Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Doing Christmas Differently Next Year

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


My girlfriend R stopped by my house two days before Christmas, looking mighty cross. She started spewing about how aggravated she was to be buying gifts for her many family members “just to be buying them something.” Her family is Jewish, and they celebrate Hanukkah as well. She’d tried to tell her brother that they shouldn’t exchange gifts, but his response was “Too late. I’ve already bought you something.” In addition, they don’t drawn names or limit giving to children, so everyone is giving a gift to everyone! R was definitely not feeling the holiday spirit. Here is the advice I gave to her:

First of all, you have to do what you’ve always done this year. Hanukkah is already over, and Christmas is in two days. You can’t change the rules now.

Beginning in January, though, you need to talk to your family about how you want to change your traditions. Maybe you should only do Christmas or only do Hanukkah. You could include Jews in Christmas or gentiles in Hanukkah – celebrate the holiday that works best, religiously and culturally, for your family.

Next you need to decide who you want to give to. R already gives charitable gifts to her parents. A donation to Heifer International for her dad and the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee for her mother. Maybe all her gifts should be charity; maybe she doesn’t want to continue with charitable gifts every year. In addition, she needs to think about the extended family that’s accustom to getting gifts from her: her brother, sister-in-law, their children, as well as her husband’s siblings, spouses, and their children, plus others who might be on “Santa’s” list. Does she want to eliminate all giving to adults? Draw names? Only donate to charity? Eliminate giving to everyone?

However, I also cautioned R that she can only control herself, her giving, her pocket book. She cannot force her siblings or in-laws to comply with her wishes. She can think through how she would like the gift-giving traditions in her families to evolve and make proposals. She can state firmly and clearly what she’s willing to do, but she can’t force others to bend to her will.

Today’s the day to begin this conversation: The holidays are fresh on everyone’s minds, and other people might be feeling the fiscal, temporal or environmental stress of having overbought, as well. Starting the conversation  well in advance, so no one is surprised by a sudden change in tradition, is the kindest gift of all.

Paper Free Grocery List

Paper Free Grocery List

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter something that you have way too many of than you really need. This could be cutlery, crockery, glassware, craft supplies, stationery items, tool, jewellery pieces, shoes etc.

Eco Tip for the Day

Here’s one way to save paper. Write your grocery list on the fridge with a whiteboard marker and then photograph it with your cell phone and take that with you when you go shopping.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow.

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  1. Hi Cindy!
    Happy 2013 to you and your family!
    I was a little angry before Christmas because of a certain “surprise” gift. Turns out I have been communicating very well with my family because my husband got a…tool box! That is right, instead of lots of tools scattered everywhere (with a good emphasis on “everywhere”) he now has only 01 tool box, with all new tools and the duplicates that he already had will be donated. I am so happy!!! About Christmas, I think that, sometimes, when people have a very big family, they should do Secret Santa. That way everyone gets a gift and it is not so heavy on everyone’s budget. Another thing I would suggest is that people say exactly what they want to get and whoever is buying abides to it. I don’t like surprises nor do I like “creative” gifts. I simply don’t understand this need some have to surprise others. I mean, it is ok to listen to a family member say “lovely earrings, I would like one of those” and act upon it, surprising the person with earrings just like that. Just buy me what I asked for and I shall be very happy indeed.

    • Audreia. I find you not wanting a surprise to be strange. I would suggest that what you are asking for is not a gift, but instead by telling them what you want they are just doing your shopping for you.

      • Hi Mark. I don´t thimk I am making anyone do my shopping, all I do is say what I need, so that I don´t end up with endless junk that I will not use. I do get surprised by getting things I need, but was not sure someone was going to gift me. As I have been embracing a more decluttered life style, which has been a very tortuous journey for me, as I have shared with everyone here, I fail to see that getting something “surprising” or “creative”, which I may not like or use will, contribute to my decluttering. But then again, each to it´s own devices and if you like being surprised, good for you.

        • Hello Andreia

          Having read the reasons for your point of view, I understand your reasoning for doing what you do.

          Personally, I am fighting against obligatory gift giving, especially in excessive amounts, so I request something they have created, experiential, or nothing which I am more than happy with, as it is their gift of time which I treasure.

