Gift-Giving Hell: What’s A Modern Family To Do?

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gift exchange christmas’Tis better to give than to receive, the old adage goes. But when it’s holiday time and you have a large family, I say it’s better to skip out on the soirées altogether. Sure, when the kids were few and the drinks were many, family-style holiday parties were a ton of fun. Proud aunties and uncles would saunter through the toy shops, grab something appealing and bring it over. Thank yous were exchanged, meals eaten and we’d all go home full and happy.

But as the families grew, so did the gift-giving anxiety. Suddenly there was a crowd of offspring ranging in ages from 12 months to 23 years old. Secret Santa would no longer cut it. So we got creative. We’d divide the list of kids among the adults according to the number of kids each family had. But, inevitably, one crew would bow out. Or someone would get sick. Or someone would get stuck with the most difficult-to-buy child. Or, even worse, the scrimping uncle and re-gifting aunt.

One year, someone came up with the brilliant idea of buying a present for your own kids, but signing it from the entire clan. That seemed to work quite well until one kid scored an Xbox, while another had to make do with a dollar-store decoupage set.

The following year we handed out $20 bills. The big kids were delighted. The little ones less so. I remember opening the cash-filled envelope on behalf of my 4-month-old and knowing full well that the crisp $20 would find its way into my own wallet. I reasoned that since my man and I obviously paid for our kids’ stuff, putting one 20-dollar-bill towards a take-out sushi dinner wasn’t such a bad thing.

Nonetheless, the Hanukkah “gelt”-as-gift was outlawed after a series of discoveries: One nephew repaid his parents for cell phone (over) use, while one niece gave her boyfriend the cash to fund his (underage) blackjack habit. And then there were the parents who stole their kids’ cash. Seems I wasn’t the only one.

We decided to ditch the gifting. We’d come together as a family, enjoy a potluck supper, and make the holidays less about presents and more about family. That, too, lasted a single year. New parents were peeved that they’d been buying gifts for their nephews and nieces. Now that they had kids of their own, they felt shafted. And the teenagers were pissed.

The funny thing is, this is a family that has dinner together – all together – at least twice a month. We’re a close-knit bunch who genuinely loves each other. So why were the holidays so stressful? And, if they were so fraught, why did we continue to insist on celebrating en masse? Couldn’t we just miss out on a December dinner or two and regroup in January?

We tried that, too. And we were all devastated. We missed being together, angst and all. And of course the kids missed the gifts. After all, we are a large family. So this year we’re doing the $25 Kris Kringle Maccabee gift swap. We’ve picked the date, made the list, checked it twice. We’ve called around for suggestions and offered up ideas. Now we can just fry up our latkes and hope for the best. The best gift card, that is…

(Photo: Polka Dot Images)