pocket/purse/suitcase, so that they have to take home the candle stub/dull scissors/feathers glued to a rock/used erasers, or whatever other silly thing was their quiz prize — without being caught, while at the same time trying to protect your own coat/purse/suitcase from accumulating prizes. More fun by far than shopping for actual gifts, we find.

  • Di

    We have a fairly large family, on my side at least. None of the adults exchange presents any more. Usually we choose to do something together with our families (last spring my dad treated us all to a 10-day vacation.)

    I exchange with my husband

    On his side of the equation, the adults swap names, set a spending limit, and offer suggestions.

    For the kids, we buy for all the kids, but set spending limits and make thoughtful suggestions – for example, I bought my nieces underwear and pajamas for Hannukah this year. I bought them the cute characters they love, and they had things they needed, which their mom appreciated. I reciprocated and my kids got new pants and socks, and winter-appropriate school uniform items for their presents.

    We also did a MAJOR toy purge to make room for the new toys that will arrive on Christmas.

  • AB

    Most of my family lives on the other side of the country and I don’t see them often, so getting a gift for my dad and brother is super difficult. On the other hand, I am superb at finding gifts for my mom. We always say “stockings only” but it never works.

    And apparently I am difficult to buy for. I’m a huge nerd, and while I think that makes things easy (books, sci-fi movies, stuff from fandoms) others do not agree.

  • It is hard to buy gifts, and even for kids who have other indulgent grandparents and aunts and uncles – they usually have so many toys they don’t know what to do with! With my sister and adult nieces, I just try to find or make some interesting, handmade things, not too expensive, maybe food. And I don’t expect anyone (except my husband!) to give me a gift, although my in-laws usually send books and my mother gives us a magazine subscription. My stepkids have both sent us Amazon gift cards this year. I know a lot of people think money or gift cards are impersonal, but it gives the recipient a chance to make their own selection, which is a gift in itself!

  • I love presents! I am that person, like your friend Trin, who enjoys giving and getting. Yes, I request wishlists – especially from my parents, who already have a house full of things they actually need, and from my husband… with whom I have an O Henry-like penchant for getting just the wrong thing. Everyone else? Time to play!

    I’ve always been like this though. My birthday is on the 1st, and my grandfather would always give me money for my birthday. Every year, 80% of that money would be allocated to my Christmas spending. And so have my parents – they weren’t well-off when I was a kid, but I remember that Santa would wrap even the batteries which were not included and stick them in my Christmas stocking, along with a tube of chapstick.

    We’re nuts, but we’re happy nuts.

  • Dee

    In our family, extended and otherwise, its really not that much about the gifts anymore. Its more about spending time with family, having good food and drink! Our kids are young adults and really don’t want much.(well, other than money to get what they want!) We realize we are very lucky to be in a position where we generally buy what we want or need duing the year. We have stopped exchanging with cousins and siblings, only to our parents do we still exchange, and to each other. But even then we use wish lists. Usually we buy a gift or two for needy children through city wide programs like Toys for Tots or similar. It feels so good to do that and I am sure we will do more of that in the future. Of course when the day comes that we have grandchildren I will love to buy for them and see their joy at Christmas. (we hope that day comes!) Happy Holidays All!

  • Bubu

    My husband and I keep Amazon wish lists for ourselves as well as our kids. It is for me a place to keep track of stuff I’ve researched for myself, e.g., a new appliance – once I bother to look into it and find the one I want, I want an easy place to remember. However, my MIL absolutely loves that we do this – makes shopping much easier for her – doesn’t have to guess or leave the house. Since we keep longish lists – all kinds of book titles we are interested in, etc, there is some surprise since we don’t check what’s been bought. The lists also helps to make sure our kids don’t receive duplicates or gifts that make us, as parents, groan (followed by toys that subtly disappear).

  • D

    My family is huge, so for extended family, we do a random drawing for all of the adults, so we all get one nice gift, and the kids get more. I like to give at least one gift to all of my immediate family though. One part of my family is big on wishlists, but for those, I usually tell them my interests and then ask them to surprise me. The rest of my family doesn’t do the wishlist thing though, and I really enjoy taking the time to either A) craft or B) search for personal, useful gifts. This year I’m knitting for several of my family members, which I enjoy, and they seem to like the end products so far.

  • Anneesha

    I am SO GLAD you verbalized this the way you did – it’s exactly how I feel. I just stopped doing any Xmas present buying and feel much lighter for it.