          • Hi Mark. We have a tradition at Christmas and we gift each other. However, every family has its own budget and (as cold as it may sound) we inform each other how much we can spend on a gift. It is a little hard to explain, but in the end, the gifts are useful, we have joy exchanging gifts and nobody feels overwhelmed by gift giving. I had a look at your blog and understand what you mean.
            As I don’t have one single creative or artistic bone in my body your way of gift giving is a little daunting for me, so if I wanted to get you a gift you would get dinner for two at a nice restaurant 😉 .

      • Hi Mark – I’m one of those people who isn’t ‘keen’ on surprises – I know it sounds weird, but its true.

        • Hi Moni, I am starting to understand not wanting surprises a little better. Although I love giving and receiving surprises, especially thoughtful creations given to or received from loved ones.

          • Hi Mark – LOL years ago my husband bought me a ‘surprise’ – a vacuum cleaner – strangely I wasn’t jumping up and down clapping my hands with glee like he expected………

      • Hey Marc,
        I have to say, for me the gift itself isnt the big deal… I really appreciate it, if someone is doing the shopping for me. my brother “gifted” me several times the shopping for things that I wanted to have, especially when he was broke. like: I gave him 40 Euros, and he got into it and bought the best computer speakers he could find and then sent it to my place. I have to say, this means more to me than a random “surprise” gift, like the raclette he gave me last year.

        my family is getting the hang of it now. I had a very intense discussion with my mother about my new relationship with things and with a bit of explaining, she understood finally what my points are. this year I got really good gifts. books, household items that I wanted to have, and money.

    • My family is now 18, and is only going to get bigger. We started, about five years ago, only buying for one person, even the children. I love it, and the kids love it, too. My 6-year-old puts a lot of effort into choosing the right gift for the person he’s buying for!
      I do and don’t like surprises. I don’t like knowing what I’m getting for Christmas, but I also don’t like getting something really random. When I’m shopping for gifts I ask the other family members what they think I should buy them.

  2. Hi Cindy…wish you a happy and prosperous 2013 ahead. I would suggest gifting movie or concert tickets when giving becomes inevitable.

  3. Grace from Brazil

    We almost had a situation this year. My extended family can’t always get together because my siblings live on different continents but this year most of us were going to be able to get together. We began talking about expectations in November, which might be considered late for some but it was early enough for us. We had discussed drawing names but each of our families is big. Even if all of my family bought a $10 or $15.00 gift it would have been a strain since we were traveling and moving. Not to mention my decluttering bug was uncomfortable in adding more clutter to someone else’s house. When the situation was put before another member she said honestly that they were also really strapped since they were paying for airline tickets and traveling and said that she was only able to bring a family gift. So that just let all the pressure out of the situation. We had caught everyone soon enough. So Cindy’s advice is great unless it is still too close and too emotional. Some times frustration takes some time to lose its edge.

    My family and I have been traveling and staying in people’s homes soI have had a lot of opportunity to see how much clutter people live with. In north Brazil where I normally live people just don’t own that much stuff so it is a shock to see all the junk people have lying around in North America. I have rather a short list of things I will be taking back at the end of August…it may get even shorter the longer I read this blog! : )

  4. I agree with you that the only person you can control with gift giving is yourself. You can choose to do what you want. They may not agree, but as the years go on, they may honor your wishes and do things differently as they see the benefit. But, they may never want to change and so you have to figure out how much you can spend, how you want to spend it and be happy with your choices. Christmas is supposed to be a season of giving with joy and not a stressful, burdensome time like it has become in many households. This year we gave gift cards. There was hardly any clutter (eco-friendly), there were no gifts to return or get donated, and everyone could enjoy opening them as well as enjoy using them later. It was great. Family members may complain and criticize, but you have to stick to your guns and be happy with your decision and hopefully they will respect it in time.

  5. Great post Cindy!

    My Christmas this year was simplified by only buying three presents each for my nearest and dearest (if it was good enough for the baby Jesus, it is good enough for them). This really helped me focus instead of just buying madly at the last moment. Also, I did supplement with one or two freebies, one of which I would like to share it with you.

    My 18 year old daughter loves 1950s vintage dresses and she likes to sew, so when I discovered a full size 1950s couture dress pattern, that had been re-drafted for modern body sizes, and which could be freely downloaded from the Victoria and Albert museum website I knew I would have a hit – and I did! We have even had a follow up “experience present” since, as we went shopping together for the fabric.
    ( if you are interested)

    There are lots of sites that offer free patterns etc for your crafty ones and its probably not a bad idea to start bookmarking them or downloading anything special as you come across it now.

    • oh, what a beautiful gift. You gave something meaningful by honouring her taste, her skills and feel the excitement with her. THIS is what I call a good “surprise” – it has to be just right.

