Alice, Can I Put an End to Holiday Gift Giving with My Family?

Alice, Can I Put an End to Holiday Gift Giving with My Family?

Ask Alice
Dec 2, 2015
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Allard Laban)

Dear Alice,

Is there a proper/possible way to ask for a moratorium on holiday gifts from and to my family? I love them, but they are generous throughout the year and I don't need them to get me anything just to get me something. And every year I struggle trying to find something to give to them because they are all either retired/well-off and always just buy whatever they want. I usually end up spending money I need on gifts they don't need.

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Dear Horse,

Sometimes gift giving around the holidays can feel like one big (costly) chore and the antithesis of the holiday spirit. What is supposed to be a loving gesture of generosity and thoughtfulness is instead a pressure-filled obligation that drains your energy and your wallet. My guess is other members of your family feel the same way so someone (you!) just needs to step up and suggest a change.

You don't have to put the kibosh on all gift giving (if there are young children in the family, grownups might still prefer to buy gifts for them), but here are some ideas to minimize the anxiety of buying gifts and maybe even inject some fun back into the gift exchange:

1. suggest that the grownups in the family only exchange small stocking stuffers

2. do a White Elephant exchange of silly gag gifts

3. draw names so you're only buying a gift for one person

4. have family members each contribute a small amount (say, $25) and then draw a name and let that person choose a charity to donate the money to

5. have everyone bring an edible treat (perhaps something local to them) and then set aside an hour during the visit to open everything and try them

So how do you initiate this shift? Ask a family member or two whom you're closest to what they think of the idea and, if they're receptive, keep going or ask them to talk to others until everyone is on board. If there's pushback from someone who happens to love buying gifts, ask to try something new just this year and then revisit the idea next year. They might think they love buying everyone a gift but after not doing it they might find it's an unexpected relief.

What if it turns out you're the only one in the family not jazzed about a traditional gift exchange? Choose how you want to handle the gifts and just let people know ahead of time. "Hey brother, just so you know I've decided to give everyone a small stocking stuffer this year." If brother insists on giving you something bigger, just smile and say thank you.


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