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What I Did For Christmas and a Question About Presents

We did what we do every single year: we woke up the kids at the crack of ass, gave them a completely unhealthy breakfast of nutella as an apology for waking them up so early, and drove downtown on empty streets to volunteer.  Before we had kids, we got to do cool volunteer projects such as cook at DC Central Kitchen.  Now that we have kids, we are assigned to doing “kid-friendly” activities which do not involve stirring enormous steaming vats of macaroni and cheese or working with knives.  This year, we made the Christmas cards that they handed out on the streets as they delivered meals to the homeless who couldn’t get to shelters.  I have never drawn so many Christmas trees in my life.  And Josh donated his blood.

I like reading all the Christmas posts where people describe what they did for the holiday.  I was a bit commented-out by writing Creme de la Creme blurbs on Saturday, but I liked seeing photographs of trees or reading about what was served at various meals.  I’m always curious how people choose whether to make Christmas Eve or Christmas Day the focus.  I’m a big fan of nativity scenes and “Silent Night” and beautifully decorated trees, especially when there is meaning behind most of the ornaments.

So this is my ignorant question:

Up until the actual Christmas Day posts, all I saw this year in regards to Christmas was the enormous consumerism.  The Black Friday pepper spraying incidents and all the subsequent craziness that followed (such as the man who dropped over dead and people stepped over his body to continue shopping).  The continual push from mid-October to December 24th to buy things.  I know the vast majority of people don’t shop in this manner, but people do seem to get very stressed out with Christmas shopping.

I don’t understand the pressure of Christmas gift giving, which is why I’m asking about it.  We don’t have a holiday like this, and the only Jews who do participate in this manner with Chanukkah do so as mimicry of Christmas (yeah, that whole 8 days of presents things… that’s an American tradition created to resemble Christmas).  I buy people birthday gifts, but I only have to concentrate on one person at a time.  And I get the twins a present for Purim, and my nieces a present for Chanukkah/Christmas.  But it’s easy to shop for children.  I don’t think I’d do well with the pressure of having to purchase dozens of unique gifts for various individuals all at the same time.  I would probably crack under the pressure and cry, or I’d phone it in and get everyone a gift card, hating myself in the process.

Someone explained to me that people give bigger gifts on Christmas than they do for birthdays.  Where it would be excessive to buy someone a computer for their birthday, it’s completely reasonable to buy it for Christmas.  I’m not sure this is entirely correct, which is why I am turning to you, o’ People of the Internet.  When you’re buying people a gift, would you opt for doing something extravagant for Christmas and something more subdued for a birthday?

And because I need to live vicariously through you — what did you get as a gift for Christmas this year?  And what was your favourite gift you gave?

Hopefully I haven’t offended anyone.  I really am curious about this and am trying to understand the gift-giving side to the holiday.

49 comments

1 leah { 12.26.11 at 7:57 am }

We spend more on Christmas for the kids and its not really a conscious rule but you have to be generous from Santa and generous from yourself as well. I would say the theme of Christmas giving is being generous vs a less buying oriented impulse to simply honour and celebrate someone’s birthday. I do kind of see many of the rituals of Christmas as a kind of symbolic abundance, that’s my feeling from childhood, the cup runs over and hopefully this fills them with a sense of wonder and optimism vs entitlement and greediness.

2 Her Royal Fabulousness { 12.26.11 at 8:36 am }

As a Jew who now celebrates Christmas because of DH, it has been interesting to see the whole Christmas phenomenon. DH is a big kid in many ways and gets his hopes up a lot of Christmas gifts because when they were children, it was a big deal to get big amazing gifts. As grown ups, he still expects a lot from his family but because of financial constraints (and you know, GROWING UP) he is usually disappointed. It feels like Christmas depends a lot on your own childhood experience. I mean, in reality, he knows that the gifts should be secondary and that the time he spends with his family is the important part.

I just enjoy the tree and such, because I never had one as a child.

The favorite gift we gave were for my BIL and they were photos we took and had transferred to those photo-on-canvas prints. I hope he liked them. :)

3 Manapan { 12.26.11 at 8:39 am }

I agree with Leah. You’re supposed to be extra generous at Christmas, and not just from you but from Santa too. Which is yet another reason why I don’t agree with the whole Santa thing, but then again I don’t do mythology in general. I guess it’s because a birthday is only about that one person, whereas Christmas is about family togetherness and religion too.

Oh, the gift madness! My family was very generous this Christmas. My aunt got us a bottle of wine and a gift card to the grocery store and gave our son clothes. My grandma and grandpa got me two pairs of socks, lotion, body wash, lip balm, and a gift card to the grocery store. They got my husband a nice shirt and our son a talking book. My other aunt gave us each a lottery ticket and gave our son five dollars. My mom bought our son some toys he could chew on. My husband got me lotion, perfume, and new bras, and I made him a blanket and pillowcase and gave him some money for one of his hobbies. We went all out for our son since it was his first Christmas. I made him three stuffed owls and a lovey with nice chewable knots. We also gave him a wooden toy, a stuffed tiger, another lovey, and a talking laptop toy. We gave my mom a new computer mouse, a box of hair color, and a homemade pillowcase. Everyone else got a calendar with pictures of our son on it.

My favorite gifts to give this year and every year however, were for our two Angel Tree children. I’ll never forget the years when I was a child and we were too broke to afford presents, but the Angel Tree folks saved the day.

4 Anna { 12.26.11 at 8:40 am }

Thank you for the timely reminder that all of the hassle and immense expenditure associated is not universal. My favourite gifts were a photo of my daughter last Xmas day (the comparisons are mindblowing) and a pack of 8 of my favourite chocolate bar wrapped and posted by a friend long-distance. Those people thought about what would make me happy.

I have no knowledge of whether I’m supposed to spend more at birthdays or Xmas, I’m now intrigued/slightly anxious that I’ve missed something that everybody else is in on. Well done all on all of those Xmas trees. x

5 Anna { 12.26.11 at 8:43 am }

ps. The favourite gift I gave? A night out for an old friend long-lost, concert tickets and a meal. She thought we were nipping out for coffee after work and it was a wonderful to be able to make somebody that happy.