    • Jenni K

      Me too. I hate the whole ethic of gift-giving and try to avoid Christmas as a result. It spoils the whole idea of the celebration for me as it makes me feel anxious and inadequate. And guilty for not appreciating anything that I’m given, mostly, as I have everything that I need and so much more!

  • Helen

    In my large family, gifts are reserved for nieces and nephews. Adults exchange small edible items, but there’s no pressure to do so. The holidays are actually fun again– and affordable.

  • Anamarie

    I felt like you were writing about me today! I became overwhelmed this holiday season – both with the whole gift thing and with work. I demanded lists from family members, that I won’t actually use, because it turns out they gave the same list to extended family. I hate the idea of spending time to track something down on a list just to have the recipient receive a duplicate from someone else. Why bother? I burst into tears three times last Saturday (at Patina, Costco, and Sam’s!) because I was overwhelmed by trying to find gifts for people. I decided to get everyone a small gift and a large bottle of booze. Seriously. Who is going to return a nice bottle of Scotch? I have suggested we just do gifts for my nephew, and “adopt” a family next year and buy THEM everything they need. I also suggested that we just buy ourselves stuff, wrap them, and label them all from Santa. Then we can each spend as much or as little as we like, and there’s no pressure!

  • My husband & our families are kind of in the same boat, tho’ even more so bec. there are no kids in our circle. So years ago, we all decided to give charitable donations & small handmade gifts. The later has become a really fun way to challenge ourselves & each other. My mom tends to outdo everyone — one year, she crocheted beautiful, cozy blankets for each couple! Obviously, she starts early ๐Ÿ˜‰ But many of the gifts have been food, either beloved old family recipes or adventurous new ones, so every skill level is appreciated. This lets us all enjoy giving & receiving something meaningful but there’s minimal clutter & no plastic crap from China.

    Of course, my husband & I do tend to give each other one or two special things we buy, sometimes thing we discuss or from wish lists. This year, we bought each other an iPhone 5. Geeky fun that was more entertaining that each of us just going out & upgrading our old phones individually. We definitely amused the guy at the Apple Store!

  • Gillian

    Here’s a long-winded response because I spend most of December pondering this very subject! I am one of those people who loves choosing gifts, even if it is stressful at times. I pride myself on my gift-giving effort and ability, and I have to admit that I am secretly disappointed every year by friends and family who don’t hold themselves to my ambitious gift-giving standards. Many of them seem to throw up their hands and get discouraged as if gift-giving is an impossible art. Personally I think it just takes practice like anything else.

    My view is that the most important factor is giving the kind of gift the recipient wants to receive. Meaning: if they love to be surprised, you surprise them (even though that fails sometimes). If they love gift cards, you get gift cards. If they prefer one big present, you go that route; if they like the fun of opening a few things, you gift several cheaper items. My friends and family seem to panic about getting me that PERFECT GIFT, but what I honestly enjoy most is being surprised. As long as they tried to choose something I’d like, I’ll be happy. I appreciate their effort in picking something as much as the gift. For others, what matters might be receiving only what they actually want/need. Those folks are prime candidates for wish lists. Here’s how the gift giving and receiving plays out for me:

    Family: I’m one of eight grandkids, and we each get gifts from our aunts/uncles and grandpa (for a total of four). The spending limit is $15. I’m the oldest at 24, and the youngest is 16. I am the only one who’s asked to be surprised with gifts every year; once the other kids became teenagers, they all asked for money or gift cards. This made the opening of presents pretty dull. This year some of them started asking for gifts again, so I’m exciting for Christmas Eve to be more interesting. I also have a five-year-old godson, so he still gets fun toys. The parents in the family stopped exchanging gifts about when we all became teenagers. Once the grandkids get a job or start college we usually begin buying gifts for each other as well. Then there’s parents, grandparents, and siblings. For the past few years I’ve given my parents a very large wishlist on Amazon and they choose items from it. That’s our compromise between their desire for a list and my desire for surprises. They usually pick a few things on their own as well, but my mom has never loved clothes or decorating like I do so it isn’t really fun for her. My aunts are fairly good at choosing things for me. We all love thrifting so I often get Christmas gifts from Goodwill. With my brother, you never know. Some years my parents buy me a gift and put his name on it, but another time he got me a gorgeous stone pendant necklace all by himself. He’s 19 now, so I’m assuming he’s picking his own gifts this year!

