I have a difficult relationship with gifts. I love discovering special gifts that the recipients might enjoy but not find or buy for themselves. That takes quite a bit of thought and research. I collect ideas throughout the year and tuck them away in email folders reserved for different family members and friends.
But I don’t particularly enjoy receiving gifts, especially not material things. For my birthday each year, I ask my husband to plan a getaway for us. I’m usually the travel planner so it’s a joy to not be in charge. He usually treats me to a long weekend in the Caribbean but this coming January, with Covid, a spa day will be wonderful.
In a few weeks, our extended family of 16 is getting together in person for Christmas in Santa Barbara, where my parents live. I haven’t seen most of them since Covid began so I’m looking forward to our reunion.
My mother is Danish and loves a traditional Jule complete with dancing around the Christmas tree and finding the hidden almond in the rice pudding (and winning the marzipan pig!). She and my father always have loads of gifts awaiting us under the tree.
But with 16 of us, that’s a lot of people to buy special gifts for! Not to mention the supply chain issues this year… And honestly, we are fortunate that none of us really needs more stuff. On the contrary, we’re all trying to downsize.
Since our kids are grown (and no grandkids yet), might there be another way?
My three siblings and I discussed the situation on Zoom and agreed to suggest that this year, while we might exchange gifts (privately) with our immediate families, we won’t buy gifts for our extended family members. No big gift exchange! Instead, we’ll focus our group time on fun experiences.
In our family, that usually means playing loads of games, and especially one we grew up with that we call “the Danish betting game”—because we have no other name for it. It involves playing hands of cards and placing bets with matchsticks. I’m also going to entice the group to play a favorite of mine, Celebrity, a Charades-like game.
There are always lots of sweets at the ready for these game-playing sessions, including tins of my mom’s Danish and Greek home-baked cookies and boxes of specialty chocolates.
We also came up with an ingenious and fun way to address the “gifts under the Christmas tree” dilemma by deciding to try a new tradition this year: The White Elephant.
Here’s how our version will work. We’ll each contribute a wrapped gift (value no greater than $25 and no gift cards allowed), then sit together as we take turns opening a gift or stealing the gift from a past recipient (who will then get to choose and open another gift). We’ll start with the eldest (my mother) and work our way down to the youngest (my teenage nephew)—so he can get last dibs.
I’ve played this before and it was loads of fun; I’m looking forward to trying it with my extended family. And this means the Christmas tree won’t look bare as we dance around it, with 16 gifts under it.
Ever the planner, I’ve already secured the gifts we’ll contribute (for the 4 of us attending) and was so excited about one of them I had to buy it for myself!
YOUR TURN: What’s your attitude about gifts? How do you handle them over the holidays? Any creative solutions you can share or try? Please let us know your own clever ideas or novel gift traditions in the comments!