6 Amanda { 12.26.11 at 8:55 am }

I think Her Royal Fabulousness has it right that those who celebrate Christmas, continue to try and relive childhood memories of waking up Christmas morning to a tree full of presents. I love the magic of the season – and mom, bless her, tries to bring it back most years even when she says she’s not ‘doing christmas’ this year.

Now, we mostly ask for money to go towards something. This year, instead of spending countless hours in the mall searching for the perfect gifts for people just to get a gift in return, I told family that we would cook and host dinner (in past years it would be potluck style). This way we didn’t have to worry about all the consumer crap that goes along with the season. Hubby and I exchanged stockings and some clothes – all were desperately needed.

7 Delenn { 12.26.11 at 9:38 am }

This is an interesting subject, because to me, it is one and the same. I think when I was little, Santa got me the big gifts, my family would get me regular gifts and one big gift which was my birthday gift.

I have always thought that adults buying gifts for adults is tacky and kinda pointless. So, the gifts I give at Christmas are nice gifts, but are not extravagant. In fact, I have an excel spreadsheet and I budget out everyone at about the same amount to spend for each gift. Now, the children…well, my children I spend more on their Christmas/Hanukkah gifts than on their birthday gifts–but that is also because on their birthdays I have to pay for a party somewhere usually. And then there is Santa.

As a grown up, I seem to get diddly for x-mas; usually something nice for my birthday. This year, my husband did a rare double gift–a nice birthday dinner out with friends and a new laptop (for my birthday–or it could be Christmas, but since he is Jewish upbringing, he goes with b-day).

8 K { 12.26.11 at 9:49 am }

It is an interesting phenomenon. I mentioned to my mom yesterday that sometimes I get a little tired of all the Christmas gift giving, especially since there’s really nothing my husband and I need, and as we tend toward small, use-able gifts (like a bottle of wine or a book, something you will go through as opposed to just throwing on a shelf), we often leave with piles more stuff than we came with, and it can be a little tiresome.

But my mom reminded me that you actually have to consider the person giving the gift, and that they *want* to give you something. It makes them happy to make you happy, and overall it’s actually a very nice gesture.

You have to remember that so, so, so much of Christmas is actually about the old European pagan, and even some Roman, traditions, not necessarily the birth of Christ–this includes gift-giving. And, yes, the Three Kings did bring gifts to Baby Jesus…so there’s that.

I think it never hurts to keep consumerism in check, but really there’s really nothing inherently bad about gift-giving. Now, if you want to talk about workers conditions and rights of the people involved in the manufacture and sale of said gifts, that’s a whole other ballgame. But you can tackle those issues without having to get rid of gift-giving entirely.

Hmm…don’t mean to be so defensive :) Hope this sheds a little bit light for you.

9 Josey { 12.26.11 at 9:57 am }

Both my family and my husband’s family drew one name this year to buy a $25 present for – the tradition of going in a circle, opening your gift, and laughing as you try to figure out who your “Secret Santa” is provides for great entertainment and family bonding time. This is our first year with a child, so we’ll see how traditions change. The past few years my husband and I haven’t even gotten each other anything though. Neither of us are huge gift buyers, and I’m kind of thankful for that! I prefer the traditions of Christmas Eve church service with family, cooking a Christmas morning breakfast together, etc… those are the memories that will last!

10 dspence { 12.26.11 at 10:37 am }

It’s a fun question to consider and to answer. We and our extended family tried to keep it down this year as we are all suffering a bit financially. My favortive “gives” were the books I gave to my parents: picked up one each at a used book store and perfectly capturing their favorite topic(s). My favorite “receives” were the maple burl bowl my father made me and the knee socks from my husband.

For the children, I tend to let the stocking be from Santa and the gifts under the tree be from us. The stocking is filled with little things I have found throughout the year. For the gifts, I let my kids take photos with my phone of things they see and like when we are out. I go through the album the beginning of December and see what they are still interested in. I try not to go over $100 each under the tree.

11 Esperanza { 12.26.11 at 11:13 am }

My parents always totally overdo gift giving at Christmas. This year was the first year since 2008 that my dad had a job while they were buying presents (he lost it the week before Christmas) so they went all out. But we never got really big things for Christmas, it was always more like a lot of things. My family is big into lists because we don’t believe in giving a bunch of stuff that no one actually wants. We like to give things the person needs and can use. But there are always a few “surprises” under the tree. This year my favorite gift was a pair of UGG knit boots and my favorite gifts I gave were photo books and calendars with pictures of my daughter.

My husband’s family is not into gift giving at all and I kind of like it. I used to buy them stuff anyway because it was what I did but now I don’t fight it and it’s great. This year my husband and I didn’t get each other anything – just some tickets to comedy shows we want to see in January that we can’t really afford. In the past it would have made me sad not to pick things out for him but now I love not having the stress.

Now that I’m kind of poor and never go shopping I really don’t like buying gifts. I’ve asked my girlfriends if we can abstain from gift giving for the last four years. When you’re not out shopping regularly it’s hard to find something perfect for someone. I got all my daughter’s gifts online this year.

I used to think gift giving was really special and wonderful because you had to think about the person and what they would like and then go get it. But after years of having to deal with a husband who was not raised giving gifts and was pretty dismal at it I’ve change my tune. Also, to give gifts you need money and when you don’t have much it’s hard. I think in the future Christmas will be more about traditions than gift giving. In fact, I want to embrace Krampus! Do you know anyone who does that?

12 Cherish { 12.26.11 at 11:20 am }

We don’t get very extravagant here, but we definitely spend more on Christmas than birthdays. We don’t usually even do birthday gifts anymore, just go out to dinner. My in-laws have always done tons and tons of gifts for Christmas and have pared it down a little the last few years, but it still feels really overwhelming to me. I mostly enjoy gift giving because I try to not only shop from their wish lists but also listen to what they’ve said throughout the year. The favorite gift that I gave this year was homemade hot cocoa mix, because I felt like I gave of myself in mixing up various flavors and sampling to make sure each one tasted right. The favorite gift I got this year is earrings that look like fall leaves. I’ve wanted them for a few years and my sweet bachelor BIL actually went on Etsy and searched out a perfect pair. That felt like a labor of love.

