alternative ideas for christmas gifts?
November 30, 2017 12:26 AM   Subscribe

I tried having a discussion with my siblings about xmas gifts as our extended family grows, about picking names, doing secret Santa, or otherwise cutting down on the number of gifts this year (particularly for older kids 10+ & young adults). It didn't go well, and according to my siblings, "they just want lots of gifts." This idea is foreign to me since we didn't celebrate Christmas growing up, and I did not have involved uncles and aunts. My nephews and nieces also have everything, and (imho) are extremely spoiled and don't have a lot of gratitude, as I've seen in holidays and other occasions. Is there anything I can do to give them the gift of giving? Give to others, in their name? Any alternative suggestions that won't cost me an arm and a leg?

Not all of them live local to me, so it's hard to give them "experiences" as opposed to stuff, and time will be limited this x-mas. For some of the older kids, I'm tempted to opt out of giving presents altogether this year, but I know that will come across as obnoxious. I feel like the expectation of stuff almost defeats the purpose of gift giving. Please help me out with ideas!
posted by anonymous to Shopping (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could do a large, edible gift for everyone to share from you. A fancy snack platter kind of thing.
posted by HMSSM at 12:47 AM on November 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

You have my sympathies. Maybe you could create an ongoing experience by gifting gift cards. You could gift a larger amount to a group of siblings or family cohort who might discuss options together, or a smaller amount to individuals. It literally says on the page you give someone the chance to change a life which is pretty close to the gift of giving.
posted by Thella at 12:49 AM on November 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Particularly for the siblings (and especially those who are close in age), could you give a communal gift like a boardgame/card game? It'd cut down on expenses if you just bought one gift per family unit (and a lot of excellent card games are available for under $20, such as Codenames).
posted by littlegreen at 1:13 AM on November 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

I got Kiva giftcards for that situation, they never used them, and Kivabalerted me as they were about to expire and I used them myself. Dumb kids. Win win.
posted by Iteki at 3:18 AM on November 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

Yep, I would make donations in their names, ideally for an organization they would like or feel connected to in some way (children, animals, medical, disaster relief), or donate to a college fund. They apparently don't need anything, aren't grateful, and you shouldn't throw your money into encouraging more of the same. This way at least your money would be going towards something meaningful, for which they should be grateful. (And/or you will also be the the 'weird relative' excluded from general gift giving- win win).
posted by bquarters at 3:29 AM on November 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

One gift per family unit is the way to do it. Or if there's a big spread of ages and everyone will be spending time together, a group gift for an age group.
posted by raccoon409 at 3:45 AM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Or if it won't go down well, just give everyone books. It will become expected that you're that aunt or uncle who just gives books but at least the expectations are clear. Paperbacks are available for abou $10 each.
posted by raccoon409 at 3:46 AM on November 30, 2017 [26 favorites]

If you decide to go for experience gifts, I've found movie ticket gift vouchers to work well.
posted by harriet vane at 3:46 AM on November 30, 2017 [12 favorites]

Give each kid a Halloween-sized quantity of their favorite candy, in a holiday gift bag. It'll cost less than $5 per kid.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 3:59 AM on November 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Donations in their names will make you feel good, but will probably be baffling or even insulting to teens/tweens. If you want to feel good, just donate in your own name.

For some of the older kids, I'm tempted to opt out of giving presents altogether this year, but I know that will come across as obnoxious.

Fuck 'em. I stopped giving gifts to all my nieces and nephews and told my brothers that I expected nothing for my kids. They were (very) mildly surprised, but I think the feeling is mutual and everyone is happy now. Just say no. Or if you don't have kids, just don't get them anything- no need to say anything about it. Plus, let's be serious here, if you are giving gifts and expecting gratitude in return, then it isn't really giving. Better to just stop and be done with it.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:17 AM on November 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

I have a ton of nieces and nephews plus my own two kids. The rule (that my husband and I established and basically forced our siblings to accept) is that once a kid turns 18, they don't get Christmas presents anymore. This means that we (husband and I) don't get gifts from our siblings and we don't buy for them but there are SO MANY of us that I'm okay with it. Too much money!