  6. Last July we started the Xmas conversation, and we had mixed success with our goals of what we received. With my mother, we actually exchanged nothing, except that I wrote her a heartfelt letter, which made us all happy. For the rest of the family, I wrote stories for them, and my partner gave them some of her paintings. We lead by example by only giving gifts that we created. I hope that next year brings about further change.

  7. It seems every year we try something different in an attempt to find the right fit for the extended family. One year it was a “kids only” year. Another year we attempted secret Santa – dismal failure. Yet another year we tried getting experience gifts only (pool passes, sports memberships, music tickets, lessons, etc). And one year we tried one gift per household (- actually that last one was really nice but very hard to get right). The problem is there is always the grandparent one that won’t play by the rules. Or the uncle that didn’t get the message or whatever. This year I just tried to pare my list to the essentials, tried getting only a very small but meaningful symbol of my affection for each person and TRYING not to feel guilty about someone spending more or getting me something when I didn’t get them anything (they got a big thank you and a hug in return, what else can I do?). There is no perfect way to do it when the families are 3 generations, from both sides of the marriage with every age of cousins and even new step parents in the mix all coming over for Christmas dinner!

  8. A long time ago when three of my siblings married we still bought gifts for each other at Birthdays and Christmas. Then when the nieces and nephews started to multiply and we started to spread around the country we all agreed to stop buying gifts and just give cards for birthdays and Christmas. However we still gave to our parents if we were together at Christmas and they gave to everyone. A couple of years back I asked both sets of parents if they would rather stop this nonsense of, by that stage, sending money back and forth for occasions when we weren’t together and to just have Secret Santa at Christmas when we were. There was absolutely no resistance to the idea and that is what has happened ever since.

    I think however that my children are disappointed that I no longer shower them with gifts at birthdays and Christmas time. More often than not I give them money which is the thing they require the most. They can then put it towards paying for something special. My son although in America for Christmas this year still wanted to know what treats he was getting in his Christmas stocking. My response was “You’re 21 years old and you aren’t even in the country!”. 😆

    I still struggle occasionally with getting friends to honour the fact that I don’t want them to buy me anything. Most of them follow my lead by taking me out to lunch or a treat as I do for them. This year several new friends gave me little gifts for Christmas at the last minute. Needless to say they got nothing in return because it was too late to reciprocate. I am hoping they might take this as a hint and not buy me anything next year. I am planning on buying a dozen yummy cupcakes for Cupcake Espresso to share with them as a post Christmas treat so they don’t think I am a complete Scrooge.

    • Some friends of ours helped their son to buy a mattress for Christmas because that was what he needed. They bought their daughter a new Ipod because her’s had fallen and cracked. Their other son didn’t need anything, so she was thinking of taking him shopping and getting him a couple of shirts.

      • Spendwisemom – my son needed repairs done on his car to keep it road legal, so we picked up the bill on that in lieu of a gift. Win-win.

    • Don’t they say that no matter how old they are our children will always be our children? 😀 😀 😀

    • Hi Colleen- before I read any further i just wanted to say I LOVE the new web-site lay out . I think I remember you saying your husband was going to have a look at it – well if this is his work tell him I think it works brilliantly !! Was very happy with the old but just adore the update .
      My decluttering is really just about maintenance these days .I must admit though I nearly fell right back into bad habits the other day – I was shopping with purpose – on track to buy exactly what I went to the shop to buy -but it was a shopping centre and I happened to pass the home ware section and saw these dear little oven proof bowls – very cute BUT exactly the sort of thing I’ve been decluttering for the last few years – the sort of thing which will probably always be very cute and appealing but which I DO NOT NEED ! Can’t believe how close I came to buying them ! Dragged myself away and had to give myself a good talking to and remind myself how much more I enjoy having cupboards with space in them and how much easier it is to “entertain”(hate that word but you know what I mean) and clean up afterwards with a lot fewer little bowls and big bowls and fancy plates and nick nacks and cupboards full of china . I have just enough now and what I have is an absolute pleasure to use – I don’t need more!!
      All the best to you and Cindy and all the readers for 2013 !