I try to read Unplug the Christmas Machine each year right after Thanksgiving. It’s really great at helping you realize why you feel pressured into various holiday traditions and paring it down to what matters to you and yours.

13 Hope { 12.26.11 at 11:30 am }

Well, I would say my adult Christmases are influenced by my childhood Christmases, but not in a trying to recreate them way. The parts I love about Christmas are decorating the tree, staying in touch with family via Christmas cards, the magic of Santa, and the gift giving (as long as it doesn’t go overboard). I never thought of Christmas as a time to spend more than birthdays. My favorite gift to give this year was the Kindle I got my DH. This was a very expensive gift on our budget, so I gave it to him on his birthday (which is in early Dec) and told him it was his Christmas present, too. My favorite thing I received was a Willow Tree Angel of Wishes ornament.

And as far as shopping during the holidays goes, I avoided the malls as much as possible, and when I had to go, I made it as quick as possible. But I did all my gift shopping on-line.

14 April { 12.26.11 at 1:37 pm }

The best gift I received was my swift from my husband. This was the other half of my ball winding kit for yarn and I’m really excited about using it.

The best gift I gave was a cupcake kit to Jamie. She’s into baking cupcakes so we got her a basic piping set, a cupcake pan, 3 different sprinkle sets, some cupcake wrappers, some icing flavorings, a zester, and a book called “10,000 Cupcake Combinations”. The look on her face made it even better.

As for shopping, I tend to go on random weeknights and avoid the crowds. I don’t really like being in big crowds very much and I really dislike rude shoppers even more. I can’t see myself being the person who would be willing to fight for an exclusive toy or big electronic thing because that isn’t who we are or how we give presents.

15 JDragonfly { 12.26.11 at 1:38 pm }

We completely opted out of the consumerism of Christmas this year. We told our families that we weren’t doing any gifts, for them or even each other. Instead, we did our gender reveal on Christmas morning and Skyped with everyone so we could see their reactions. We’re having boy-girl twins! Despite the lack of gifts to unwrap, it was the best Christmas ever!

16 frankiesoup { 12.26.11 at 2:03 pm }

My friends and I decided while we were penniless students that we weren’t allowed to spend more than £10 on one another. This has led to someof the most thoughtful and dear presents I’ve ever received. Hand-knitted clothes for my daughter, patchwork, a box full of home baking, some home made chutney and even the occassional painted portrait.

I applied the £10 rule to my family too and no one is ever disappointed. Because I make most of the gifts too, I have to start early. That means I’m usually done by December so I never have to worry about the rush.

For me Christmas is about family – it is, after all, the celebration of a birth. I feel that I would rather spend time with – and on – my family, than spend money so that’s what we do.

17 Sushigirl { 12.26.11 at 2:05 pm }

I’m not in the US, but would generally spend about the same or less on a Christmas present than a birthday present.

My family do Christmas in a big way – everyone gets presents from everyone else (although the kids don’t give).

My DH’s family don’t. Well, I used to pick nice things like I would for my own family and we still get them something, they give us something that’s obviously meant for DH (and is usually pants!).

My best this year was a Kindle and the favourite one I gave was a chiminea.

I think unless you are quite young or have young children in the family, Hogmanay (New Year to you!) is much more fun here than Christmas, as the emphasis is having a good time rather than eating too much and giving presents.

18 It Is What It Is { 12.26.11 at 2:42 pm }

Where my child is concerned, I would say that his birthday and Christmas are about the same in terms of gifts. We involve him in what he wants, over the course of several weeks to months, and carefully chose what we believe will suit him for the long haul. When folks ask what he wants, I know exactly what to tell them (and this year we have not one gift to return for the careful planning). We do not in any way over indulge in copious gift giving for him, or our family or friends. I get my closest girlfriends what I refer to as a “Girlfriend Gift”, some small token, usually something I like for myself for them to try (this year it was tiny Marc Jacob sized bottles of Daisy and Lola, last year it was note cards).

Since we moved this year, we consider our new home and all the new furniture and accessories to cover the next five years worth of Christmases. That said, my son picked out a pair of Crocs for his daddy (something my husband has never had or even said he wanted but loves none the less) and I got him a new casual jacket and 2 hard to find books that he wanted (those two were FREE through http://www.paperbackswap.com). I’ve been wanting a Dutch Oven for years, so he got me one (flame red which matches nothing in this house so it will go back in favor of an apple green one).

We work hard to reign in our consumerism. We have each other, a lovely home, functional cars, enough clothes/shoes, 2 pets, and a woven together family of friends. We really do want for nothing. Christmas is a magical time of year, especially with wee ones at home, a time for traditions and nesting and sharing and love and being together. The gifts? Meh.

19 katie { 12.26.11 at 2:45 pm }

In my family (parents/brother) bigger presents were for birthdays – because there is so much to buy for Christmas – but if something needed to be purchased around that time, it would be a Christmas present. So I got a flute one year, because I needed it sooner than my birthday.

In my religious tradition (high/liturgical liberal Anglican/Episcopalian) Christmas does not start till the evening of Christmas Eve. The period before that is Advent, and that is a time of preparation, of waiting. Some years I treat it like Lent – giving something up, taking on a project, saving money for charity. Some years I also try and follow a set of readings, or some other religious practice.

I deliberately try and cut myself off from rampant commercialism and Christmas celebration – we don’t put up the tree decorations till Christmas Eve, I will sing carols (hard to avoid) but at our church the carols are suitable for Advent (a subtle distinction). Some years I try and get my Christmas shopping done in November, and I usually buy and send cards then – it leaves Advent free for more contemplative acts.

This is all of course the ideal, and if I don’t get my act together I may spend the week before Christmas frantically wondering what to buy for my dad.

