Friday, December 18, 2009

To Gift Or Not To Gift

I’ve been struggling this year about giving and receiving gifts. After going through a decluttering phase (the first of many), I realized that I don’t want more stuff. I want experiences and memories and a few quality things that I enjoy. I want to give with those values in mind too.

My family has been weird about Christmas since my mom left my dad immediately after Christmas a few years ago (it wasn't related to the holiday directly and had been a long time coming). Donald and I will be with them this year (we switch between families each year) and we have no idea what to expect. It has nothing to do with the gifts – we’re trying to recreate our own family traditions now that things have changed so much.

However, since gift giving (and receiving) tends to be such a big part of this country's celebration of Christmas, I've been paying particular attention to the emerging online discussion about giving fewer/less expensive/no gifts this year.

I don't know if it's just because of the tough economy and the unemployment rate, certainly things Donald and I can identify with, but it seems like there is a developing trend over thinking more about the gifts we give, or deciding not to give any gifts at all. I think this is a wonderful development. For example:
With all of these things in mind, Donald and I still ended up buying material things for our immediate families this year. We put serious thought into making sure that what we gave would be appreciated by the recipient and would show that we know the person well enough to support what is important to each of them. Our recipient list consisted of ten people only (besides each other), which kept our budget small. I think we found a good balance between giving something meaningful and giving something material.

As for our changing holiday traditions, gift giving is a small part of the way we have spent Christmas in the past, yet there are elements of the overall scene at Christmas that are related. For example, if you're not going to exhange gifts, do you still get a tree? What do you put under it? Do you do stockings? How do we accommodate those members of my family who are uncomfortable about giving and receiving gifts and still allow those of us who want to give thoughtful gifts to do so?

When Donald and I arrive in California next week, we know that we will be picked up from the airport by at least one member of my family. We have no idea whether there will be a tree or whether it will be decorated or whether there will be Christmas lights on the house. We're bringing stockings (replacement ones - our real ones are packed somewhere) and we have no idea whether we'll need them or not. We're bringing a gift for each other that may end up being opened on Christmas morning in our bedroom without including anyone else. We're sending gifts ahead for other members in my family and we have no idea when they will be opened or whether they will be appreciated.

I'm mourning a little for the loss of the routines and traditions we used to have, despite the fact that I agree with reducing the materialistic feeling many Christmases have had. I'm also aware that my reaction to these changes is likely related to the circumstances through which they have taken place (my parents separation).

I can, however, likely count on our traditional Christmas morning breakfast. I'm planning a day trip for all of us to get outside and enjoy the amazing resources California has to offer. We'll play games and go out to eat and cook and take walks. The most important things will happen - spending time with family and sharing meals and appreciating what we have.

This will definitely be a test for me to see how able I am to let go of the things I cannot control and to focus on the most important aspects of the holiday season. I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!


  1. I love simplicity. Love it. We have a little tree and a "stained glass" nativity I made as a child and a couple stockings. We put a $50 limit on gifts for each other and I come from a big family, so the siblings draw names. Parents have a $20-$30 budget.

    This year, as you've probably guessed, things are even simpler than ever before. Gallon bags of granola have been well-received and all year, I've been nurturing starts from our grandma's plants and decided they're ready to go out into the world to my mom and siblings.

    It's a little naive to say "Christmas is in your heart" because that's like saying "Halloween is in your heart." It just wouldn't be the same without a pumpkin and some candy. We do need our traditions.

    I'd say if I really had to pare it down, it'd be the tree and the food (baking, wassail drink, big meal). And family, if I can get it, but we're pretty scattered and money for travel is always limited.

    I empathize with your loss of traditions due to your parents' relationship. I hope that a couple things will shine through as "Christmas" and give you comfort and reassurance.

  2. Sonrisa - Good for you and Gary for making the holidays simple and meaningful. I appreciate your well wishes for us and I send you blessings for the holiday season and the near year. Thanks so much for commenting.

  3. I'm replacing some comments that got lost in my template changes this weekend. Please see below:

    On December 20, 2009, thesuburbanlife ( commented: Well I definitely want to wish you good luck over Christmas! A couple of years ago we decided to forgo our traditions and spent Christmas with my husband's family in a different state. It ended up being a wonderful experience. Hoping the same for you!

  4. On December 20, 2009, suzen ( commented: Hi Daphne!
    It seems that holiday traditions do go through a transition - especially in these days! I eliminated "stuff" bit by bit, year by year - only have a few decorations on the mantle, no tree, no Xmas village etc. Nobody seems to mind - it's not about the stuff anyway, as you said, it's about being together. We've gotten big on giving services instead of gifts - golf lessons, massages, spa stuff, gift cards for the bookshop, baskets of food stuff - and it's actually been more fun giving "experiences" in lieu of another shirt or whatever!

