My Christmas Dilemma

Home for Thanksgiving, I overheard a conversation coming from the kitchen where Mom was making cinnamon rolls while telling my youngest brother, JL, “I don’t think having two paper routes is a good idea in the kind of winter weather we have.”.

“But, Mom,” JL’s adolescent voice rose above the closing of the oven door, “If I take another route, I’ll be able to buy better Christmas presents for everyone.”

“JL, you’ve been buying and hiding presents for the past month. Enough is enough.”

“Yeah, but I like giving everybody things they’ll really like,” he replied.

I don’t know which amazed me more: JL’s willingness to ride his bike over the ice-slick roads of a Wyoming winter to buy special presents for his family or his self-assurance in selecting them.

I lack confidence in choosing appropriate gifts for my loved ones, and I’m not alone.

Several of my friends fret about what and how much to buy for grandchildren: “Don’t you think a full-sized St. Bernard stuffed animal is too much for a baby? My husband insisted we buy it, but I think my daughter will be horrified.”

“My grandchildren get way more than they need, and I think when they get so much, the impact of everything is lessened — sort of like the chocolate buffet on a cruise. But will giving them each one gift seem stingy compared to what they get from others?”

“Our teenage grandson wants money that he’ll probably spend on hair dye or another piercing. I love him dearly and believe you shouldn’t give gifts with strings attached, but do I want to encourage his offbeat appearance?”

Parents also fuss about the choices Santa Claus has to make. Following is a conversation some of my nieces and their friend had on Facebook a few years ago. In it, the young mothers shared their frustration with gift giving and suggested possible solutions.

Leanna: Luke just informed me that the toy he wanted so much for Christmas (the one I stood in line for an hour and a half to buy on Black Friday) is no longer on his wish list, and he’d like something completely different. An hour and a half of my life, wasted.

Shauna: I told my kids to make up their lists the week of Thanksgiving and said there’s no changing their minds after that. Santa is inflexible after Thanksgiving.

Carole: Christmas can be magical, but I am over trying to make it the perfect holiday. Give it to him anyway.

A Friend: Years ago I was sitting around with eight youngsters at spring break. I asked them what they got for Christmas. None of them could remember. I quit working so hard after that. Now I give each child a Santa gift, something to read, something to wear, and something to play with. It’s made life so much easier. Works in lean years as well as good.

Shortly after I read this exchange, I shared it with a friend who said that years ago she told her children they would each get three gifts from Santa because that’s what the Wise Men brought for the first Christmas. “And to my surprise,” she added, “they accepted my explanation without question — except the youngest who wanted to know if three was more than five.”

I like knowing I’m not alone with my gift-giving anxieties, but I still fuss. So if you see me in a store examining two different items and looking tense, please approach, point, and say, “That one.”

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65 thoughts on “My Christmas Dilemma

  1. It sounds like your brother’s “love language” is gifts. Some of us like to share our love through gift giving (not me as I’ve learned through the years) and others use other means. I think this plays into the fretting and stress around the holidays. That expectation can feel HUGE and yet, as you so smartly described kids can’t even remember mostly what they get for Christmas a few months later! There is a joy in watching children open something special but there is also a lot of disappointment, for me, to see the pile of gifts behind them just holding space while they plow through the next and then the next one after that. Less is always more, and time, undivided-attention-type-time, is priceless.
    Wishing you and your family a lovely holiday season, Janet. I hope you enjoy many warm hugs and seasonal treats this season!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. You could try my sister’s way of gift-giving that she had when I was a child: get a small, inexpensive gift, and wrap it in so many layers of different wrapping papers, in boxes and/or with ribbons, that the suspense is great! By the time I finally got to the gift, I was happy – ‘cos it’d taken so long to get to it!