20 HereWeGoAJen { 12.26.11 at 3:01 pm }

We kind of do the same kinds of things for most people for birthdays and for Christmas. However, I tend to give more Christmas presents than birthday presents. (In other words, there are lots of people I give Christmas presents to that I do not give birthday presents too.) But if it is someone who gets both, like my parents or sister, they get about the same sort of thing for each.

For each other, we tend to do more on Christmas. I don’t know why, I don’t think we have a conscious reason. And we do more for Elizabeth on Christmas too than her birthday. She got one present for her birthday and multiple ones for Christmas. That is from Matt’s family tradition of spoiling the heck out of children on Christmas. But he doesn’t have that about birthdays, so my more practical head gets to prevail for birthdays. (Plus, Elizabeth’s birthday is three weeks before Christmas, which influences things.)

21 a { 12.26.11 at 3:54 pm }

We’re not big gift givers. We try to blend the practical with the whimsical, so my daughter got a new booster seat, some of her favorite ZonePerfect Bars (her usual breakfast) and a box of Cheez-its, in addition to a remote control car. Then there were a few other small things. My mom and sisters each bought her an outfit and a toy/book/movie. I think this used to be how we got new things every year – Christmas and birthdays. Now people seem to go and buy whatever, whenever…which leads to the need to outdo the everyday for Christmas.

We don’t really buy anything for my husband’s family. I used to spoil my nieces and nephews at Christmas and their birthdays, but that’s before I got married and doubled the nieces and nephews. Then it all became too much. So, now I buy gifts for my mom on Christmas, Mother’s Day, and her birthday; birthday gifts for all the nieces and nephews; and Christmas and birthday gifts for my daughter and husband. (My husband and I bought each other an iPod Classic and new slippers. I also got him some new t-shirts, a printer cartridge, and some mints and chocolate). It’s hard to restrain myself, because I want to buy everything.

22 a { 12.26.11 at 3:56 pm }

Also, I’ve been making my daughter sacrifice one of her birthday gifts (her birthday is in October) to Toys for Tots. She seems to enjoy it and I hope she gets the idea that giving is a good thing. That’s what Christmas gifts are supposed to be about, I think.

23 Amy { 12.26.11 at 4:44 pm }

We don’t spend more at Christmas versus the rest of the year at all. This was our first Christmas without our babies and I didn’t want to participate in the slightest, but somehow made it through. Thankfully, we draw names and have a $50 gift limit with both my family and my husband’s, so the amount of shopping “required” is minimal. I didn’t want any gifts for myself this year, but of course no one – not even my husband – obliged. It was fairly low-key, but by far my favorite gifts were the Pandora charm bracelet my mom got me (outside of the name drawing) to honor and remember my twins, and the handmade ornaments my pregnant sister-in-law made, one with my daughter’s name and one with my son’s, and presented to my hubby and me. She also made sets for everyone else in the family. It meant the absolute world to me…especially since that family has been near-silent about our loss (even after seeing our babies in the hospital).

24 mrs spock { 12.26.11 at 6:31 pm }

We don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, and really don’t want an emphasis on a huge pile of excess for our children. My mother will obey the one gift rule when it comes to our kids, but my MIL has issues. This year, we felt successful in that she kept it to two presents for each child only, and not two bags full of lots of presents. It’s hard to keep other relatives from giving, though at least they stick to one gift. We gave a nice gift to each plus 2 books. We do the same for birthdays.

25 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 12.26.11 at 8:23 pm }

As someone who grew up with Christmas but no longer celebrates (but sort of celebrated as recently as last year, since we have been with my parents every Christmas until this year), there are things I miss but the absence of having to find fabulous gifts for everyone is really liberating.

I’m someone who would rather have one big ticket item than many dinky gifts (hence the iPad I received from my dad this year as a combo birthday/Xmas gift even though my birthday was a couple of months ago), but my mom was very big on having many presents to open for Christmas. She’d go as far as to rewrap something you’d already received a few weeks before, just for the sake of opening more stuff.

There would be a big frenzy of gifts on Xmas morning, but I always insisted that we open one at a time and draw it out and actually pay attention to each gift rather than just open everything all at once.

As an only child, I’d get one or two very big gifts for my birthday but many small and medium sized gifts, and maybe a big gift, at Xmas. The dollar amounts were probably comparable. There were gifts from Santa and from my parents even though I never really believed in Santa; the Santa tags continued through adulthood.

My mother was a very, very hard person to shop for, but one year (the Xmas after her heart attack) I went all out and showered her with a massage theme: massage chair (biggest thing I ever bought her, by far), massage slippers, massage gift certificate, etc.

With my dad for the past decade or so, our tradition became whipping out a laptop and buying each other exactly what the person wanted on Xmas morning. That was liberating, too.

I had a long talk with Lori’s daughter Tessa recently about our family not celebrating Christmas and the things we did and didn’t observe and the things we did and didn’t believe. She had such grave concern when she asked, “But does that mean Burrito and Tamale don’t get any presents?” Oh no, I assured her, they literally get a new toy or book every few days, all year long. She was very relieved to hear that Judaism has not caused them to be deprived of toys.

26 Emily { 12.26.11 at 8:32 pm }

We don’t spend a lot on gifts. Christmas and Birthday are about the same. We only buy for parents and siblings and try to make it more about spending time together like maybe taking someone out to eat for a special meal. My favorite gift this year was from my MIL. A couple of years ago I had showed an interest in learning how to play the piano, but never started. My MIL plays and is a retired music teacher. She wrapped up her beginner books and gave them to me to study so we could finally start lessons! It is they push I needed to do something I want.

27 Orodemniades { 12.26.11 at 9:00 pm }

I love giving gifts and honestly, Christmas – though I’m not a Christian – is pretty much the only time of the year I get to give things. I’m poor and so are most of my friends (this year I got a slate cheese plate – awesome!) so it’s a lot of little things. This year my biggest gift was “Plenty: Vegetable Recipes From London’s Ottolenghi”. $35US in hc, but ya know, I work in a bookstore and my discount is deep. Personally I’d rather celebrate Yule and the solstice.