    Friends: My friends are very inconsistent about gifts. It really depends who’s even home for the holidays. I tend to buy for 5-12 of them a year and spend $10-$20 each, but I have to confess that I’m constantly monitoring who I need to buy for and how much to spend based on what’s given to me. I don’t want to be Grinchy about it, just equal! My birthday is a few weeks before Christmas, which is kind of convenient. I know if they got me something for my birthday then I need to reciprocate over the holidays. The most skilled gift-giver is actually my best guy friend because he really pays attention. For my birthday this year he got me Harry Potter Legos – the Knight Bus – which we both collect. But not only did he get me the set I’ve wanted, he even put it together for me in advance! When I opened the box it was already assembled and ready to display. This was super thoughtful because he knows I don’t enjoy following the directions, I just want the final product.

    Significant others: This is probably the trickiest area. I’ve had boyfriends try to buy me thrifted or vintage items, which was super sweet because I love that sort of thing — but since the bfs didn’t have any knowledge about thrifting or vintage, they tended to get scammed and had no way of knowing what was worth buying. It’s tough to buy those things without experience. Others would get me one major, expensive gift for Christmas, which really stresses me out because what if I don’t like it or use it enough? That’s how I ended up with a point-and-shoot camera collecting dust (because my iphone camera is just as good, honestly) and a Kindle that I just lend out to friends who enjoy it (I really prefer books). That boyfriend bought himself a Kindle immediately afterward. He seemed so caught up in what he thought was exciting that it didn’t matter whether I’d ever expressed interest. We’ll see how Christmas goes with my boyfriend this year. We’ve been dating since September and both seemed to like the birthday gifts we swapped so far. He got me books on feminism and confronting racism, the only musical I love on vinyl (Fiddler on the Roof!), and some special candy I remembered from childhood that he heard me mention and tracked down online. It was all a surprise and showed a lot of thought, which is what really makes me happy.

    In conclusion: gifts shouldn’t be hard if you just pay attention to your recipient! Gifts show we know them and want to make them happy, whether they’re happiest with surprises or with specific wish lists. Happy holidays everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Gillian

    Forgot to add – my parents have always spent the same amount on my brother and me and bought the same number of gifts. I can’t imagine how difficult that is to manage! That explains my concern for equal gift giving.

  • My family (me, sister, mom) has a very relaxed policy on holiday gift giving and it’s great because I feel the same kind of stress you do. Usually we’ll only give each other presents if it’s clearly something that’s perfect but there’s no obligation to give and we don’t get stressed out about it. I’m horribly difficult to shop for and hate the thought of a dear one spending money on something I do not like and will not use. At the point, everyone has been trained not to do so, or if they must, to ask me what I want. For surprise gifts, I prefer edible items (tea is always always appreciated!). This whole thing makes me sound like a Grinch, but I swear I’m not! I just don’t get the gift-giving part and prefer the celebrating together part…

  • Anne

    Happy Holidays Sally, to you and all your readers. I am very much like your friend Trin, however my family is much more like you. Last year my holiday letter was all about gift giving so I thought I’d give you a few of the highlights. I believe that giving your loved ones a gift at the holidays is an important tradition to maintain. What we all need to do is take a deep breath and quit stressing over it. Giving a gift gives you the opportunity to slow down and really think about another person and express how you feel. Or, to borrow a quote, “gift giving is an important part of human interaction, helping to define relationships and strengthen bonds with family and friends.” On the flip side it teaches us how to accept things graciously, even things that at first blush we weren’t thrilled to receive.

    Here are some suggestions that I have gleaned over the years:

    1. Reduce the size of your “major gift” list where possible. In my family, the adults draw names. Everyone else gets a great, but affordable bottle of wine.

    2. Be on the look out, or at least receptive to buying your gifts before the madness of the holidays sets in.

    3.Think in terms of experiences rather than things: theater or concert tickets, restaurant certificates, donations to a favorite cause.

    4. Here’s one that a friend suggested that I am going to implement next year with my husband and boys: you get something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.

    One parting thought as you rush out to finish you holiday prep: “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps …means a little bit more!”

    • Anne

      My girlfriends and I just made a pact for our Birthdays: no gifts unless we can drink it, eat it, or put it in a vase.

  • MargeauxB

    So make wishlists and ask everyone else to do the same. My late mil always bought us precisely what we asked for. Guess vs. Ask Cultural Question #1.

  • Jenn

    My family uses Amazon wishlists and it makes everything so much easier. One trick I’ve learned is to use a (private) Amazon wish list to keep track of gift ideas I find throughout the year. Then when it comes time for Christmas, birthday, etc, I already have several ideas. It takes a lot of the stress out of finding the perfect gift.

    Happy holidays everyone!

