Dear LetterBalm: My husband and I come from high-achieving families, and we’re both doing well in our careers. We don’t have children, but, as the youngest siblings in our respective families, we have older brothers and sisters who have kids. So, we have seven nieces and nephews of varying ages. We love them all and are a devoted uncle and aunt. But as the years have gone on, we’ve had to scramble for Christmas gift-giving for the entire family (kids, parents, aunts, uncles, etc.), which numbers close to 25 people. We’re pooped, not to mention broke! We suggested a targeted grab bag, but we got pushback. The family wants everybody to get a present from everyone. We need to extricate ourselves from the situation. What can we say to dear ones who equate love with gifts?
Tread gently. This is the sort of family disagreement that can fester as the years go on. You and your husband are positioning yourselves as the altruistic couple, valuing family and love over material things by simply suggesting that everyone cut back on gifts. Nobody wants to be known as selfish and greedy. But Christmas gifts can be a big deal. Ms. L.B. had a colleague who came from a big family that held an annual Secret Santa, a longstanding tradition with serious rules. (Everybody publishes their wish list, consisting of one big gift plus smaller desired ones. Everyone draws names. The Secret Santa designee fulfills the list, no cut corners.) Or, you and your husband can suggest that, starting this year, you don’t want Christmas presents from anyone and you will gift only the kids. You’ll keep honoring birthdays, graduations, weddings, etc. for everyone, as always. Seek out the most receptive member of each family, review what you’ll say beforehand, and keep calm and cheerful in a private chat, no judgment:
Family member, can we talk about Christmas gift-giving before things get out of hand and people get their feelings hurt? That’s the last thing Dominic and I would want. We all get along so well, let’s see if we can work something out. Last year, we had to shop and pay for almost 30 gifts, and the expense is too much for us. We have a couple of suggestions. One is a planned Secret Santa, where one person gives a lot of presents to another family member. Names of givers and recipients are drawn and kept secret. Everybody publishes their wish list, consisting of one big gift plus smaller desired ones. The Secret Santa designee fulfills the list, plus some surprises. Or, we all can agree to give gifts only to the kids. My dear, please pass our suggestions to the rest of the family and tell them that, starting this year, in a loving spirit, Dominic and I will continue to gift everyone for birthdays and such, but we don’t want Christmas gifts. We’ll be giving Christmas presents only to the children. We hope everybody likes the Secret Santa idea because it sounds like enormous fun for everyone, and it won’t break the bank.