    I can only remember a few of my presents from childhood – none of them for Christmas as we didn’t celebrate it – one was a satchel for first day of school at my ‘big school’ from my dad, that he let me look at the night before (and I loved that present: it made me feel very grown up!) – we wrapped it back up and I pretended the next day I hadn’t seen it – and the other was a pair of twin baby dolls that I nagged my mother for, for absolutely weeks. I still miss them and have no idea why I threw them out. I hope they went to a charity shop so that some other child could at least enjoy them.

    As for giving gifts for adults.. my husband’s family has always given perishables, such as fruit or biscuits (cookies) then there is nothing afterwards to give away, forget or put in a cupboard if it is unwanted. And most people know the foodie-tastes of their friends and family more than they know what they read or wear or whatever.

    Apropos your brother’s generosity I’m afraid with my suspicious nature, I’d have suspected he was doing it for other reasons. Are you sure there wasn’t a good-looking teenage girl on that second route? 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • So good to hear from you, Val. Your sister’s plan must have ben fun when you were children; and I enjoyed reading about your dad showing you the satchel he got you for the first day of school the night before, then both of you pretending the next morning, which surely added to the enjoyment of the gift. The twin baby dolls also sound like a good gift for a little girl; I, too, received such gifts and can’t remember what became of the gifts I wanted so much. I was part of a school staff once where we exchanged small, inexpensive food gifts. We laughed and laughed when we opened them. As for a teenage temptress on my brother’s paper route, I’m not sure. He didn’t seem to discover girls until high school, but you never know.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree that it is difficult to choose an appropriate gift. Not only for the little ones, but for the big ones as well. I ran out of idea a few Christmases ago. The little ones have more than they need or appreciate, and the big ones as well. But at gift giving time we equate gifts with love and want to give more to let them know how much we love them. It IS a dilemma. Some give gift cards, but my husband is horrified at the idea. He would rather give small gifts each paper wrapped just as they were in our childhood. We’ll see who wins after I check out Amazon again.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You’re right, Kayti, that during the holiday season, we equate gifts with love, which adds to our gift-buying stress. And wrapping gifts adds to my stress; I don’t have a knack for it. Good luck with your gift purchases; and I’d like to hear who won after your repeated visits to Amazon.

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  4. Hard choices, but good spirits. As long as everyone remembers the day as having been a good day, it works.

    I still grapple with gifts for my wife. I want to get her the right things, but she’s tough to buy for. We work to get the stress out. It doesn’t always work.

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  5. I love the idea of something to read, something to wear and something to play with. I have happy memories of one Christmas Eve, ( in Sydney Australia) after the kids were asleep, when my husband was assembling a trampoline in our backyard, while the neighbour was putting a swing set together. Much cursing, sharing of advice ( and no doubt a beer or two). I imagine this would be difficult to achieve in snowy climes.

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    • I like that idea as well. A friend implemented it with a change. She kept the something to read and something to wear, but changed the something to play with to something to play with others (like a board game) and added something just for fun. The Christmas Eve with two dads in their back yards, each assembling something for their children for Christmas and sharing advice and cursing makes me smile. The nearest I could come in a life lived in cold and snow would be a father in a garage trying to assemble three bicycles and asking my husband for help. They had a grand time.

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  6. I think we really must be soul sisters… I sometimes feel like a scrooge when I’m contemplating gift giving. Can we just be over it, please? 1. We could not ever compete with other grandma who spends thousands — worst Christmas? We made them a puppet stage with homemade puppets which was thrown over in favor of plastic star wars stuff… 2. Gave a handmade scarf to someone who never even thanked me for it. 3. Last Christmas husband got me a vacuum cleaner… Sigh. I could go on, but I won’t. (My sister told me once during a lean year, they decided to each make everyone one present a la Little House on the Prairie and that it was the best Christmas ever… Just an idea. Probably too late for this year, though. Doubtful I’ll see you in a store, but my thoughts are with you…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, thank you, thank you for understanding my dilemma and relating unhappy gift-giving incidents similar to some I’ve endured. It made me sad to think of a puppet stage with homemade puppets being ignored in favor of star wars stuff. How I would have loved such a gift. And so much more thought and effort went into the puppets. But the vacuum from your husband made me laugh. Did you mask your disappointment or show it? And, if you showed it, was he surprised and unable to understand your attitude? My dad once gave my mother a wheelbarrow, and to the surprise of her children, she loved it!