As for spending money, I wish I could buy a few big ticket items that would make my friends lives easier, but that would require a lottery win, so tiny things it is.

Besides, my favorite holiday is actually Thanksgiving because there is no better gift than that of sharing food and family.

28 N { 12.26.11 at 9:18 pm }

In my family, there were definitely far more extravagant presents at Christmas than birthdays (but on the flip side, birthdays are more about The Person, and you got way more attention, etc, and a nice dinner and all that. So, the same, only different.) I hate the commercialism of it all, but I love getting things that I wouldn’t necessarily feel like it was “worth” spending money on for myself, and I love thinking about people and getting them things that they’ll like.

One of the last Christmases we had with my brother, he was really upset because he got me something that I had wanted for myself so badly that I bought it when it came out a week or two before Christmas. I kept telling him that it was actually my favorite gift that year, even though I already had it, because he knew me well enough to know how much I would want it.

As for gifts this year, my mom finally listened when I told her we didn’t need more (outer) clothes but did need bras, so a gift card would be really really appreciated (she HATES giving gift cards, which is fine, but we hate spending $ on bras, but needed them desperately, and it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can tell your mom to go out and get you). We actually took the gift card today and picked out new bras, hurrah! The best gift for me though was watching how much everybody loved and spoiled n. My crazy aunt even sent an ornament home with my mother for her (which I, being a dope, promptly broke. unintentionally, but I feel like I’m replaying the leg lamp scene from A Christmas Story over and over in my head). And of course, I feel like she got SO FREAKING MUCH, and then I look at what people on FB’s kids got and my jaw drops. So, a bit unreasonable to me, but I guess not for other people.

Due to financial constraints, this year was an almost entirely homemade christmas for us. We bought some things for n, but I don’t actually think we paid retail for a single one of them, heh. And I did make her a t-shirt. But I did candles and candies and vanilla extract, and my favorite – made for my step-dad (who LOVES coffee) – a coffee vanilla bean liqueur. My brother got a twist on matzo crunch (found on pinterest, done with pretzels), as he’s totally anti-consumerism anyway and basically gave all his presents to my step-dad. He whisked that away and didn’t share with ANYBODY. It put a great big smile on my face.

29 loribeth { 12.26.11 at 10:51 pm }

I would say Christmas is a more “extravagant” occasion in my family than birthdays, other than perhaps a milestone birthday, when we would make a little more fuss. Dh & I rarely give each other gifts on our birthdays, generally just a card & a nice dinner out, maybe a movie. I would go for something a little more, but his family generally doesn’t do much on birthdays, so that’s how it’s evolved. If I see something around his birthday that I think he would like or should have, I will get it for him.

Re: Chrismtas, every now & then, someone says, “We really should cut back.” But my mom & I genuinely like shopping for people, I think. Plus, so many of our Christmas rituals revolve around opening gifts — what else would we do? lol I don’t think we overdo it in comparison to some families I hear about.

This year, our gifts to each other were slightly more “extravagant” than usual. My favourite gift(s) that I gave: my sister’s boyfriend puts together & sets up computers, & so I asked him to get me a netbook for dh (so he doesn’t always have to bug me to use the laptop, lol). Dh also recently got new glasses, but didn’t order the matching clip-on sunglasses, so I organized that with our optometrist & stuck them in his stocking. ; ) He was totally clueless on both counts — it was fun to surprise him like that. : )

I will admit I did go a bit overboard buying stuff for The Princess (see my blog for explanation). And my sister & I and our partners chipped in on a new computer for our parents (also set up by sister’s boyfriend). Sweaters, books, videos, PJs, are more in keeping with what we usually give & get. We still do stockings too — my mom fills our stockings, we each fill our dh/partner’s and take turns each year doing Mom & Dad’s.

What I got : dh gave me some charms for my Pandora bracelet (after I provided him with a wishlist, lol). My sister gave me a sweater & a nightgown. My mom gave me a sweater, PJs & a giftcard to use toward buying a crockpot (so I don’t have to haul one home in my luggage).

30 Pale { 12.26.11 at 10:57 pm }

To my thinking — which is by no means a measure of “normal” — I could be generous on either occasion. It’s about delighting and honoring loved ones. The whole obligatory gifting thing … either for XMas or birthdays … doesn’t make any sense to me. If I have a great idea or inspiration for a gift to fill a need or delight the soul and you are important to me … especially if you are going through a hard time and need lifting up (and who doesn’t need that most of the time?) … then either Christmas or your birthday could be an opportunity to make a little magic for someone special and communicate good feelings. I don’t even really ~need~ an ~occasion~ to do nice things. Although socially … occasions are a prompt, right?

My parents always did Christmas big … I guess bigger than birthdays … although birthdays were usually good, too. But I was an only child. Our finances are a bit different. We have felt the need to re-evaluate the messages that the season sends to the kids because the consumer menatality doesn’t ultimately serve them well in the long run (duh, right?). We have not entirely made peace with what we do … still trying to march to our own beat vs. follow the crowd. It’s a work in progress at our house.

I ~want~ to say that the trappings … the tree and the decorations … the preparations and the meal and the entertaining … are a way of honoring family and taking time to be grateful and to remember what is important to us before the new year begins. I just wish that all of that preparation didn’t end up making me feel frazzled and inadequate. I feel this tension between an urge to simplify and the urge to do something up big so that the day/the season stands out among average days … this tension between wanting to serve my loved ones and feeling run over by the demands of the season. It’s a call to be conscious and creative, for sure. But I haven’t quite figured out how to satisfy all my conflicting thoughts and emotions about how to execute it just right. And so my season is usually filled with angst … just as you imagined it might be for you if you had to hit all the right notes for everyone, all at once.