  • this subject is rife with a lot of things, isn’t it? I feel guilty about owning so many things, so much stuff, especially since I live out of a suitcase, and then I think about the earth and landfills and wrapping paper, and debt and I’m just ,… verklempt I guess. Did I use that right? confused, if not,

    BUT I love giving and receiving gifts too. A lot of commenters have awesome ideas such as the amazon wishlist and buying tickets/experiences rather than stuff. Another thought is, instead of just a general wishlist you give out, I’ve seen people make Pinterest boards of their wishlist. You can be as specific or general as you want. Pin the exact cashmere sweater in your desired color and size. Or pin a cute scarf and say “I always love flowy scarves”.

    Of course this doesn’t work if people aren’t into services like pinterest or see that as just another wishlist telling them what to get you. One thing I do, is I always put way more on the list than someone will buy, with the strict instruction that I don’t need (or want) all of this, these are just some ideas, and if you find something on the list you’d like to give then wonderful! Then it;s less like a to do list and more like a “things I love” list. However, it’s different for my family, we’ve been operating with the wishlist strategy for awhile. I get e-mails in November reminding me to send out a list for my husband and I. The other thing we do is shop with each other on Black Friday and point out different things. This works especially well with in laws! my mother and her mother in law, and me and my mother in law enjoy shopping together and buying gifts along the way, trying to keep it discreet.

    one last thought if you’d love to get a wishlist but people want to be surprised… ask questions throughout the year and keep a gift idea journal, spreadsheet, pinterest board, note in your note app, whatever. I seem to always see things in April that I think a family member might love, but I keep a budget and don’t give gifts unless there’s an occasion (birthdays, Christmas, big anniversaries), so making note of it and in some cases buying early helps when things get hectic later in the year. And by asking questions I mean things like, “Did you like the single serve coffee maker they had in our hotel room?” or “I love this (insert product here) by (Insert brand name here). Ever tried it?”

    but it is a tough subject, for so many reasons.

  • Julie

    i love the ideas i got from reading the comments! i used to bake for my husband’s large family, but now that i am working outside the home and am avoiding wheat, that is not an option anymore. i buy for my children, but this will be the last year, next year it will be a family vacation, and after that, I like the idea of giving them gift cards or cash and then help them shop for what they would really like, this year I gave the letters to Santa to my husband who shopped while on a business trip, and he asked me to not buy him anything so he purchased a new TV for the family room. i used to buy for my smallish family but this year it is gift cards. i like the idea of buying some small gifts and doing the quiz to win a gift and then trying to exchange it or re-gift it to someone. i find i am a bit of a grinch at this time of the year, unwilling to part with my scheduled self-loathing and whatnot to battle the crowds and shop, bah humbug!
    (i blame my SAD)

  • I usually try to give everyone a little something I know they’ll like. I have a lot of friends and very little money. Admittedly, sometimes I’d rather get nothing for a gift than some of the things my family gets me. They have little idea what is appropriate and often give me things I have to get rid of. They’ve gotten better over the years, but I still find myself with clothes that don’t fit or gifts that I have no place for (kitchen gadgets, decorations, etc) as I still live in my inlaws house.

    I always try to give unobtrusive gifts that people can consume (food) or use or regift if it’s not their thing. If I know on the nose that something will suit somebody, I’ll go for it, but as for giving my husband gifts – we gift throughout the year. If I know he really wants something, we’ll plan for it together. I feel better getting and giving things that I can really use.

    Honestly, I still think cash/gift cards are the most thoughtful gifts. You never know what people really need during the holidays, especially somebody who isn’t flush with Christmas bonuses or who’s trying to figure out how to pay for the next semester of classes. Maybe that person could use a gift card of coffee or $20 to buy necessities more than a perfume set or chintzy holiday towel.

  • We do wishlists. It’s sooo practical and everyone gets what they need. But we also try to find something surprising every holiday to delight each others with. For that I often rely on movie/theatre tickets or other similar treats. No unnecessary gadgets around anyone’s house and the gift can always be passed on if not appreciated. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Merry xmas everyone!

  • Shaye

    I consider gift-giving to be one of my talents. Figuring out what someone will like, or something they need, and then giving it to them and watching them light up is a particular joy of mine. I like it even more than getting gifts, really.

    My family doesn’t do any religious end of year holidays, but we have our own tradition of doing a special family gift-giving event a little earlier in the year. This year I gave my sister a Birchbox subscription, because I knew she likes trying makeup and skincare stuff, and a vintage government-issued brochure on surviving a nuclear attack because she’s kind of obsessed with the Cold War. I remembered in October that my mom said in March that she wanted a vintage coat, so I tracked one down with a label from the city we lived in when I was a baby. I got my brother in law a video game controller because I’d heard him complain about one he had being broken.