However, once a niece or nephew has their own children, we get the littles gifts. It all works out.
posted by cooker girl at 4:45 AM on November 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is there anything I can do to give them the gift of giving?

Basically, no. They may eventually become less obnoxious on their own, but you can't make other people become generous.

What you can do is make a unilateral decision without getting anyone else's agreement. Just let them know in advance in case they want to tie their gift giving to whether they get presents. "It's not in my budget to give everyone gifts this year, so I'm just going to get presents for the children who are under twelve/buy one gift for the whole family/skip family Christmas and go to the beach." They might get upset. They will get over it. Or if they don't, they've given you information about their values.
posted by FencingGal at 4:45 AM on November 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

You can opt out even if others are opting in. Just be clear up front that you will not be getting presents for adults/kids over 12/anyone. We started doing this a few years ago and there were a few years where everyone else exchanged gifts and we sat around with nothing. We were pleasant and cheerful and otherwise participatory and if people were sore about it, I never heard. Over time (and as the family had grown) other people are following our lead. Now Christmas is really just for the little kids.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:14 AM on November 30, 2017

Honestly- I think the key here is that you say your family didn’t celebrate Christmas when you were growing up, and you didn’t have involved aunts and uncles. It seems likely that your siblings, unlike you, were pretty stung by that and have worked hard to create a holiday tradition of being more involved.

If you don’t have the money to buy gifts for your nieces and nephews, then I would handmake a card for each of them so they don’t feel like you are the auntie/Uncle who doesn’t care about them, but if you have even a little, I would recommend secondhand books. Nobody but nobody “has everything”, and your phrasing it that way (as well as the “what about experiences?”) makes me feel like this is maybe less about your ability to give and more like a moral judgment on how you think they are being raised?
posted by corb at 5:17 AM on November 30, 2017 [16 favorites]

If you want to give them experiences from afar, memberships to museums are a great option and maybe one of the only non-insulting "family" gifts I can think of.

But look, no, there is no way you can not give presents in a family that cares about presents and not have it be insulting. You can't "give" people donations in their name and not have them be insulted if that's not what they want.

I also just want to stand in defense of presents for a minute. For people who like gifts and Christmas, and I am one of those people, it is just a love language. A present means: you thought of me when I wasn't around, you know what I like, my joy also makes you happy. And it isn't about the cost — like seriously, someone could wrap up five cookies separately and give them to me and just opening them and seeing more cookies would be hilarious and make me feel so very loved.

When you're a tween and teen, too, presents are some of the only times you get to just have a thing you want without wheedling your parents or making a case for it. It's the time when you get to have demands. I don't know if you remember how unfair and annoying it is to be growing into being an adult but still dependent on Real Adults to validate yours desires, but it sucked!

So I understand that sometimes the mandatory nature of holiday gift-giving is enough to make a scrooge of anyone, and I know too, that kids can seem ungrateful, but I'd really like to encourage you to maybe think of things you can afford and the message you send when you get someone a gift.
posted by dame at 6:20 AM on November 30, 2017 [25 favorites]

Yeah, I don't think there's an actual good way around this. Your family has explicitly said they want lots of presents, and it sounds like they would really like expensive presents. My mom is like this. She has said to me that she doesn't approve of giving to charity in people's name as a gift (she used to get offended when my grandmother would do this for *me*, even though I like it!). She wants thoughtful, physical gifts that are (or at seem like they could be) expensive (cookies would not cut it unless I was in dire financial straits). It drives me crazy, but she's been very clear about what she wants and it's up to me whether I choose to fulfill her wish or not.