I will say that my favorite, least frusrating, least conflicted, most joyful thing that we’ve done for the last two years is the giving tree at our elementary school. The school gets in touch with families that need help with Xmas gifts and necessities and then they post the items on paper ornaments for people to take and return. This year I got a 12 yo girl and an 11 yo boy. The girl wanted jeans and the boy wanted Pokemon stuff (we speak Pokemon at my house, so it was a good fit). I packed the kids into the car and dragged them around chasing everything down. I made a point of going to a nice store — Aeropostal, which is popular with the middle school crowd here — and we bought the two pairs of jeans as well as a couple of tops. We tucked gift receipts in the pockets, just in case the things were not right. I tucked gum and lip balm into the pockets. And a $25 visa card. For the boy, we went to three stores and couldn’t find what he wanted. So just as I would have done for my own son, I went on amazon and ordered the books. And we included some Pokemon themed “extras” and tucked a gift card into one of the books. Totally more than was asked for … but what a wonderful opportunity to delight someone who is down and not expecting anything? I thought of these kids all day yesterday. I am not religious, but I prayed that they are safe and that they have a good year. I think about my own kids … and my heart goes out to them. I wish we could do these kinds of things all year. Right now, we have what we need. Thank God for that. What more could we wish for? I always want to say to people who pester us about what the kids want for XMas … GOD … our house is bursting with KREP. HELP someone who needs help and then come and just spend quality time with us. FOR. GET. THE. STUFF.

My husband’s family (24 in the immediate circle — and that’s just HIS side) resisted simplifying Xmas giving for years. We finally stopped asking permission (the resentment created when our concerns were overruled was sooooo UNChristmas in my mind … so … WTF?) and we started doing what made ~sense~ to us. Which is … we still gift his parents and his aunties … and then we send a modest “family” gift to each of the sibs (large) families. Usually some gourmet goodie. Just to say “Happy holidays … we’re thinking of you.” Then I try to send each of the kids something modest on their birthdays … again to remember it. Although there are 8 of them, so it still adds up … and honestly … it’s NOT a substitute for a relationship with them. And seeing as they have most of what they need, it’s not always easy to give a gift that hits the mark (I tend to do more for the young ones). One sib’s spouse still insists on sending a big XMas gift … like $35 a kid or so. Which is what my husband refers to as “mutually assured destruction.” You spend X. We have to spend X. At one point we suggested exchanging charitable donations. So now they send us a GIFT AND A DONATION. (WTF?) This person also loves to conduct long, pre-Christmas negotiations by email about the ~what’s~ and the ~wherefore’s~ … how I ~dread~ those email exchanges each year … sucking all of the surprise and spontenaneity out of the ritual and insisting on doing this their way, really … in the end the holiday is reduced to a stupid currency exchange. I don’t get it. I’d much rather send a thoughtful token of rememberance and … you know … keep in touch. Do things that promote rapport. Save all the effort for getting together, when and if possible, so everyone grows up knowing each other. The exchanges? It’s mindless beehive busywork — mostly borne by the women — I might add. It frustrates me on a couple of levels. I really don’t think our focus at this time of year should be on people who are not in need. But we can’t seem to quite get there.

I didn’t get anything for Xmas this year … but I told my family not to give me ~things.~ My favorite gifts to give this year were iPhones for my parents. And a couple of winners for the DH.

31 Justine { 12.26.11 at 11:23 pm }

We do Christmas and birthday about the same here, but because it all winds up under the tree at once, it feels like a lot. And relatives send gifts from all over the country, so even though we don’t spend a lot on our kids, they get quite a bit of stuff. My mother has only our two kids as grandchildren, and my brother is single, so they both end up spending more than we’d like, because they have only our kids to buy for. I hate worrying about THEIR gifts, because I’d rather we gave each other nothing … I’d rather we celebrate by going to volunteer together as a family.

Favorite gift to give this year: a coupon book, to my husband, good for all sorts of romantic things. Because he’s not so good with words, and it’ll be easier for him to hand over a coupon to ask for something like me coming to bed early. ;) Favorite gift received: a hand-made ornament from my son. And pottery from my husband, for taking pictures of food on my blog!

32 slowmamma { 12.27.11 at 12:04 am }

This is a great question – and a nice discussion too. I guess that I have been celebrating Christmas for nearly 4 decades and I still find the whole gift-giving thing to be rather complicated. My husband and I try to avoid too much consumerism and want to pass this value on to our son but we don’t live in a bubble so it can get complicated to reconcile our feelings with those of our loved ones. And, gift giving can be wonderful.

33 Queenie { 12.27.11 at 1:44 am }

We definitely are more elaborate for Christmas than birthdays. Birthdays are often just a card, and not even a present, but Christmas always means presents. Christmas is definitely a bigger deal for my family.

For me, it’s not about spending money or consumerism, but rather about being thoughtful. I feel pressure to give gifts that people think are thoughtful. Sometimes that translates into spending more money than I probably should, though, as though dollars are love, which I know is a little twisted. It’s hard when you’re far away from family, because you want them to know you care. Hence, the pressure I put on myself.

As far as gifts I get, I also want to know that people were thinking of me, and the gifts I love are the ones that show that people were truly thinking of me. There are a few important people in my life that didn’t get me anything at all this year, and I know it wasn’t a question of money. On one hand, it doesn’t bother me, because I can be rational about it and see it as a reflection of where they are at in their lives right now rather than about how much they care about me. On the other hand, it’s definitely significant.

The favorite gift that I gave was the portrait session I gave my mom. I hired a photographer (one who’s photographed tons of famous people) to take some shots of me, my mom, and the kids when my mom visits after the baby is born. So, we’ll have three generations of the women in my family photographed together.

My favorite gift that I got was a plastic ring. When T and I got married, we never got around to buying wedding bands, and ended up buying plastic ones from a street vendor shortly before the wedding. We wore them until they broke, then bought something a little more permanent. He found a similar ring, and bought it for me for Christmas (along with other great stuff). I just love it.

I guess what I’m saying is that for me, presents at Christmas are a way to communicate love. That’s what it boils down to for me. I’d so much rather have that plastic ring than a really expensive object that doesn’t mean much to me.

