Really, I don't want any Christmas gifts.
November 19, 2005 6:26 PM   Subscribe

How do I get out of a mandatory Christmas gift exchange?

My significant other’s family has a Christmas tradition that I want to escape. We are compelled to provide gift lists, and then we purchase each other stuff from the lists and send it to each other.

I want to opt out of the tradition, but to do it with some social grace. I’ve been told that it’s unacceptable to ask for nothing, and that a list of my favorite charities is also inappropriate.

Does anybody have any suggestions that don’t involve a list of mediocre gifts, or a request for gift certificates?
posted by I Love Tacos to Human Relations (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So, you're looking for suggestions of gifts for yourself, and not ways to get out of the mandatory gift exchange? Just checking.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:31 PM on November 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

A list of wines, a list of cheeses, a list of sausages. Our family has been giving more and more food as gifts instead of gewgaws and tchotchkes.
posted by furtive at 6:34 PM on November 19, 2005

Is this the first time you've participated in this? If not, what did you do before? Can you ask for something that is handmade or homemade [soaps, foods, socks, coupon books, picture albums] to get the other person out of shopping for you?

It seems to me that perhaps the dilemma is between you and your SO? Obviously if you both opted out of the exchange, this would be much less of an issue. Who is doing the compelling over the gift lists? Perhaps the two of you could join forces, ask for something that you'd like together [my SO and I ask for specific contributions towards a mini-vacation we'd like to take, for example, so small stuff like duffel bags, phrase books and film go on the list] and you could be the person in the family who gives everyone attractive framed photographs of the two of you along with a plate of cookies every year?

I solved this sort of problem for me personally by leaving the country over the holidays and bringing back something memorable and interesting from my trip [NOT from anyone's list] as a compromise.
posted by jessamyn at 6:37 PM on November 19, 2005

Do you live near them? Do you like them? You could ask for time together -- trips to the movies, nice (or even not that fancy) dinners out, minigolf, bowling, whatever you like to do. My fella's friends have taken him to the shooting range, for example.
posted by librarina at 6:38 PM on November 19, 2005

Don't make a list, thank them heartily when they give you stuff anyway, then donate everything they give you this year to charity. Next year they will have definitely gotten the point.
posted by shanevsevil at 6:39 PM on November 19, 2005

I have no idea why you would want to insult your family in this way, but the suggestion to make a list of wines (or any alcohol that you like) is a great one. You can get some pretty good stuff for $20 or there abouts. Also a list of books is a good idea. Great books can be had for ludicrously little money.

Also, and I can't stress this enough, do not follow shanevsevil's advice. Your in-laws seem a lot like me in their temperament (I give gifts to friends that have explicitly told me they don't want them (though in those cases I donate to charities)); if a family member of mine gave a gift to charity there would be hell to pay. This is exactly what you want to avoid.
posted by oddman at 6:56 PM on November 19, 2005

You might suggest that instead of gift lists, the group select a charity, and then everyone donates an amount (roughly) equal to what they would have spent on gifts from the lists. Someone can bundle all the donation checks together and give them to the charity, and announce to the group what the total was (but not individual amounts).

If this proposal does get support, a few administrative suggestions are in order: have a (rotating) charity-nominator, who presents (say) three proposed charities to the group, which then votes; and don't make the selection of the charity a big deal (for example, make the nomination in early November, via email; allow time for discussion via email; and then take an email vote in early December. And allow opt-out for those who want to donate to another charity.
posted by WestCoaster at 7:11 PM on November 19, 2005

oddman, why would there be "hell to pay"? They've specifically asked you to please not get them a gift, and you're basically saying "fuck you, I'll do what I want, and you'll like it." How are they doing anything different than you are if they give that gift to charity? It doesn't matter if gift-giving is a positive thing, they've asked you not to do it. One of my friends buys me and my husband excessive gifts every year even though I repeatedly ask her not to. She's a compulsive shopper and really doesn't have the money, and I don't reciprocate. She says she doesn't expect me to, but she's lying. She buys gifts because she expects them in return. I fucking hate it.

I Love Tacos, if I were in your situation, I would probably do one of two things. Provide a list with my favorite charities. I think it's incredibly tacky to say a donation to charity is an unacceptable gift request, and I would ignore that. Or, I would call them and tell them I just didn't want to participate, if that's the case. Our families stopped the gift exchanges years ago; many of us wanted a less commercial Christmas, wanted to spend less money, or have simply stopped Christmas shopping because of the hassle. Christmas is more about getting together and eating instead of gifts now, and I much prefer that.
posted by peep at 7:13 PM on November 19, 2005

What about this tradition bothers you, I Love Tacos? Is it really worth blowing off the family of someone you love over something so petty?