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  7. Here’s my little secret: The kids and grandkids like to get money, so we accommodate that wish. In the long run, they all learn a lesson in budgeting and finance. Plus, being a foodie, I always share treats from my kitchen. They never get returned and always get consumed. Win, Win! 😍😍

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  8. I just figure some years I’m inspired and some years I’m not, but I’m always surprised to GET a gift. One year I didn’t have a tree until, out of nowhere, someone sent me a present and I had to get a tree for it to sit under. The tree was a 9 inch living tree and the present was small. Ultimately I LOVED that tree. I dunno. Christmas evolves into it’s own thing every year. I just step back and let it happen. 🙂

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  9. It gets harder I think as the years go by Janet and the “demands” of some children are to my mind over the top. This year I have decided to keep everything laid back and simple and as I can not afford to buy for the whole extended families I have shortened the list to my sibling and my son and daughter in law and a couple of very close friends. For our family we also have the added complication of 7 birthdays in December and my sister on the 2 January argghhhhh. lol Every year I think I will be better organised and get things earlier But…. somehow December hits and mostly the cupboard is bare. My best remembered gift was a beautifull doll and a wardrobe filled with clothes that I got when I was 5 Dad had made the wardrobe and mum the clothes. ah them was the days

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    • You brought a happy memory back to me, Lynne. When I was young, my mom made wonderful clothes for the doll I got for Christmas, including a wedding dress and ballerina’s tutu. I dressed and undressed that doll for months. I think even at the time I recognized it as a gift of love, much more wonderful than a gift of obligation.It sounds like you’ve made some wise decisions that will work for you, Lynne. But, oh, those birthdays. Could you convince everyone to just exchange cards? Or calls?

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  10. Oh my but we share the same dilemma. Every year I get nervous about whether my gifts will be appreciated, whether I am giving the grands too much, what to give them, weather my children will like what I give, etc. It really makes Christmas less enjoyable. So this year, I gave each grandchild one major and two minor gifts. I’m done. They have enough. Perhaps I can relax and enjoy their presence.

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  11. I love your writing, and always enjoy your choice of topics. I’m having a little difficulty with this one, however, since my dilemma this year is a change of heart about the entire gift-giving exercise. I’ve participated in giving up to the max in the past, but am finding I’m jaded about it all this year. I guess you could call it materialism burn-out. So I’m struggling with it, and most likely will take a middle road—cut down but not end it entirely.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think the middle of the road is always a safe place to be. My life has been much happier since I found my way there. After the festivities end, let me know how it worked out for you. I’d like to hear.

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  12. Yesterday I went early to the grocery store, and was appalled by the crowds and chaos on only Dec 2. Poems and kind thoughts are free, and do not cause ruckus. I grabbed a cab home, it was dreadful. great post as always Janet dear.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can picture you fleeing the store and hailing a cab in order to preserve your sanity. Good choice. The chaos creeps ever earlier, so I’m not surprised your grocery store resembled a melee on Dec. 2. It’s appalling. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Sheila. Your thoughts mean a lot to me.

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  13. Oh Janet, Tim and I were discussing this very topic today.
    I’m really torn on this subject because there used to be a certain amount of joy in giving and receiving the perfect gift.
    Now however, in this age of consumerism it seems that gifts to our nephews and nieces just get added to the towering piles in their rooms. I’m willing to bet that the gifts are all-but-forgotten by the following week.
    If I had my way, I would spend Christmas day taking a nice long hike, playing games, watching movies—just spending time with (instead of spending money on) the people I care about.
    Then I’d probably be accused of being “cheap”!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Do you think it’s an aging thing that makes us think time with loved ones is more important that gift exchanges? I never would have thought so as a child, but I took time with my loved ones for granted then. I know what you mean about the towering piles that are soon forgotten. It’s discouraging. I enjoy giving surprise gifts to those I like or appreciate who don’t expect a gift from me, but I don’t do it during the Christmas season because I’m afraid they would feel they had to give me a gift in return!