34 Queenie { 12.27.11 at 2:10 am }

PS For Miss M’s birthday, we try to do a long weekend away as a family, with just a small gift for her to unwrap (ie, a book). For Christmas, we do more presents, but we try not to go overboard. However, this tends to be the only time we buy new toys. We expect her to play with them throughout the year. She gets new books frequently, but new toys are a Christmas thing. It makes us choose wisely!

35 Bea { 12.27.11 at 8:19 am }

Birthdays more.

Honestly, this is a minefield and people will be giving you different answers. Christmas, to me, is supposed to be about things other than gifts and so the gifts should be minimised. Birthdays, knock yourself out, whatever. But I really think presents cheapen Christmas and try to downplay it as much as possible.

Our poor kids are sooner or later going to realise that Santa brings other children (in our family) literally hundreds of dollars worth of presents, whereas he brings them under $30 worth, and then it will be awkward trying to get them to realise it’s not because they’re worse people. Still working on that one, still getting away with it for now. The whole material-wealth-as-yardstick-for-personal-worth is kind of antithetical to what I’m trying to get across, so, suggestions welcome. That said, maybe a good way to open the discussion.

I read somewhere once that people have different caring “languages”, one of which is gift-giving (others are acts of service, physical expressions of affection, and… so forth I can’t remember.) My language of affection is not gift-giving. It’s not that it never does anything for me (giving or receiving) but I tend to appreciate the thought more than the item per se and I don’t have to have a thingamejig to feel cared for. (I think I’m more of an acts of service girl… I have given home-made certificates for things like gardening, cooking, etc and requested same to limited avail in the past so I suppose that’s pretty suggestive.) So I think a lot of these answers are going to depend on what the dominant “language of caring” is in each family.

Bea

36 edenland { 12.27.11 at 9:18 am }

This Christmas was total fucking bullshit and I had never wished more that I was Jewish. Completely overrated day that is saturated in consumerist crap.

The food is always good though.This year we ate prawns and this Greek-lemon-lamb. With pavlova, gluten free orange cake, and chocolates for dessert.

37 Mina { 12.27.11 at 11:10 am }

We grew up with not a lot of money, but my mom always went all out for Christmas. She made sure we learned the true meaning of Christmas, and she also gave us beautiful gifts. I cherish Christmas because of her. I love to pick out the perfect presents for the loved ones in my life. We all do Christmas up more than birthdays, so I look at it as only once a year.

38 Kimberly { 12.27.11 at 1:07 pm }

Christmas always seems to bring out the more extravagent gifts. Birthdays with our families usually means a nice dinner out as a family and a smaller gift. Christmas is more acceptable for bigger gifts. But overall, because we don’t have children to share the holiday with and my brother couldn’t get home to celebrate, its become a lot more subdued with the families. It was more about visiting and spending time with family and having lots of food over the gifts. We visited with my grandparents and we went to the nursing home to visit my aunt on Christmas Eve. Christmas day was me and dad making the big Christmas breakfast and mom making turkey and duck for supper. Then boxing day was spent with hubby’s family where there was more turkey but laughter and fun and catching up over a couple of glasses of wine. I made most of my gifts this year for friends and family. Hubby and I rarely buy each other gifts for Christmas and when we do, its either a purchase for the house or something small for each other. I got him a board game and he got me a silver bracelet and earrings set. His parents gave us clothes and a new set of sheets and comforter for our bed. My parents got us a flatscreen tv and a new sewing machine. But at the end of the day, I took more out of the meals and the visits than we did the presents. I would have given all of my presents back if it meant that my brother could’ve flown home to be with us this year instead of being alone on the other side of the country.

39 geochick { 12.27.11 at 1:10 pm }

Consumerist (is that a word?) in the house! S and I typically don’t exchange gifts as there was an unfortunate incident in which he wrapped one of my old ski boots even though the reason why I didn’t have new ones yet was because I hadn’t gotten around to buying them. Yeah, I sound like a douche. But, I would stress out over gifts for him, get ideas and just buy them. He ended up with way more gifts than I did, because he hates to shop and I like it. We kept it simple for Baby X and hope to continue doing that in the future. It’s hard for me, since I like to shop…..

40 Eggs In A Row { 12.27.11 at 1:45 pm }

I’m Jewish, and growing up our house was INSANE for Hanukkah. My mom spoiled us so much, basically as a “Sorry your father is a jerk, open some huge presents and forget it!” routine. So as I’ve gotten older, not having big presents to open was kind of sad. (Totally being honest, I hate that it bothered me.)

This year we had a $40/limit each between me and my hubby, but we had a lot of time to spend together…and it was amazing. The best Hanukkah ever. Even though I didn’t get anything big and exciting. ;)

41 lostintranslation { 12.27.11 at 4:35 pm }

Being Dutch and having lived in Holland until my late 20s, we never really celebrated Christmas with presents, we had Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) for that. However, you would only have to buy presents for people you were celebrating it with or sometimes even only for one person, if you decided to draw names beforehand (this of course would only be possible if you celebrated with a group that didn’t include children who still believed in Sinterklaas’ existence). There might have been lots of presents, but never extravagant things like computers, or bikes etc (at least not in our family). Sometimes for Christmas, there would be a book or a CD for everyone at the dinner table, nothing more. This year we did a bit of a mix – I went with our toddler to the Sinterklaas celebration at the Dutch school in our area, where he got one present and later that day during a celebration with our partly Dutch neighbors he got three more gifts (all relatively small). Then for Christmas the sitter gave us something to put under the tree, and we added some more things for him and us (but just for the three of us, luckily we don’t have the tradition that we have to buy gifts for other family members), also because my husband had been on a business trip during the Sinterklaas holiday (otherwise we might have done the gift giving at that time).
What I got for Christmas this year was a very nice (and sexy) set of nursing bra + matching shorts (I helped pick it out), and a CD. My favorite gift I gave was a pair of skis for our toddler, which can be worn with regular snow boots and has a click-on seat so it turns into a sled. Our son loved it and asks every day to go somewhere where there is snow (we hope we can take a day trip to the mountains once my dad arrives here in two days).