Since they've said they want "lots of presents" I would be tempted to just lean into it and give a dumb number of presents. Head on down to the Target 1-spot or the Christmas Tree Shops or Goodwill or whatever and get five presents per person. I know it's a waste of money, and if you have like 25 people you're buying for it's probably unfeasible. But it would be kind of hilarious.
posted by mskyle at 6:47 AM on November 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Over 18 = lottery tickets.
Under 18 = five dollars in a card.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:13 AM on November 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

If money was good enough for the Three Wise Men to give to baby Jesus, it’s good enough for you.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:07 AM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

For questions like these I think it helps to determine your total gifting budget. Your family can ask/demand that 10 or 20 people get presents, but they can't demand that your budget changes. Then you decide, within your family metrics, does each person get the same amount spent? Each adult? And then it's easier to decide, okay, if I have $100 to spend on this family of five, are they getting $100 of Omaha Steaks (this present rules, btw) or are they each getting a $20 giftcard?

PS I wholeheartedly agree with the 'books for kids' idea, even if it makes you the uncool relative.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Our family decided to limit gifts to $3 (later raised to $5). It actually encouraged more thoughtful gifts. Things from the dollar store, used books. There was a lot of regifting.

You could do this unilaterally.

Kids tended to get larger gifts, but it was not mandatory.
posted by H21 at 9:03 AM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

You're not going to be able to "teach them the gift of giving" when your own heart is so uncharitable towards them.

You don't have to give any presents at all, especially for the older kids--"sorry, my budget just doesn't allow for it"--but, please, whatever you do, don't offer up that spirit of judgment and condescension you've got going right now along with it. I have a snotty little nephew myself, one who literally yelled out that one of his recent birthday presents was "WORTHLESS!!!", but I don't kid myself that when I allow myself to be annoyed by an eight-year-old I'm experiencing a superior Christmas spirit.

If it was me, I wouldn't die on this hill; I would buy the multipacks of movie ticket vouchers you can get at, e.g., Costco at a non-ruinous rate.
posted by praemunire at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2017 [14 favorites]

It sounds like you would need to be way more involved than you currently are to influence your nieces' and nephews' values around giving and charity. Also, giving physical gifts is an accepted love language that some people prefer, just try to roll with it.

Buy them fun, cheap stuff to unwrap. Try to get stuff they'll actually like. Model your values by telling them that you want donations to charity as your gift.
posted by momus_window at 10:21 AM on November 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

> like seriously, someone could wrap up five cookies separately and give them to me and just opening them and seeing more cookies would be hilarious and make me feel so very loved

I made a kids' day by giving him five individually wrapped boxes of mac and cheese, in a variety of brands. Giving gifts is fun! Go for it! Give them Twizzlers! Give them funny socks! Give them dice!
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:41 AM on November 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

What about interesting things to eat? Like Japanese kitkats , or Russian chocolates, or some local-to-you confections?

I don't quite mean novelty candy (though those could be fun for the younger set), more like unusual non-novelty candy.
posted by vunder at 11:21 AM on November 30, 2017

You can jazz up a cash gift by buying them a book and getting twenty $1 bills and putting them in the book so they have to flip through to find them. Etc. (Maybe they'll actually read a page and get sucked in.)
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:46 AM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I used to send my teen and 20s niece and nephews cool tshirts from threadless or wherever. it was really fun picking them. I tried to pick something sort of cool, not obnoxious or rude, and usually @ 10 bucks. I have also sent gift cards, but they are not satisfying(to me). I was thanked by phone or email or text and I'm fine with that. I used to send gifts to my siblings, fairly small, but with a note. Useful, like LED flashlights for the car, small multitools, books. Too broke last year. This year, I may send amaryllis bulbs, cheap, pretty, as I am still pretty broke.