    Of course, most of this stems from both knowing the people I buy gifts for, and talking with them on a regular basis. It’s hard to remember a passing remark someone makes about something they want or need if you don’t get to see them regularly.

    It also helps that I have very frugal family members, who don’t often buy things for themselves just on principle. I admit I’m always a little disappointed when someone asks me for a wish list, but then I realize that I make myself really hard to buy gifts for. I usually have enough disposable income to buy the things I really want or need for myself.

  • shebolt

    This is such a good topic. I’ve been hoping and wishing I could get away from gift giving entirely, but have no idea how to eliminate some recipients from my list, like coworkers and extended family.

    I cut back on these groups and tried moving towards gift cards for the older kids and baked or homemade food items for the coworkers, but somehow that still stresses me out. The gift cards are easy, but I always find myself scrambling to finish my baked goods and get them wrapped nicely. Plus, there’s always a coworker or two who surprises me with an unexpected gift. I end up taking extra items and wrappings to work and frantically wrapping them when this happens.

    Maybe I need to give up on the homemade food items and just buy something instead. My supervisor gave me a bottle of maple syrup in a glass bear container. It’s my favorite gift and I’m sure it was easy for her.

  • Olivia

    In my family the adults don’t give gifts. We all have very little money for gift giving and, like you, we buy what we want or need throughout the year. This year I just happen to need a new pair of snow boots so I will be picking some out soon.

  • Mary

    I really like the idea of not throwing presents around at all the adults in one’s life … maybe one day my family will come around to that idea! Especially if we have something to give to in each other’s place, like a charity.

    One thing we had, though, when I was a kid, was gifts from “Cheap Charlie”. I don’t remember how they got that name. It was something to do with my dad’s brothers being goofy one year before I was born, and the tradition just stuck. All my life the highlight of Christmas is opening Cheap Charlies when it’s time to pass out presents.

    But what you do when you give a Cheap Charlie is take a bunch of semi-useful crap in your house, wrap it in newspaper, and write someone’s name on it, and add: “From Cheap Charlie”. These gifts are usually something you don’t want in your house anymore – in recent years, I can recall someone unwrapping: Mardi Gras beads, a car part, an old wooden hanger, a half-used notebook, hotel toiletries, an old flower pot …

    Of course the point is not to give something good. The worse your gift is, the bigger the laughs. Also, my family has found that, in the recent, leaner years, we don’t worry as much about giving a good Christmas Present — because a good Cheap Charlie is far better.

  • SamiJ

    We get the kids to fill out a wishlist, and since they both have birthdays in Feb, anything not purchased for Xmas becomes fair game for their birthday.

    But besides the asking part, we take the time to discuss with the kids the giving part, and we help the kids buy/make gifts for their grand-parents (all 6 of them). With the pre-schooler, we also read a kids book (Kittys Birthday) which focuses on how to receive presents, because hey a little reminder couldn’t hurt.

  • Susan

    We do some wishlists in our family. I especially enjoy giving gifts to people who mean a lot to me. My favorite person to give gifts to is one of my aunts. One of her adult sons has died and the other in not in contact with her. She loves to read. I research the best novels of the year and send her about four of them I think she might enjoy.

  • I love gift-giving. However, I personally hate accumulating extra stuff (ironic, right?) and my mom is a big believer in “Christmas must have gifts”, so we exchange short lists with things that we need or have been meaning to get but it would be a splurge. Items have included basic necessities like socks, treats like creme chocolates, music or books we’ve meant to buy, and this year since I’m far away my mom’s list had one item: a digital photo album. There’s always some loosely defined items and the understanding that if one perfect gift crosses our path we’re allowed to skip an item on the wishlist and replace it with the fun surprise.

  • Kim

    My family has always been big on specific wishlists. I think it started when we used to inform our grandparents of what we wanted for Christmas in the summer by circling things in the Sears catalogue that we wanted. It has really escalated from there. Our lists are now full of specific items or categorical suggestions of things that we would like to get around to buying for ourselves but haven’t yet. The lists are usually long enough that you could never get all of it, so the element of surprise remains. It also takes some of the stress off of gift giving. These lists are also not exclusive, so if someone has a great idea, they run with it.

    My family has always been about the gifts for Christmas, so we tend to get pretty involved in the process. Some family members start in the summer! I understand how some people don’t take much joy in the whole process, but we seem to get a special pleasure out of really nailing our gift-giving in a particular year. And the use of wishlists means that the vast majority of what you receive will be something you needed.