    I hope your holidays are filled with love and joy!

  5. Mindy - Thanks so much for the luck. I'm glad your experiences were good and I'm definitely trying to keep an open mind so we have a chance of having good ones too. I appreciate your support!

    suzen - It does seem like things are transitioning a lot right now. I love the idea of giving services instead of material things, thanks for sharing your examples. Thank you for the holiday wishes and I hope the same for you!

  6. Hi Daphne.
    It is good to realize that some mourning is taking place. That is an honest obeservation about what is going on for you AND you can then choose to let go and create other ones.
    You can then choose to give the old tradition a place in your heart and then build new ones on the solid foundation.
    Life flows and changes and it is good to reflect, not to hang on but to realize the conversation you are present to.
    Lots of love to you and Donald and good on you to be so prepared.

  7. Dearest Daphne,

    I wish for you and Donald a wonderful Christmas in California. A time for you to make beautiful memories for a lifetime.

    Richard and I come from very big families. Gift giving has nearly always left me in a state of anxiety and because of this, I've given up on giving to my immediate family. Instead, I donate to one cause near and dear to my heart and inside the cards I give to my brothers and sisters, is a note on which charity I gave to on behalf of our family. This year it was the Wounded Warrior Project.

    This year, Richard and I are hosting Christmas Eve for both our families. The focus is on family and our first grand baby, Olivia. There will be lots of food, presents for our kids, cameras and flash bulbs, good wine, good cheer, and 6 days of peace and quiet after the last guest leaves :-)

    Merry Christmas,


  8. Wilma - Your comment warmed my heart and helped me sleep last night. I agree, it is important to acknowledge how I feel and to be able to move beyond that. Thank you so much for your love and well wishes.

    Peggy - Thank you so much for the warm wishes. I love the way you have chosen to do your holiday giving, and I agree that the Wounded Warrior Project is a phenomenal choice. I hope your Christmas Eve hosting of the families is happy and joyful and leaves you with a well-deserved peace for the rest of the holiday season. Merry Christmas to you too!

  9. Hi Daphne, oh I cannot tell you how much you grabbed my attention in the first paragraph, my insides were cheering, yes, yes, yes!

    I don't want more stuff either, in fact a couple of years ago my husband and I decided not to get any more gifts for each other at least, that were not something we needed or wanted for a particular purpose. We decided from now on whether Christmas or birthdays, we are wanting experiences. Perhaps experiencing a new place, new sport, new activity, etc...

    And it has been so much fun that way.

    As for the rest of the family, Christmas gift giving got to a place where it was more work than fun, so we decided that since we are all adults now, there just is no point. Now we get together for the holidays to just get together and spend time with each other.

    For me it has nothing to do with the economy or anything else, other than I like to make my own traditions of what makes sense to me. That is why I totally respect whoever wants to buy and whatever kind of gifts out there, but for me, I choose a different approach.

    In the end, as long as we do what really makes us happy within, not out of obligation, I think we have done great :)

  10. Evita - I'm so glad to hear about other people who have made a no-gift or minimal gift giving work for them and their families. I think it's easier to decide what works for Donald and me, but then we also need to either share this with other people who might want to give gifts or understand that other people will handle gifts the way they want to. It's definitely going to be a work in progress, for all gifts, year-round. Thank you so much for commenting and happy holidays!

  11. Hi Daphne,

    I'm with you. I have also been simplifying my life as well as our home. I'm not in need of any more material gifts, but much prefer creating memories and moments. With the majority of our family and friends we've slowly quit buying gifts. After having discussions with them, we've found they also feel the same way; it just gets to be too much and the stress seems to take away from the magic of the Christmas holiday.

    Although we still have some traditions we've kept, for us it comes down to celebrating the true meaning of Christmas and not celebrating what we get.

    I wish you and Donald a very happy holiday season, a safe trip and a joyous new year.

  12. I couldn't find the comment button for your award! Congratulations =) and thanks for the mention!

    I appreciate you!


  13. Barbara - I'm glad to hear that your family has evolved its gift-giving process and that everyone is happier for it. I think we do want to evolve in that direction, at least with my family, and let Donald's family keep their traditions if it still works for them. It will be interesting to see how everything evolves. Thank you very much for the holiday wishes. Happy Holidays!

    Peggy - I'm working on getting that fixed. If you click on the header of the post on which you want to comment, the comment box will show up. It's just not showing up on my front page at the moment. Sorry about that! You are very deserving of the award and I appreciate you too!


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