I say, make a list of silly, cheap things. Like socks. Soap. Your favorite candy. Tell them you have everything else you need in your SO, and other cheesy stuff like that.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:17 PM on November 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

Let me answer your questions in a completely random order:

This isn't the first time we've gone through it.

Previously I tried things like adding "dinner out with us" or "go golfing with me" to the list, but I wound up getting restaurant gift certificates from people who didn't live near us, and golf gift certificates from people who don't golf. It kind of defeated the purpose.

My SO enjoys the gift exchange, but is willing to support my withdrawal if I can find a way that won't be interpreted by anybody as my pissing on their fun. She won't be withdrawing with me.

I love books and movies, but I still feel like that's me asking them to do my shopping. If there's a book or movie that I know I want, I've already purchased it for myself.

Ignoring the "no charities" request isn't an option. My SO thinks that some of her relatives will take it as a sanctimonious gesture, and I think she's right.
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:19 PM on November 19, 2005

What about this tradition bothers you, I Love Tacos?

The strict adherence to gift lists and price limits. It just feels like they're doing my shopping, and I'm doing theirs.

Now, I can tell that they legitimately like getting the stuff, so I don't mind the giving part, but I'd really just rather do my own shopping. If I know about a book that I want, I'd like to buy it. I don't want to put it on a list, wait a month, see if anybody gives it to me, and if they don't, then buy it.

The whole thing is vastly different from the way my family handles the holidays, as well. My relatives just send things they think would be nice, at whatever price point they feel like spending. It's fun and meaningful.

Is it really worth blowing off the family of someone you love over something so petty?

No it isn't, which is why I'll do it if I can't find a graceful way out.
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:30 PM on November 19, 2005

Yea, sometimes if it's really strict and crazy like that, it's no fun. Of course, think of the other side- where you know you have to buy people gifts, and they give you NO IDEA WHAT THEY WANT (I'm looking at you, Mom!)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:35 PM on November 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

Of course, think of the other side- where you know you have to buy people gifts, and they give you NO IDEA WHAT THEY WANT

I've been told that this is the exact reason for the system.
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:49 PM on November 19, 2005

Well, it might be tough to get out of it completely, but maybe you could make it at least more entertaining. You could put things on the list like "Your Favorite Jazz CD." "Your Favorite 70s movie." Or "Your favorite Non-Fiction Book Written in the '90s By a Female Author." Or even, "A Mix CD of Your Favorite Songs." Get specific. Maybe they'll surprise you. (Or maybe it will backfire and you'll get a bunch of crap).
posted by starman at 7:50 PM on November 19, 2005

I don't think I have a favorite Jazz CD or favorite non-fiction book written in the 90's by a female author, so it's a good guess that the Taco-In-Laws don't either. Good idea, though, just be a bit more general.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:07 PM on November 19, 2005

It sounded like the gift lists were at least somewhat long, so you could include enough options so that if there was at least one literary or jazz buff in the family, it could be a way for them to give a gift that reflected something they knew about and might expose Tacos to something new (or, like I said, crappy). Some of the ideas can be general (like the movies thing).

Anyhow, good luck. Let us know what you get :D
posted by starman at 8:17 PM on November 19, 2005

Yes now that I think about it my advice is likely to spark a huge fight. Disregard...
posted by shanevsevil at 8:20 PM on November 19, 2005

It seems to me that part of the reason people get so frustrated with gift giving is that they reduce it to a commercial act. Taking time to get to know one another should make it possible to find a token gift that reflects that person's interests and values. I don't know how many relatives you're talking about here, but maybe you should instead focus on spending time together (email, phone, webcam, in person) over the next year. Then maybe you'll find they know you well enough to find an appropriate gift.

In my family, we also have a rule that no one can purchase anything other than groceries and personal toiletries for themselves between Nov 1 and Dec 25. This reduces the likelihood that you buy a book or movie or whatever that the person already has.
posted by acoutu at 8:38 PM on November 19, 2005

In theory, the "get me what you like so I can learn from your lovely taste" sounds perfect: it gets you off the hook from asking for something and flatters the giver.

In actuality, the most common reason people make up rules like this is out of social anxiety and a shopping time crunch. They worry you'll judge them if they buy you something you hate, and they don't want to have to spend a lot of time thinking about what might make you happy. Ideally, that's what a gift is all about -- a demonstration of affection that shows you are aware of a person's desires. However, when you've got dozens to shop for, some od whom you don't know very well, asking them what they want so you are sure not to disappoint them is the next best thing.

