on gift giving

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Christmas is an awkward season. On the one hand you have cheerful family gatherings packed with laughs and memories, delicious foods you look forward to every year, festive music, twinkly lights and colorful decorations. On the other hand you have check lists and to-do’s, gifts to buy or make, parties to plan and clean up from, and traveling (sometimes) in snow.

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Christmas is our family’s favorite holiday, and Papa and I have been tweaking our family traditions over the years to create a season that has as little stress and leaves as many positive memories as possible. We are grateful to have family that encourages us to do what is right for our family, as I have heard of families who are expected by both sides to follow every long held tradition in the book, making the season way more stressful than it needs to be (which is very little). As it stands, we have made special traditions with each part of our family which we all enjoy.

Since Buddy’s first Christmas we have attempted to fit in gatherings with everyone in our family (which is a lot because most live nearby!), if not on Christmas than within a day or two, and shop around during the weeks prior to find just the right gifts for everyone on our list.

This made for a very busy season, and we quickly began realizing that even though we could make that plan work, it wasn’t in everyone’s best interest.

Then began our adventure in homemade gifts. Using resources available to us, and plenty of idea books and websites, we created some unique, attractive, and sometimes useful gifts for many of our closest family. This was especially helpful while Papa was laid off, as we had very limited funds for two years in a row. You can read more about our experiences making gifts on a budget in this post.

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While we enjoyed making gifts, moving to the homestead added a whole new set of responsibilities, and with Papa working as much overtime in December as he is, making gifts pretty much falls in my court. And as you all know, I have loads of extra time on my hands. Ha! Yes, I can find enough time to keep our home clean, homeschool, blog, and work outdoors, but that doesn’t mean I have enough time to make gifts for the many people in our family too!

Last year we made a few things, mostly for our kids, but bought most of the gifts we gave. It was a huge change from the past two to three years of Christmas tradition making, but we looked at it from a very practical point of view – it would take Papa less time to make money at work to buy gifts than it would for me to make gifts at home – significantly less time.

But here’s part of the problem we have with standard, U.S. gift giving. How many gift cards, sweaters, pretty candles, and sets of screwdrivers does a person really need? We (as in, Americans in general) don’t always know what someone wants, but we want to give them something, so oftentimes we end up exchanging semi-useful gifts that neither of us really need. At least with making and receiving handmade gifts, we are exchanging things we’ve made with a specific person in mind. If you’re going to spend hours on a project you really want to make something they will like it!

Okay. So we don’t have time for gift making and we don’t want to buy unneeded gifts, now what?

I won’t pretend to have the answer. I think a lot of people have struggled with this question. We look for meaning in holiday traditions, and with the busyness of life, and expectations built by previous years, it is truly hard to make new traditions and feel comfortable settling for fewer, more useful or meaningful gifts than many traditional “safe” gifts. I hope one day we’ll figure out the right balance ourselves, and though circumstances do change from year to year, I think we’re getting closer to the place we want to be each Christmas season.

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This year we decided to make a few gifts, if we had ideas for loved ones that we really wanted to carry out, but because buying gifts seemed to make more sense for us we thought carefully about where we wanted to buy gifts from.

A huge local craft fair, Etsy, and eBay stores were places we bought gifts from. Although we did buy some from Walmart, mostly for the kids in our family, we also kept in mind what practical things family needed, things they would have had to buy otherwise. I can’t give away too much information of course!

There are two gifts we have made traditional for our family, and thus will be no secret that they are each getting them this year. One is a small framed picture of our family (this year’s is at the bottom of this post).

The second is a 60 minute DVD of Chickie’s first year. Each Christmas following the first birthday of our children, Papa and I have created a movie using video clips and slideshows of photos taken during their first 12 months. This year I made the video myself, and with help from my father-in-law (like I said, it’s no secret!) made the movie into DVDs.

It was awfully hard to pick which one, but I chose one of the slideshows from Chickie’s movie to share with you today. This features photos taken of her between 6 and 12 months with her immediate family. To see the slideshow I shared a while back from Pal’s movie, click here.

In regards to visiting everyone on Christmas, in the past few years we have managed to spread out the celebrations a bit so that we visit all three sets of grandparents (with aunts and uncles) on different days, and still get to have Christmas morning at home. Much better.

What does Christmas gift giving look like for you?

2 responses

  1. Leigh says:

    Mama, you might enjoy the book Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays, by economist Joel Waldfogel. He shows the economic (and emotional) downsides to giving people gifts just because you feel like you have to – net/net, the value that your second-cousin-twice-removed would put on that knick-knack you gave her is probably going to be way less than the money you actually spent to purchase it for her.

    Despite the title, it’s not a Debbie Downer book. I found it quite inspiring. The author DOES advocate giving gifts when you know the recipients will find high value in them. He also advocates making donations to a charity in someone’s name as a gift, because it definitely won’t lose value when given to an organization that can do good with it. In fact, the value will most likely be multiplied several times over.

    I know you have your hands full and probably don’t have tons of leisure time for reading, so I’d also like to note that it’s a rather short book. :-)

  2. Mama says:

    Thank you for the recommendation Leigh. I don’t read as much as I used to for sure, but I do enjoy having a book to work on a little at a time. Waldfogel’s book sounds very interesting, something I would like to read.

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