I always espoused the view that Christmas should not be about the gifts you get or how much money you spend on others, but about family and togetherness and those important things in life.  But in recent times, despite how hard my family tries to focus on “the important things,” it seems like we are nonetheless trapped in the game of “how do we give nice presents that don’t look cheap, while not spending a lot of money?”

Problem solved.

It’s a middle class problem, and most definitely a first world problem, I realize.  If you’re impoverished, you’re not spending anything on anyone, let alone worrying about Christmas presents.  If you’re wealthy, well ok then.

But if you are somewhere in the middle … making too much money to justify not doing anything, but not making enough to spend freely … there is an expectation that you get your kids a whole bunch of cool stuff (from you as well as from Santa); that you get your parents something they can enjoy, although in their minds you will always be “the kid” who is not expected to get something extravagant; and that you give other family members and maybe friends something at least as nice as you would receive from them.  “Nice” doesn’t have to be defined by the amount of money something costs (or is perceived to cost), but it does have to show effort:  I baked you these cookies because you love this kind of cookie, or, I knitted you a scarf with your favorite colors because you said you wanted a scarf.

One year, my immediate and local extended family, who typically celebrate Christmas together, all agreed to forego formal gift-buying in favor of a Gift Card Grab Bag.  The way this works is that you purchase a gift card, limited to $50, and on Christmas each person pulls one gift card, and that’s your Christmas present.  Several of us were relieved and excited about this – now we could just focus on food, drink, good company and general merriment.

However, others decided to show up on Christmas, not only with the obligatory gift card, but along with a slew of “just a little something . . .”  NOT COOL.  I tried to protest that, um, here I am empty-handed, and because you decided to break the rule, it is very awkward because I have nothing for you in return.  The answer I got for that is, “Oh I don’t care!  I don’t want anything!”  But I did find it upsetting, and even insulting … like, poor girl, I am going to give you some Christmas cheer, but I know you’re flat-out broke, so just don’t bother returning the favor.  It’s like, I’m not a child who still needs a ton of stuff in order to feel like it’s Christmas, you know?  The whole purpose of the Gift Card Grab Bag was to steer clear of that kind of gift-buying stress.  But apparently that didn’t work, so we ended that new tradition pretty much as soon as it began.

So the other day, I decided I would get my nieces, who are 16 and 18, respectively, some nice but small and reasonably priced designer bags for Christmas.  They must be sick of gift cards anyway, right?  What girl wouldn’t love a hot pink Kate Spade clutch for going out with friends, or a black leather Coach tote bag for hauling books and other necessities around campus?  My nieces, apparently.  Too bad I found this out after ordering the bags on Amazon, after waiting to hear from my sisters about alternative suggestions that never came.  When I finally got some feedback from their moms via text message, the suggestion was … wait for it … how about a gift card?  Sigh.

So Merry Christmas, if you celebrate it, and if not, enjoy the winter and the cheer and the gifting, or lack thereof, whichever may be applicable to you and yours.  And if you have any tips for making the holidays less of a headache and more about that good will and peace on earth stuff, I look forward to hearing them for future reference!

 
Image Credit:  Chia.com.

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