This opens up a whole can of social anxiety for the receiver, though, in wondering if what you're asking for is too difficultor costly to get, or will burden you with yet another trinket you don't really want. That's why my vote is to ask for specific brands of wine or fruit or hot sauce for your tacos. That way, you know you're asking for something affordable, easy to order, and that will be used instead of flung or re-gifted.
posted by melissa may at 8:39 PM on November 19, 2005

(Apologies; my editing is horrible today. If I give you my prescription, Mr. Tacos, perhaps you could ask for some new glasses for me.)
posted by melissa may at 8:44 PM on November 19, 2005

I Love Tacos -
Some members of my family do the "list thing" and I have somewhat the same feeling about it that you seem to.
It does feel as if you are basically presenting a list of things you want them to buy for you or vice versa.

My solution was so categorically refuse to provide a list or to buy something off of a list someone else gave me. I also refuse to "match" presents by cost or number.

This works in my family, because my wife is willing to help others with ideas (not specific items, mind you, just suggestions - "He likes golf" or "He likes birds).
On the gift giving side, it works because you can look over the list to see what they like, but give something unique in the same category.
If they list a bunch of cookware, give them some fancy oils, etc.

Another thing we've done is a "family present", in that our parents will combine forces to get us something we wouldn't buy for ourselves because of cost or "frivolousness". This works because they get the joy of giving you something and you don't have to give a list of things to buy.

If you want to avoid receiving gifts all together, I'm afraid there's no polite way to do that without seeming the Grinch. The best you could probably do is to give small gifts (under $20) in hopes that they will do the same.)

Ultimately, you can't hold yourself responsible for what others give you, only what you give.
As long as what you give is something you think is special, then they'll love it.
posted by madajb at 8:47 PM on November 19, 2005

I love the ideas you guys are putting out there!

No ingenious ways to convince people that they don't want to give me gifts yet, but any improvement from the status quo is huge.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:03 PM on November 19, 2005

I imagine that setting a category can circumvent this nonsense. Plus, it would make the giver think and can even say something about the giver. 75% chance that the item will go to Goodwill anyway, but this way there's a little bit of fun still left in the tradition.

An example list of suggestions:

- The giver's favorite history book
- A decorative item for my living room
- A toy for the dog/cat/gerbil
- The latest, coolest tool from the hardware dept. at Sears
- The giver's favorite party game or board game
- A half pound of the giver's favorite cheese
- Something red and metal
- Something from that really cool antique store downtown
- Something from Africa
posted by Jonasio at 9:32 PM on November 19, 2005

Ooh, while I really like Jonasio's list, decorative item for the living room (or elsewhere, really) strikes me as somewhat dangerous -- if someone picks that, gets something hideous, comes over, and doesn't see it, it might be sad. OTOH, only you know what their taste is like. If you trust them, then go for it.

I really like "something red and metal," though -- I want something red and metal! Also, cheese.

Aforementioned fella suggests "something small and inexpensive that serves a purpose that you never thought needed served until you saw this item." These are often found at kitchen stores. Like this!

He also suggests "ask for MetaFilter sock puppets! ... or sex toys, and then they'd reconsider the whole thing!"
posted by librarina at 9:42 PM on November 19, 2005

So you want to opt out of the list because you don't want people buying things for you that you would likely buy for yourself? Why go through all of the hassle and ruffled feathers just for that? (yes, that is a bit of a simple analysis, indulge me, you don't want us to sit and analyze you anyway.) They have some decent reasons for doing things this way (they don't want to exchange lame gifts with each other), shrug and make the best of it.

Given your problems with books I think the food/alcohol suggestions are the best. Even if you buy the wine you like when you want to, getting some more of it later is still a good thing. Basically asking for anything that needs periodic replenishing seems like a good idea given your predisposition to buy the things you want.

Also things that don't go bad and get used eventually, stuff like golf balls. And what about things like magazine subscriptions, even if you already have a subscription they can just tack their gift year to the end of your current subscription.

As for the strict price-point issue is it possible to put more expensive things on there and get multiple members to pitch in for it?
posted by oddman at 9:48 PM on November 19, 2005

Your "list" should consist of simply your MetaFilter handle.

"What do you want for Christmas this year?"

"I Love Tacos."

" you want tacos?"

"I Love Tacos!"

"Ok, tacos it is."