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      • Yeah, I’m pretty sure that it’s an aging thing that makes us realize how fleeting and precious time is.
        And now that I think about it, if my Grandma had suggested watching a movie with me instead of giving me a gift, I probably would have revolted! It’s a dilemma, because I believe that in the long run shared experiences prove much more memorable than just another sweater.
        I like your idea of giving thoughtful surprise gifts during the year. Maybe I’ll give it a try!

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      • Joel and I began giving our children and grandchildren shared experiences many years ago. We took the entire clan to a waterpark for the weekend or to a nice hotel with a pool and a trampoline center next door. Even going bowling and then to a pizza place for lunch seemed to please them, especially when their parents and we swam, jumped and bowled with them.

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  14. Janet, once again you beautifully write how I often feel. Here’s another thought…
    I hear angst instead of cheer when there’s talk about Christmas giving. Sometimes it only takes ONE person to suggest “let’s do something different this year” (or next year) and others will eagerly agree.
    Janet, I know I’ve written every year (this time I won’t go into detail how it came about) that our family made the decision to only give presents to the small children. None, absolutely none for the adults. No, not even name drawing or token gifts. We love it. It takes 1-2 years before everyone is aboard and some will still try to give a present….but we chide them with “remember the family rule.” Our Christmas Day is so much more fun.
    We give each other the gift of not giving gifts.
    Be strong, speak up, and a chorus will join you.
    I love your idea of giving experiences to the youngsters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love this thought: “We give each other the gift of not giving gifts.Be strong, speak up, and a chorus will join you,” and I believe it. When you first told me about the decision your family made, I proposed the same to my siblings and there was a collective sigh of relief. I’ve been forever grateful to you. From reading the other comments on this post, I think a lot of other folks will be interested in adopting your family’s plan as well.

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      • We’ve had a few appalled criticisms when people hear we give no gifts to each other but…..our philosophy is ” we don’t believe in adults giving others adults gifts when there are so many children who get nothing.”
        It’s much more rewarding to give generously to toy drives, or to an identified family who’s on hard times, etc., and we do.

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      • I think the appalled criticism reflects more on the person making it than on your family. In line with your last thought, after the first year or two of our marriage, Joel and I stopped giving gifts to one another and started giving to the local toys for tots drive instead, which made us both happier people.

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  15. Janet, this is such a good read, and has clearly stimulated many people to share their own thoughts. Looks like you have largely managed to reduce the stress about decision making. I’m still thinking about this and maybe will write a little something myself to add to the mix. Have a wonderful Christmas doing what you love best, and not too much of the other stuff.

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  16. How did Christmas get this way? I have always honored the three gifts with my own kids-and we keep gifts small and personal. Now ironically my dear and wealthy sisters, and their children-are used to big and flashy though they have everything! I laugh at this irony and do the best I can. Best wishes for a beautiful season!

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    • How lovely that you can laugh at the irony and be content with doing the best you can, which I think must be pretty darn good — especially if it involves your cooking or your ability to give your undivided attention to your loved ones. I hope your season is beautiful as well.

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  17. Some people have a “gift” for gift giving. I’m not one of them. I too used to agonize over what to get someone. Although I WISH I could say I’ve gotten over it, I still suffer from moderate gift anxiety.

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  18. JL sounds like someone who is both generous and brave to be riding around like that. I have a friend whose family does not want ‘junk’, so they buy two pairs of jeans for their son and he chooses what wants, her husband tells her what he wants (something that is not expensive but useful) and hubby buys her intimate apparel. She likes this as she says she has terrible taste. It’s a win-win for everyone.

