Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Do We Really Need Christmas Gift Exchanges Any More?

I get the feeling that enthusiasm for Christmas gift exchanges is mostly limited to children and shopaholics. I think this comes from the fact that most of us already have the small things we want.

There was a time when gift-selection was quite easy. When everyone one needed food and clothing it wasn’t too hard to pick a gift to make or buy. But now it’s hard to find the right gift for everyone on your list. Most people have the basic things they need and want. A gift sweater may never be worn again after the obligatory trying it on for the camera.

It’s normal for the enthusiasm for Christmas to fade with age, but the age where this begins seems to be getting younger. And it’s hard to blame teenagers of well-to-do parents for losing some interest in Christmas, unless their parents buy extravagant gifts like a new car. How excited do you really need to be about getting an eleventh gaming system?

It would be nice to see all the wasted money and energy that goes into wandering around big-box stores channeled into more useful pursuits such as volunteerism. Offering to help an elderly neighbour clear leaves or reading to children at a library are more useful than a few more plastic toys for a child who already has hundreds of them.

I’m not calling for a complete end to Christmas gift-giving. But I think it makes sense to shrink your Christmas list to mostly children and just a few adults. And maybe use some of your freed-up time to do some good in your community.


  1. Instead of a Christmas gift exchange at work, our office pools together $20 from everyone and we adopt a family through the food bank.

    You choose a family and they let you know the ages of the kids so you can pick out a couple of toys for them, along with some groceries for the family. I think you can get a gift certificate specifically for meat or poultry from certain grocery stores.

    We've done this for a few years and I prefer it to getting each other gift cards.

  2. Dear Mr. Grinch,

    The whole gift giving thing was to celebrate the festival, it was not the festival itself, let us not forget that.

    Another Grinch

  3. @Robb: As long as someone is doing a good job of choosing a needy and deserving family, this sounds like a great idea.

    @Old Grinch: I'm not concerned about people remembering the meaning of Christmas. I intend my message equally to religious and non-religious types.

  4. @Michael: The fact that choosing the gift is hard is the point. You have to get to know the person and select something they'll like. The fact that it's not easy is what makes it meaningful.

    This is the real meaning of "it's the thought that counts". It doesn't mean "well, it was a crappy gift, but at least he thought to gave me a gift". It's more like "this gift only cost $3 but it was clearly chosen very carefully and there was a lot of thought and effort behind it".

    For instance, since my sons were very young, I've challenged myself to buy them just one gift each year for Christmas. When you don't let yourself take the shotgun approach ("he's sure to like one of these eleven things!") you really have to understand the person you're buying for and plan ahead. My boys have grandparents to buy them all the toys they could want, so I do my best to get them things only their dad would know they wanted. Not every gift has been a hit, but that's the risk you take.

  5. @Patrick: I like your thoughtful approach to getting gifts for children or a spouse, but I find it near impossible to choose something even for my own siblings. If I tried, I would most likely fail. They would thank me and claim they like the gift, and it would end up being wasted time and money. So, as long as you limit your very thoughtful gift-giving to an appropriate list of people, then I see the logic in your approach.

  6. Unfortunately my wife's family has completely gone the other way - christmas is all about the 'gifts' and extravagance to show how much you love each other. This despite the fact that this family rarely gets together, doesn't seem to enjoy each other truly, and at least in my case they definitely don't like me. And yet every year, there's a big gift to get and give. Sigh. The tokens of affection have replaced genuine affection. Whereas in my family, for the adults anyway, we only get a $12 gift exchange where do cut-throat santa - and it's so much fun trying to screw someone over. I don't even remember what the gifts last year were, I do remember laughing for about an hour during the event.

  7. @Anonymous: I don't recommend this, but if I were in your situation I'd be tempted to decide that I had little to lose. Here's something that might slip out: "Wow! Those are beautiful gifts the two of you just exchanged ... and you don't even like each other!"

  8. @Michael: that's a good point. I suppose you just can't spend that kind of mental energy on everyone you're "supposed" to buy for.

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