You get something you love, and they might feel silly enough about getting you tacos for Christmas that they'll let you off easy next year.

(Plus, they might get you actual tacos, our take you out for tacos at their favorite taco place, or give you gift certificates (I know) for a taco place...they have a little wiggle room, so they can't say you're being unreasonable.)
posted by attercoppe at 11:15 PM on November 19, 2005

Why go through all of the hassle and ruffled feathers just for that?

I certainly wouldn't do so if it would cause any sort of negative reaction. The last thing I'm interested in is some sort of "my vision of Christmas is better than yours" showdown.

I was just hoping that somebody would post a story about the brilliant method they used in a similar situation.


Now I'm going to mark a ton of things as best answer because I like giving out gold stars.
posted by I Love Tacos at 11:24 PM on November 19, 2005

Five hours after it began, a first pass at the list has been compiled. If any aspect of your answer was used, I've flagged it as best.

The summary of it:
Something red and metal
Go shooting
My favorite candy
My favorite candy substitute (tacos)
Some other really inexpensive items
A bunch of open-ended ones
My absolute favorite charities

I'm really hoping that at least a few of 'em will choose to buy me a few little things, and donate the rest to one of the charities.
posted by I Love Tacos at 11:42 PM on November 19, 2005

You forgot cheese!
posted by librarina at 11:51 PM on November 19, 2005

This is nuts.

Tell them quite simply that you're surprising them this year, and you expect them to do the same.


WTF is Christmas gift giving if it's not partly the joy of UNEXPECTED receipt??

As for the aspect of frustration over not knowing what to give, that's called (imho) MAKING AN EFFORT.

Ho Ho Ho. Bah Humbug.
posted by DrtyBlvd at 6:14 AM on November 20, 2005

You don't say whether the gift exchange cabal is local to you or not -- if they're not, asking for some sort of delicacy from their area is another tactic to consider. Area wines, chocolates, packed-for-shipment foods, etc. If you end up enjoying it, both giver and receiver are set for life.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:01 AM on November 20, 2005

I dunno...people become irrationally attached to their holiday traditions, and there can be hell to pay if you dissent. If I were you, I'd do some reconnaisance with other family members (besides your wife) to find out if there are any other rebels out there, and maybe together you can join forces to overthrow the existing regime.
posted by footnote at 7:08 AM on November 20, 2005

That seems like a nice list to me I Love Tacos. Glad we could help.

Merry Christmas!
posted by oddman at 7:32 AM on November 20, 2005

Something red and metal

SOMEONE's gonna get a Swingline stapler for Christmas!
posted by kindall at 7:52 AM on November 20, 2005

I Love Tacos, instead of helping you get out of it I'm go to try and maybe even get you to like it a little (because I would). It seems to me the system is there to try and make everyone happy (not a bad intention!) - because no one knows better than ourselves what we want. Try and see it as an opportunity to get things you want but might not go to the trouble of buying.

Oh and please don't put down charity or really cheap items - if I would be in the other side's shoes that would feel offensive. If you like being surprised try and give them an area (example: surprise me with small gadgets).
posted by mirileh at 9:13 AM on November 20, 2005

The gift exchange cabal is scattered about, with nobody terribly local, and some quite distant. As such "local wines or other delicacies" has been added to the list.

please don't put down charity or really cheap items - if I would be in the other side's shoes that would feel offensive

This is exactly what I want to avoid. Does it seem less offensive to you when I specify the actual charities that I care about?

$50 memorial donation to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
$50 donation to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:45 AM on November 20, 2005

Does it seem less offensive to you when I specify the actual charities that I care about?

yes it does (it's ok that way).
posted by mirileh at 12:01 PM on November 20, 2005

yes it does (it's ok that way).

Excellent. Thanks!
posted by I Love Tacos at 3:59 PM on November 20, 2005

If it's any consolation, I'm not much of a gift-giver. And I'm spending my first Xmas with my s.o.'s family, who are all ridiculous gift givers. Scares the hell out of me.

I've kinda solved the problem by literally browsing thru etc., picking out *cheap* books, CDs etc., that I'd never buy for myself but maybe there's one track I'd want, or a book that I'm curious about, and stick that on my list. That way, I get things that I'd never buy for myself in a gazillion years, but stuff I might be curious about one day and when the heat dies down and everyone forgets about said present, I donate it to a charity shop.
posted by badlydubbedboy at 7:00 AM on November 21, 2005

Anything consumable. Not just stuff.
posted by gfroese at 3:29 PM on November 21, 2005

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