Ending the Insanity of Holiday Gift-Giving

sameboatMay 5, 2013

I know it's an odd season to be asking this question, but by the time Christmas rolls around it's too late. How can I tactfully bow out of the whole gift-exchange at Christmas with my siblings' families? My kids are older teenagers, my siblings' "kids" are adults in their 20s - some of whom earn more than my husband and me combined! My brothers' wives are extremely generous with our kids and it really pressures us to reciprocate. But I feel like not only is it killing us, but it's nowhere near the generosity of my siblings. I just can't do it anymore. I really just prefer to have a family party and enjoy the food, music and company. I need some words to use this summer to prepare them all that we are bowing out. Does anyone have some nice wording? They might just ignore me and do it anyway, which would really stink. Now the kids all bring their girlfriends and boyfriends to the family party and it just becomes a huge anxiety-ridden evening for me, a real PITA. I am embarrassed because they are all in a different situation than my husband and me. They are well-off. We aren't poor, but we just feel like the holidays are stressful enough without having to give to nephews and nieces. My husband and I don't even exchange gifts because we always feel so broke year after year. They, on the other hand, give the kids cash, clothes and fun stuff. It's just too much. I hate it. I never got gifts from my aunts and uncles growing up. It wasn't necessary and we never expected it. At what point do you say enough is enough?

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I just told them at a Christmas party not to buy us any gifts next Christmas because the family and extended family was just to large. We were only going to buy for grand kids under 18. I knew we would all miss the mystery and excitement of opening gifts so my husband and I bought enough funny/interesting gifts from $2.00 to $10. for everyone and gave them out as a drawing. We put all their names in a box and drew them, first winner got his pick of all the packages and they were wrapped. They were generic gifts for male or female. Everyone really enjoyed it and the expense was minimal. The first thing the kids asked when they came in the door the following year was, "are we going to have the drawing".

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 11:57PM
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I tactfully asked all our family members to stop the Christmas gift exchange. Spoke personally with most, and sent letters to those I don't see frequently.(Imagine feeling expected to send gifts to people you rarely see!). All were happy to get off that merry-go-round. I do send gifts for graduations,weddings,new babies, other important occasions. And I do send (little) Christmas and birthday gifts to kids under ten. And I occasionally send an unexpected gift. When DH's unmarried sister said her vacuum had broken, I had Sears deliver a new one to her. And his other sister just had surgery, I sent her a gift box of cookies.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 8:55AM
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Jannie that is very nice of you. My Mom sent her out of state grand kids small gifts on every holiday, Valentine, Halloween, etc.. It was not just about gift giving it was a reminder for very small children that they have someone who loves them and lives to far away to see every week like other grand parents. I did the same for my out of state grands.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 9:47AM
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Thank you both for your input. Is there a tactful way I can word the request? I'm afraid I'll be so nervous I'll come off as crass, which I tend to be when I'm nerved up. I don't want to come right out and say listen the whole gift-giving thing is killing us! I actually am a very generous person. Which is why I feel like it's never enough, or never as good or as much as the others give. I do host the family party and it costs hundreds of dollars just for the food!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 6:25PM
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" I don't want to come right out and say listen the whole gift-giving thing is killing us! "

If that is the truth, then that is what you should say.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 7:03PM
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I would just say the family has gotten to large, don't mention money. It might help to remind them how many there are.

In my family there are four of us girls, our husbands, our kids and mom.

Sister # 1.. and her family = 8
Sister # 2...and her family =16
Sister # 3...and her family = 7
Sister # 4...and her family = 11
Mom = 1

Husbands family = 7

Do the math, the above does not include our grand kids, nieces and nephews. It's ridiculous.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 8:52PM
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Sameboat, I know exactly what you're saying and feeling, as I'm sure everyone else who has posted does.

My husband and I don't have children but our siblings do, as well as extended families, our parents and step-parents. For various reasons one year my husband and I decided that enough was enough.

For a little over 30 years we always hosted Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner that year, as we were just sitting around moaning about eating too much, we brought up the subject of gift giving at Christmas. We told everyone that starting that year we would not be giving Christmas gifts nor did we want any.

But what we suggested to everyone is that we draw names and only give that person a gift. It went over really well and I can't tell you how many of our family were actually happy about it. I think that you would (or maybe wouldn't) be surprised how many of our family members were relieved. Even the younger children were involved. Over the past ten years or so the gift giving turned into gag gifts.

Not only do we have a huge Thanksgiving family get-together in our home, but we also have a large gathering during the holidays at my sister's. I've noticed over the years that we all seem to have alot more fun during these events since the stress of gift giving isn't there. To this day we can still hardly wait for the 'gift hour' to see what kind of gag gifts were opened.

The holidays are and should always be about family, love, laughter, food and, of course, if you celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, that as well. These are the things that make the holidays for us and will be what the younger generation will remember as they get older, not what some aunt or uncle gave them for Christmas.