Maybe send home-made mix cds, or everybody gets a copy of a book you think they should read. Giving consumer goods because their parents want the big commercial Christmas is distasteful to me. You are not obligated to do this. Do something that's meaningful to you. Maybe start a tradition of writing a funny/ true annual letter.
posted by theora55 at 12:45 PM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

My dad's family assembles for Giftmas Eve, resulting in about 12 non-adults. Each family gets a gift, generally edible (e.g. breakfast: banana bread, jam, sausages, half a dozen pretty brown eggs). Each of the kids gets a $10 bill (used to be $5), folded into the shape of a pine tree, attached to a candy bar with colorful ribbon. Last year my mom forgot to get candy so they were attached to granola bars. The teenagers snorted and rolled their eyes...then ate the granola bars anyway. Some of the aunts and uncles also do cash and candy gifts, and some actually know the kids and give something more personal. All of the adults get family gifts too. For the out of town cousins we actually have relationships with, the parents query each other and get something the kids will like, with a preference for games to play as a family, books, magazine subscriptions--basically anything but toys. I don't know if this was ever discussed, or just came to be tradition.
posted by esoterrica at 5:01 PM on November 30, 2017

My nephews and nieces also have everything, and (imho) are extremely spoiled and don't have a lot of gratitude, as I've seen in holidays and other occasions. Is there anything I can do to give them the gift of giving? Give to others, in their name? Any alternative suggestions that won't cost me an arm and a leg?

Giving to charity instead of gifts is awesome.

Opening tons of presents on Christmas is also awesome. I raised three kids; my sister never had any. She is very into talking about her causes and her veganism and all her other stuff, and she also prefers giving donations to Heifer Int'l, PETA, etc. instead of giving presents. She totally sucks on Christmas and other gift-giving holidays because she uses the occasion to put forth her agenda. It's never about the recipients.

My kids all volunteer and work in helping people and animals and are kind and generous adults.

They also used to LOVE opening presents on Christmas.

I think you can have a balance here between finger-wagging "be giving to others" and "here's all the shit you don't need."

Silly socks, bags of candy, lottery tickets, literal bags of change, favorite paperbacks, crayons, coloring books, drawing paper, markers, other craft stuff--all of these things are fun to open and relatively inexpensive.

Kids opening a ton of crap on Christmas is actually A THING for a lot of families and it doesn't mean the kids are spoiled jerks. It means that's how they celebrate Christmas. Don't be Scrooge. Just go with it.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:05 AM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

In my opinion (or maybe, more accurately, how I perceive it), giving a charitable donation in someone's name is a dick move: it says "I am better than you, because you are an undeveloped worm," and is the opposite of a gift. I suspect this reflects a basic difference in world view as fundamental and inexplicable as ask/guess or over/under toilet paper and makes me a bad man. But what it really comes down to is how your family will view it, and with a fairly large number of people involved, I assume that it will be the case that there'll be some trogs like me that will feel insulted.

I would suggest you go with one of the "economical gift" options (books, for instance--that seems great, though some might view it exactly like I view charitable donations) or the cold-turkey "only The Littles get presents from Auntie Anonymous." This (again, in my opinion) allows you to demonstrate your love for your family without breaking the bank and by substituting effort for cost.

Your concern for your nieces and nephews is commendable, but you may have to accept your control over their development has ... limits. Have a good holiday season.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:38 AM on December 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm 100% sympathetic - honestly your description of your family and its gift tradition makes me physically shudder - but no, don't do donations. It's such SUCH a downer and so sanctimonious to "give" someone else an announcement that you gave charity to some Deserving Cause. Ugh.

You want to give to charity? Give to charity! You want to tell your siblings where to stick their appalling consumerist attitudes and just not give gifts? You have my blessing.

But neither of these things will help you have a pleasant Christmas morning with these people. My strong suggestion: drugstore chocolate. You can get Whitman's samplers for $5 at the drugstore and kids LOVE them. Love. For real.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:27 PM on December 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

> It's such SUCH a downer and so sanctimonious to "give" someone else an announcement that you gave charity to some Deserving Cause

Plus the person being given the gift, such as it is, doesn't even get to take the tax deduction.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:10 PM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

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