Christmas + Gifts

>> 12.12.2012

My birthday is in July; Stephen's is in March. As a result, neither of us ever had much holiday overload all at one time -- especially related to gifts. Ada, on the other hand, is a November baby. It seems like just yesterday we were opening mounds of beautifully wrapped presents at her first birthday.

Friends and family are asking us what Ada "wants" or "needs" for the Christmas. (You may remember that a month or so ago, I posted a First Birthday Gift Guide. Well, Ada got many of those things for her party and more. Thank you, friends!) Quite frankly, we're stuffed to the gills right now. So, to answer this popular question, I've been telling them: nothing.

That's rarely an acceptable answer.

Gifts are quite a topic for discussion in our house these days -- not only due to the impending holiday, but also because things are, well, different this year. Since I'm not working full time, it's a plain fact that we cannot spend nearly what we used to for birthdays, Christmas, and other major holidays. And all those just-because gifts have gone out the window.

There are times when this new reality seems fine to us. Liberating, even. Have less, need less, want less. Other times, not so great. We occasionally receive gifts we cannot reciprocate, for example. It can be embarrassing or even feel rude depending on the situation. We sincerely appreciate everything that is given to us -- material and non-material things alike -- but there is a point where we wish we could break the cycle.

For Ada's birthday, we even (carefully) approached the idea of no gifts, but our arguments weren't met with enthusiasm. More confusion and -- again -- that feeling of rudeness. We understand that gift giving is a part of our culture. Of almost all cultures, for that matter. Too, giving gifts can be enjoyable and gratifying. But, as you see we're discovering, gifts can also be a major stress hot-button.

Some things I've been reading on the matter:

No New Gifts Holiday Challenge (Zen Habits -- thanks for sharing it with me Rebecca!)
Are Homemade Christmas Gifts a Good Idea? (The Guardian)
Would You Ever Throw a "No Gifts Allowed" B-Day Party? (Parenting Magazine)
Is it Rude to Ask for No Gifts? (Minimalist Mom)
Getting Rid of Gifts (The Minimalists)

All this talk and reading has us contemplating the larger issues. It's interesting to look at this whole situation in the context of today's economy. Our standard of living is certainly lower than what we grew up enjoying. Of course, we're still young and "starting out," but as we look to the future with our earning power, we don't see the situation changing dramatically. We could look at this all and feel depressed, but -- instead -- we feel fortunate and optimistic that we can live a happy life within our means.

But let's not make this conversation too broad. I could go on for days. Aaaaaannnnd . . . back to gifts.

What we ultimately decided this year is to set a budget for some gifts and make other presents ourselves. Example: I'm making some wreathes for family members. I may even be trying out a few tutorials for edible gifts I found on Pinterest. I find these types of gifts are the most fun to give because they may not be expensive or flashy, but they have heart in them.

And yet, when I've made things myself in years past, poured lots of energy and love into them, I feel they've been devoured more as an appetizer to a main course that never comes. Not that I don't understand on some level.

Now let's just talk about our little family of three. Christmas: There will definitely be presents under the tree, always. Will there be a veritable sea of them? Likely not. We will fulfill all the wishes on future Christmas lists? Likely not. Will Ada suffer as a result? Definitely not.

It'd be unnatural for Ada to want absolutely nothing for her birthday or Christmas. We're not planning on robbing her of this basic desire -- of this aspect of childhood. (Heaven knows I went nuts waking up Christmas morning to a new Cabbage Patch doll!) But exactly what and how much is something we can influence positively. Gifts can have value (yes monetary, but I'm thinking more personal/emotional) and meaning. They can be fun and educational, etc.

Not all is bad.

As far as Santa and his whole role in Christmas, we're not sure yet. This year, it isn't an issue. We've chatted about possibly having one special gift from Santa each year. I know growing up, Santa was the guy who made my wildest dreams come true (thanks, mom and dad!). What we're finding out is that traditions can be changed and molded to fit the needs of each individual family. It doesn't make one way of doing things right or wrong or better or worse. Just different.

Whatever we do, I want Ada to grow up to appreciate special things that are given to her, but to also appreciate those things in life that are far less tangible. I think that's the best gift of all that we can give her, and thankfully it doesn't require wrapping. I'm terrible at that.

What are your thoughts on gifts? Do you have a spoken policy in your home? Do you think I sound crazy and/or ungrateful? Do you completely and entirely agree? I'd love more food for thought.

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