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    • My brother is generous and brave in the pursuit of things important to him to this day. Thank you for noticing. Your friend’s family has worked out gift-giving to the satisfaction of everyone and that does, indeed, make it a win-win situation for everyone.

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  19. Less than an hour ago my husband and I were combing over our kids’ Christmas lists and cross referencing what we’ve already gotten, trying to determine if what we have is a suitable substitute for what was listed, like one My Little Pony for the other if we happened to have gotten the wrong one. There is good advice in this post. I’m going to share it with my husband! Oh, and we disagreed on the number of gifts to give. I think 5 is sufficient. He wanted 6. I should especially draw his attention to the mom who said 3 for the wise men. Brilliant woman!

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  20. I know the cost of so much that is given as Christmas gifts has gotten way out of hand. I actually think one for Santa is enough. I used to by my son 3 presents: one from Santa, one from his father who wasn’t around, and one from me. When he figured out that his father wasn’t the one buying the gift, I still gave him 3 presents. It was the number of gifts I got as a child. It worked then so I figured it was good for my son too.

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    • Maybe the secret is to begin the gift-giving tradition with children when young, as both your parents and you did; that way children learn to expect the number of gifts the parents can afford and feel is right. It’s always good to hear from you, Glynis.

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  21. Hi Aunt Beulah,
    This has become a real food for thought story, great ideas coming in from all your followers Aunt Beulah. Christmas is both delightful and a dilemma every year. When my grandchildren came into our lives I made a decision that Santa would become my source of gift ideas, so I negotiate with Santa every year to ensure my Grandies Chrissy pressie’s wish list all comes true. Mind you we come into play at the tail end of the list, keeping our expenses in check, at the same time posing no dilemma in Christmas shopping for our Grandies.
    Adults, don’t exchange gifts, we agreed to eat, drink and be merry!!!
    Wishing you and Joel and your family a joyful and budiful festive season, lots of love and hugs across the miles from
    Annie and Pete in Australia 🌴🌞🌊🌲🍾❤❤❤

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  22. Yay, hurray, I heard from Annie this crisp winter day! You perfectly describe Christmas as a delight and a dilemma. It sounds like you and Pete (nice to meet you, Pete) have solved the dilemma part in a sensible way. I especially like the idea of adults not exchanging gifts and celebrating with food, drink and each other. Love, hugs, and best wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy new year to you, Pete, and all your loved ones.. I hope all things bright and beautiful come your way during the holiday season. Love, Janet

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  23. When I hear of friends who finished their Christmas shopping by Thanksgiving, I hunker down and pretend that we are not going to do major gift giving this year. Inevitably, I am seized by a fit (several, if I’m honest) of panic as we move closer to the occasion and end up doing what I try so hard not to do: give a present for the sake of giving!

    I really envy my Shopping-Adept Cousin who travels all over the world all year round, buying potential gifts for friends and family. And she really does give wonderful gifts, well-suited and much appreciated by the fortunate recipients. I often wish I had her capacity & interest in both shopping and being organised.

    Have I done my Christmas shopping yet this year? Hmmmm, not quite. But we have gotten around this little flaw in my makeup by starting a stocking tradition (although we have no fireplaces in Singapore to hang these). Instead of getting large presents for our closest family, we fill up stockings for each other. Pencils, post-it pads, cute little candy all make it in there; much more do-able than racking my brain for the Perfect Gift which continues to elude me!

    Here’s hoping your lead up to Christmas will be relatively free from nerve-wracking decisions, Janet!

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    • I smiled when I saw I had a comment from you this morning, my friend. Like you, I envy people, usually women who enjoy shopping, do it well, select meaningful and happily received presents for others and smile all the time they do it. Like you, I seem to have been born without that gene. I love your family’s stocking tradition. It sounds like a wonderful solution to the craziness of shopping. Let’s get through this season of buying as best we can while holding onto the things that matter: family, laughter, food and fun.

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