I think some of the suggestions that have already been given are good. I don't think that you need to cite financial reasons at all, that's no one's business. I can almost guarantee that once you do tell everyone that you will feel like a ton of bricks have been lifted off your shoulders. If you need help to get the nerve up, have a nice glass of wine before you do. LOL!!!

Please let us know how you handle this. Alot of people are in the same boat (no pun intended) as you.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 2:15AM
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How are the gifts exchanged? Does everyone sit in a room together and the presents are handed out? That sort of situation makes it harder to opt-out and still be there. In that case, you could give a token gift, such as a small jar of homemade jam or lemon curd, to each person.

It is unlikely that your extended family will stop giving you gifts just because you have stopped giving them gifts.

It might help if you could bring yourself to understand that the financial amount spent on gifts exchanged do not have to match.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 10:19AM
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Oh thank you all for your input! I don't even know when I will see them all again this year - might just be Christmas, which is silly isn't it? To be getting gifts for kids you hardly know because they couldn't be bothered to visit and spend time with you throughout the year?! I will probably see my brother and his family over the summer when he goes to my other brother's for a visit. And I will bring it up at the pool. I promise you all I will come back here and let you know how it goes.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 8:43PM
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Just say," Hubby and I are having a bad year. We had a car crash. Our town tax bill went way up. It's so much work to go shopping for everybody. Can't we just stop sending gifts at Christmas? Spend the money you would have spent on us for something for yourself or for your kids." When I brought this up to my family, everyone seemed relieved.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 8:04AM
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This is never easy ... my older sister loves to shop and buy gifts. When we were exchanging, she'd cut things out of catalogs for her husband and herself and give them to us to purchase for them. My younger sister is always struggling, and I just didn't need any more stuff.

We had tried to discuss it like adults, but she wants to shop and she wants presents ... I finally told everyone last year I wasn't going to participate and since I host Xmas dinner, if they wanted to exchange gifts, to please do it some other time.

My younger sister was so relieved, and dinner was fun without the gift anxiety.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 2:08PM
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Here's what we did many years ago.

My parents were also tired and going broke giving presents to everybody. So my sister came up with a plan.

At the Christmas gathering everybody's name was put into a hat. Each drew one name and that was the person you gave a gift to. But there was a catch...

Everybody had to MAKE the gift! We had a year to figure out what we wanted to give, and make it.

The groans could be heard two houses down! But my parents stood by the rule.

The following year, my mother got a gift from my sister's son. It was a piece of wood. On it he drew an outline of his hand and wrote "Merry Christmas Nana". It was the only thing a 4 year old could make.

Others got bird houses made by 8 year olds, etc. The grownups weren't much better with the exception of a crocheted afghan given to one cousin from another.

As the years passed, the handmade gifts got better and more imaginative. Family members were trying to outdo each other. Guys found out they enjoyed woodworking as it relieved stress from their jobs. One woman did too and gave a hand turned pen one year.

Last year my brother gave my sister a handcrafted leather coat. They never really got along and she cried when she got it.

That piece of wood? It was my mother's most prized possession. Her last wish was that it be placed in her casket.

I still have everything that I got from those Christmases. Especially the memories.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2013 at 8:12PM
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On my husbands side we have gotten so large we have rented a building. There are 4 families and we take turns hosting it. It has been so nice. For our gift giving each family brings a gift for their own little ones. Then the women bring a woman's gift and the men bring a man's gift. The gifts are around $20.00. We have Santa come and give the kids their gifts. We leave them outside in a car and Santa carries them in in his big black bag.. For the exchange the women draw numbers and pick a gift. The next woman draws and has the option to pick a gift or take the opened on. We end up with some really nice things. The men do the same. I can tell you we have a terrific time. We have all year to shop. We all know each other so this helps. One year I took a double pack ( bought 1/2 priced at Joann Fabrics ) of Fiskar scissors and they went around and around. We have had birdbaths, crockpots, nice cookbooks, throws and others. There are so many things you can buy. This way everyone spends about the same thing. It has been great for all of us. It makes it easy on everyone. Last year I purchased a really nice garden table at the end of the season for 1/2 price. It was a hit, too. The men have tools, lottery tickets, flashlights, gift cards from manly places, leather gloves, nice lights for garages as well as many others. Fathers's Day time is a great time to find nice men's gifts on sale.