      • you made me laugh… I so know those moments of self-regulation. “you have come this close of getting clutter in your home – WHAT were you THINKING??”
        for me it always helps to reflect on my needs. writing about it here helps tremendously. 🙂

        • As I said before, I hear Colleen in my head saying: “Do you really need that? What will you use it for? Will it have a place to be stored in your house?” I get all ashamed and don’t buy it. 😀 😀 😀

    • Ha! I’ve tried since I was sixteen to convince my Mum I don’t want to be showered with gifts anymore! She’s getting better: we have a Secret Santa for the whole family, but she still feels the need to buy at least one present for every single family member.

  9. While there are times when I sort of feel funny not getting a gift for the most part I am good with getting now gifts. We decided in our family that we are just passing money back and forth. I found that we always tried to find something we knew they would like (based on conversations throughout the year) while they always just sent checks. So we told EVERYONE we were going to stop giving gifts and that we would prefer they not give to us. It has helped us financially and has made it much easier also. None of our family live close so we would have to also pay for shipping.

  10. Cindy – I think January is good time of year to bring up the topic with family, I know someone who bought up with his family Oct/Nov 2011 and received a lot of opposition as all the hype was already underway, then in early 2012 one of his sisters brought the topic up again at another gathering as several of them were already planning big events for the year such as weddings, starting a family, travel etc and a costly xmas just wasn’t the priority at the start of the year. I understand it was kept low key.

  11. Hi everyone, As a frequent reader I feel I know you all! Love the new look Colleen, and Cindy I agree, it is never to early to start planning for next year. I see some great ideas here. I did something different for my son this year. As he has now moved into his own house with two dogs, my present to them all was a prepaid visit to the vet! He is saving for a wedding so this was one less bill, and keeps extended family(dogs who are much loved) healthy.

    • Wow !!! What a great idea Catherine !! Speaking as the owner of two dogs I think this would be a very welcome gift. How clever of you !

  12. Christmas 2011 we decided as a family (myself, hubs, 2 grown up children, one daughter in law) how to organise Christmas for 2012, we set a limit, suggested that we could give ideas etc (my daughter feels that it’s ridiculous to give each other vouchers when we could just as easily spend the money on ourselves – my answer to that is that I probably wouldn’t spend it on myself whereas getting money or a voucher from them is ‘free’ money to spend as I wish). She ended up paying for her brother and his partner’s tix to a concert, they gave her a book she wanted and a voucher, hubs and I also stuck to the price limit and as far as I am concerned it worked brilliantly. I did ask them what they thought afterwards and they said it was fine, they seemed happy enough. However I did end up with 3 presents from girlfriends and we NEVER buy presents so I did feel a little embarrassed at first and then I thought perhaps I’m becoming a cheapskate but the presents were very unexpected and I just ended up saying “I’m sorry I don’t have a present for you, I don’t do presents” but I need to make sure it doesn’t happen again this year so will be reminding them closer to the time, please don’t get me anything! It’s my birthday at the beginning of February, there is very little I want nor even need at this time, so hubs and I will go out for lunch, I’m going away to visit my daughter for the weekend, so I’ve suggested she just pay for a meal while we are out and have asked for a DVD from son. A friend and I do exchange birthday presents and I’m pretty sure her gift to me will be a voucher for one of our favourite homewares shops, I’m pretty sure I can find something I’ll like there 🙂
    Cheers Judy xx

  13. My family started doing a white elephant exchange with each person bringing 2 “nice” gifts and 2 silly/”bad” gifts. Nice gifts can be a box of chocolates, a holiday ornament, socks, tools…. not pricey but at least something most people would want and use. Bonus points for homemade! The silly gifts could be a bag of cough drops, an ugly yard sale find…. This way everyone got to open gifts, likely ended up with something they liked and in the process had a lot of fun. All kids in the house still got the normal gifts from everyone (which we like as we don’t buy many toys otherwise). This saves the name drawing as someone always gives lousy gifts (the jacket 3 ssizes too big this year) and saves trying to figure out what yo give to those who have everything.

    That is my side of the family who thankfully gave up the gift exchange entirely in the past few years. My husbands side… I just dread every year. Lousy gifts – the same bad gift two years in a row, twice… yuck. A ton of people, hard to shop for… My challenge now is to stir the hornets nest and convince them to do the elephant exchange too. You would think that after dating/married for almost 14 years now I would have a vote but… Thanks for the kick in the pants. Hopefully they will come around to sanity this year.

    • Hi Genie and welcome to 365 Less Things. It sound like your family’s new gift exchange tradition is a lot of fun and I wish you luck with convincing the in-laws to adopt a similar idea. It is certainly worth a try. You never know they may secretly be tired of all the expense and bad gifts as well.