42 nursejayton { 12.27.11 at 7:56 pm }

well technically we havent exchanged gifts as yet, i havent quite decided what im getting him, but i think he kinda tricked me into figuring out wht i want, he took me to the electronics store, and i saw the samsung galaxy tablet and went all googley eyed over it, i actually wanted an ipad , but since ive found out tht the samsung tablet can be used as a phone I WANT IT!

43 Jessie { 12.27.11 at 11:35 pm }

Completely off the topic of what you were asking, I didn’t realize that you were from the DC area. I haven’t volunteered at DC Central Kitchen, but I know a lot of people who have with my service fraternity. I’m from Annapolis and Montgomery County.

44 Jessie { 12.27.11 at 11:38 pm }

As far as present comparison, DH and I usually have a larger budget for Christmas than birthdays, but there tend to be several smaller gifts rather than one large gift. When there are bigger gifts depends on when either of us finds something bigger that we want.

I’m excited about the binoculars I got Dave that take pictures at like 25X. He does freelance sportswriting, and with them he can take pictures of the football games from the press box.

45 smiling scar { 12.28.11 at 6:22 am }

I am completely a Christmas Eve kind of person.. and this year most of my presents were simple things that people could throw away once done (cookies… holiday greenery door ornaments that inherently expires as it wilts with time). But years when I do go all out for Christmas, I go bigger because of the whole reveal as a family at the tree. This is mostly for my mom and because for 2-3 weeks we look at the wrapped things and wonder.. what could it be!!??? My mom once surprised my dad with a plane ticket to go see him mother. She had it all wrapped in huge boxes. The car was also fully gassed up and she packed him a bag. His flight was that day at 4:) I love the surprise element.. but only like giving gifts where I am very sure the person will love it, want it, and not be able/willing to get it for themselves (like the plane ticket). I don’t know how my mom saved that moment to make it happen, but I never forgot that moment…

46 Gail { 12.28.11 at 10:25 am }

In our family, we definitely spend more on people for Christmas than for birthdays. For many people, we just send them a card or call them on the phone for their birthday, but we make sure to give them a present at Christmas. In fact, I think it is sad when I find out that friends or family members decided not to exchange presents this year. For some of them, it is for financial reasons, but I still think that they could make something to give or spend just a few dollars so that they could give something to their loved ones.
For my husband and me, we budget ourselves for Christmas and I start my shopping months in advance. I keep a list of what I buy each person and how much I spent on an app in my phone and that way I know whether or not I need to get anything else as the holiday season approaches.
As for big gifts, my husband and I choose to buy each other bigger gifts since we can afford it and don’t have kids to spend it on. We get smaller gifts for family members and they get smaller gifts for us. The same holds true for our birthdays. I will spend more on my husband for his birthday than for anyone else in the family and vice versa.
Finally, for my favorite gift that I got, I got a scrapbooking machine. For the favorite present that I gave, it was an ipod for my mother-in-law. Seeing her reaction when she opened it and then teaching her how to use it was worth every penny.

47 Ellen K. { 12.28.11 at 12:32 pm }

Christmas was always a big deal — much bigger than birthdays — when I was growing up, but not in D.’s family. The difference: My dad has worked for 35 years at a corporation with massive holiday bonuses, whereas D’s dad was out of work for several years in the early 80s, and his family never really recovered financially. So we have very different expectations and memories. Also, he stopped believing in Santa at age 5 because he had older siblings who spilled the beans, whereas my brothers and I ran sobbing from the dinner table at ages 8 and 9 when my parents broke the news. So he’s a little more cynical. He always enjoyed St. Nicholas’ Day (big in STL) more, because he knew that all the kids at school were getting mostly similar items — traditional wooden toys and lots of candy.

It’s been a long-term effort to make compromises with our spending and expectations. I thought we did pretty well this year. We spent a little more, but more of it went to the girls and to charity and less to adults who really don’t need much. I was happy with everything, and especially with the girls’ first year of really “getting” the Santa concept (they just turned 3). But I admit that happiness was influenced by an unexpected holiday bonus and raise for D. after 3 years of a pay cut.

St. Nicholas’ Day is big here in STL, and
My favorite gifts this year were a Kindle Touch from my parents and 4 tickets for “Bring It On: The Musical” from D. so that I can have a fun night out with friends while he stays home with the girls. My favorite gift to another was my old dollbed for I. — Santa recycles, you know!

But honestly, my favorite part of the entire holiday was compulsively checking the NORAD Santa Tracker website with I & N on Dec. 24th. Lots of happy tears on my part.

48 Rachel { 12.29.11 at 9:57 am }

I’m a little late to the game! Growing up, Christmas was big from everyone, but my birthday was big from my mom. And “big” doesn’t mean big gifts, it means big family time.

For Christmas this year, we did four gifts for each other and our kiddo: something you want, something you need, something to play with and something to read. We focused more of our time and energy on Jesus than gifts. Our son’s second birthday is in two weeks and it will be a big deal: daddy took the day off, we’ll do something fun and have special food. He’ll get maybe a present or two from us, but it will be much more about him and who he is than what he receives in terms of material goods.

We want to “limit” Christmas so it doesn’t become so materialistic. I love the phrase above that gifts don’t replace relationship. My in-laws do just that: gifts replace their crappy attempts at relationship. I hate it. They never celebrated birthdays. Heck, my MIL “forgets” my hubby’s birthday every year. How do you forget giving birth?

Anyway… we limit gifts for immediate family. We have a very strict & small budget for the rest. That’s how we do Christmas :)

49 Battynurse { 12.26.12 at 6:52 pm }

I must have missed this post last year and totally not sure you will see my comment but here goes. I thankfully have a relatively small group of people to buy for thankfully as all the consumer greed makes me a bit bitchy. I will often do gift cards for my chosen mom, some sort of gag gift for chosen dad (which he usually loves! Like knee high pink flamingo socks that he will wear). For 2011 as mentioned in my 2012 comment I asked for or suggested ornament exchanges. My absolute favorite is the bat ornament BFF found although it may have been a Halloween ornament it looks smashing on my Christmas tree!

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