Simplify the Stress of Holiday Gift-Giving
by Lucy E.M. Black
The giving and receiving of gifts is traditionally seen as a way of demonstrating affection, thoughtfulness, respect, and appreciation. Individuals often carry strong emotional feelings about gift-giving, and many of us can recall a special gift we cherished. Cultural customs and family traditions also have a role to play when it comes to gifts. Special occasions like births, weddings and birthdays typically involve a gift of some type, as do certain religious events and holidays.
The challenges surrounding gift giving for busy people often turn into a balancing act among expectations, budget, and time—how do we keep our holidays and occasions special for family and friends without stressing about gift giving? I’ve collected some suggestions from friends and share these below with the hope that there might be something helpful for everyone.
- Large families often set a holiday gift-giving limit of an agreed-upon amount of dollars per person. This could be four small gifts or one large gift, but the budget is set and kept firm.
- Another idea is to only purchase up-cycled gifts for friends and family. Nothing can be brand new and everything must come from a charity shop or other up-cycling source.
- Often people prefer to donate to charities and environmental causes in lieu of gifts. An accompanied sweet note explaining the donation made in the recipient’s name is a heartfelt idea.
- A gift exchange where family members draw a name and purchase one gift for that person is another popular way of dealing with holiday gift giving. There are fun variations and party games that can be developed in conjunction with this approach often called “Pollyannas.”
- According to tabloid news, the British royal family apparently exchange only inexpensive “joke” gifts with family members during the Christmas holidays (i.e., a toilet paper roll that plays God Save the Queen).
- Hand-made gifts are always a precious gift made of love and labor. Over-committing yourself to making too many hand-made gifts can be a stress-inducing endeavor, however, so be circumspect about the amount of gifts you choose to make.
- Our extended family decided some years ago that we would only purchase gifts for the youngest family members who are under the age of twenty-one.
- Some families choose to go on holidays together in lieu of gift-giving. This offers the gift of time and memories that can last a lifetime.
- Sometimes the best gift can be one of community service. Celebrate the season by working together at the local charity kitchen preparing a meal for others or working together at the local food bank.
- Gift cards only (with a set limit) provide another option for families trying to simplify gift practices.
Negotiating any changes to family gift-giving traditions may be prickly and not something people are willing to discuss. If that’s the case for you, you might consider simplifying your approach with your immediate loved ones as a starting place. Discussion points might include the following:
- Names on the gift list?
- Do we limit the number of gifts given?
- Are gifts to be store-bought or homemade?
- What is the budget?
When young children are involved, there is a tendency to be overly generous. I remember watching our toddler playing happily with the brightly colored wrapping paper one Christmas, entirely uninterested in, and perhaps even overwhelmed by, the number of gifts left for him to unwrap.
Some families choose to select gifts for their children that align with the following categories:
- A want—something for fun depending on their interests.
- A need—something useful such as clothing, shoes, skates, or a new backpack.
- An adventure—tickets for an outing to a theme park, zoo, science center, theatre or play-dome.
- An education—a book or game that is educational in nature.
Other families choose family gifts as a center-point of their celebrations. These can be as simple as a family Christmas puzzle or game. The objective is to find something that creates a shared experience for the family to enjoy.
Stocking gifts for those who celebrate Christmas are a way to inject levity and fun into the holiday without spending a lot of money or purchasing unnecessary things. In our stockings, we always wrap a chocolate orange and, following Dutch tradition, a chocolate initial for our name. Other gifts include things like a new toothbrush, paperclips, and other useful bits and bobs from the dollar store.
Try to keep your focus on enjoying time with family and friends during the holidays. Create your own traditions. Savor those times together and ensure that the gifts you prepare and share are given with love and thankfulness and joy.
Artwork by: “the Gift” by Martina Spikan (Balkan) and “Gifts” by Trance Orange (US) both from deviantart.com
Lucy E.M. Black studied creative writing at the undergraduate level and later earned an M.A. in nineteenth-century British fiction. She has also studied at the Sage Hill School of Writing, the Humber College School of Writing, and the University of Toronto Creative Writing Programme. Her short story A Hawk in Winter won third prize in the 2014 International Rubery Short Story Competition. Other stories of hers have appeared in Cyphers Magazine, Fast Forward Fiction, Gargoyle Magazine, under the gum tree, the Hawai’i Review, Forge, Temenos Fiction, Romance Magazine, Vintage Script, and The Antigonish Review. The Marzipan Fruit Basket, a debut collection of her short fiction, was released by Inanna Publications in June 2017. Her first novel, Eleanor Courtown, was published by Seraphim Editions in October 2017. She lives with her husband in a small town near Toronto.