For some people buying it is a big thing but if it makes a hardship on you you should be able to stop. Talk to your children about this and then let all the rest of the family know what your family has decided. You can't stop some from buying no matter what you do. If they continue, just say thanks and don't feel bad. They knew coming you were not buying. Don't let them make you feel quilty for not buying. The holidays are suppose to be enjoyable for everyone. Don't let them ruin it for you. Get this going now. Don't put it off.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 1:06PM
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Really money isn't the overall issue, I can afford to pay for gifts for my extended family, but thinking of what to buy and buying each item is too much.
I would in one polite sentence say the gift giving has become too much for you and probably others. You will not be doing it in the future and ask others not to give to anyone in your family.
Say it with a smile in your voice, no reason to be intimidated or afraid of your family. No need to give excuses or reasons. No reason to burden yourself at the holidays.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 1:10PM
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I will always buy a toy for the littles, the rest of us participate in a gift exchange game, less than $20, if you want to play, you bring a gift. If you don't, you can watch, or eat some more pie. It's fun for me to find a neat, though generic, gift for $20.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 2:10PM
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We are fortunate enough to not really need anything, and like many others here the gift giving was getting out of control. We decided that instead of giving gifts to each other we really didn't need, as a family we would adopt a family and try to make Christmas special for a family that isn't as fortunate as we all are the rest of the year. By having 4 families take care of one family it gives us an opportunity to bond over helping others and it also is a reduction in the gift giving expenses. An added benefit, was that it also put some meaning back into Christmas for our children that we couldn't really do by just talking about giving back.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 10:14PM
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sameboat, I am completely on board (heh) with ending the gift-giving madness. The cool people at AdBusters.org foundation have gotten up a tidy little Holiday Gift Exemption Voucher. All very official-looking! Link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: AdBusters

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 4:02PM
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sameboat, I am completely on board (heh) with ending the gift-giving madness. The cool people at AdBusters.org foundation have gotten up a tidy little Holiday Gift Exemption Voucher. All very official-looking! Link below.

Sorry; here's a better link to the voucher:

Here is a link that might be useful: AdBusters

This post was edited by eggshellfinish on Sun, May 19, 13 at 16:05

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 4:03PM
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I prefer drawing names to the white elephant/Yankee swap formats, but really either one is better than trying to buy a gift for everyone.

Last year we did a yankee swap. Mom, the matriarch, was insistent that the limit be set quite low; $10. I found it very difficult to find something that wasn't really tacky, and ended up spending about double that. Furthermore, maybe because it was all family, very few people swapped gifts. (Though no one knows who brought what, maybe no one wanted to make the giver feel bad? It wasn't much fun without the swapping and trading)

I had wondered how to tactfully approach the idea of raising the price limit; Mom eliminated the problem by passing away. *sigh*

I do very much like the idea of drawing names and making a gift, given enough time.

I think this is actually an awesome time to be discussing this.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 9:35PM
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*...I do very much like the idea of drawing names and making a gift, given enough time...*

That's why we drew names at Christmas for NEXT Christmas. We had a year to figure out what to make.

I had a cousin who made a dollhouse. It went over so well he started making dollhouses and sold them. At one point he was selling some large and well constructed houses for hundreds of dollars each.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 8:06AM
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Yep, we do the $10 man/woman/teen gift exchange game too. When the kids were little each parent saved one of their child's smaller gifts and gave it to their own child to be opened while the adults played their gift game.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2013 at 8:33PM
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Just reading this now and enjoying ALL the ideas.

My husband's family used to do the pull a name out of the hat at some summer get-together. Not everyone has to be there...his mom would send out the names to all.

So my side started trying this too. It works out fine since we all get along so well. But in some families it might be tough if you get someone's name with whom you don't get along that well. It can be a good opportunity, or just a problem.

I love the idea of making things - we tried that too but for everyone (or at least a family gives to another family something they made).

In the end, you probably need to consider all ideas and customize. One thing is certain - only a handful of well-off family members who LOVE to shop and give will not be happy with any suggestion. Most of the time, I hear over and over that everyone found it to be much less stressful - financial and time wise. One thought is to talk the idea over with a single sibling, or parent, and see what they think.

Coming up with a plan as a family is a good thing though. So if you suggest the idea, leaving part of how to go about it might be a good thing. Suggesting adults draw names, and kids still get something from the adults is one way to go. College aged "kids" can be adults, or they can concentrate on the little kids. But you might get more cooperation/interest if you give them some say in how to go about this. Good luck - hope to hear how it went!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 9:41AM
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I told my daughter I did not want to participate in the holiday gift roulette. To bring the point home, I decided not to go there for Christmas, and in fact, I am flying to Florida with a girlfriend instead.

My grand kids have so many toys, some are put away on a regular basis, to keep the toy boxes from overflowing.

It's insanity in my opinion.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 9:36PM
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We do things a little differently. We have a big dinner and then afterwards a HUGE bingo game. Prizes are contributed by everyone and range from $1 giant-sized candy to bath towels to beer mugs to... You name it. No ones name is on anything. You just bring and contribute to the pile. Whatever you want. Bingo games can last hours and are totally great fun! No one ever leaves before the prizes are gone.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 7:50AM
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At work we used to do a gift exchange. The limit was $10. Women exchanged with women, men with men. Just after Thanksgiving, all female names went in a bowl, which was then passed around. Etc. You could make or buy a gift. We tried $5 but that was too little. I mean , you could get a decent bottle of wine for ten bucks or a pretty scarf. We also collected cash , which we gave to a local charity. Gifts were exchanged at our "holiday" party. It was always lots of fun. And easily adapted for a family exchange.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 9:32AM
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