There is no way I can list all of the family situations and dynamics that come into play around the holidays. But a common family angst springs out of the matter of gift-giving.
We are faced with unreasonable expectations, guilt and hurt feelings. The solution? Courage. Courage to give as you want to give, not out of guilt or expectation; courage to spend what you are able, not what others say you must. Courage to get creative and to try something new.
My family has a tradition that has been going on for more than 35 years. When our boys were toddlers, we and our best friends, who have three children about the same ages as our boys, decided to have a family Christmas party early in December. We had such a great time, we decided to make it an annual event.
Things have changed over the years. That first year, there were a few gifts, mostly small gifts for the children. But things have changed. The kids are grown, many have children of their own, and grandparents have died. Still, we party, and every year, the problem arises: What to do about gifts?
We switch hosting every year, and several years ago, instructions were mailed for how adults would exchange gifts that year. The host drew names for everyone, and the instructions stated that we were to shop and "buy" for that person as if we had all the money in the world. How? Find a picture or other visual representation of the object.
I got a call from my mother-in-law, Gwen. She was livid. "What on earth is this all about?" she queried. "Has Kathleen lost her mind?" She was happy with the person's name she drew but not happy with this ridiculous nongift way of giving.
On the night of the party, there was an air of cautious anticipation, but no one was more visibly excited than my mother-in-law.
As people opened their gifts, the fun began. A flying enthusiast got a new jet, framed with a complete list of amenities. Others received beautiful new homes, golf courses, domestic staff -- the sky truly was the limit.
And then, Wendy opened her gift from Grandma (my mother-in-law).
To my surprise, Gwen had spent days preparing a small scrapbook filled with beautiful pictures she'd found in magazines and catalogs, carefully selected just for Wendy.
It was a moment to remember, as Grandma gave Wendy all the things she knew she would love.
I learned something important that night. Buying a gift is way too easy. Creating a gift, even if it is cut from the pages of a magazine, requires an open heart.
What a memorable exchange it was. No one overspent, and no one went into debt. There was no guilt or unmet expectations. And no one enjoyed it more than my mother-in-law, the best gift-giver of all.
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