Family stages of Christmas gift giving, Part II

By Stew

On Monday, I wrote about the sociology of the first few stages of Christmas gift giving.

These stages are not meant to be exhaustive, there are all kinds of idiosyncratic changes that many of us could make based on differing Christmas traditions, blended families, differing socio-economic status and a host of other factors. Also, many of us might experience several of these stages at the same time when dealing with different branches of the family tree.

Here is the second half of the list:

The lots of cousins stage

Not every family gets to this point, but when the number of grandchildren starts to approach half a dozen, the enthusiasm for gift giving starts to wane. There are just too many people for whom to buy presents and the novelty of the first or second little niece or nephew just is not present when cousin #5 and #6 hits the scene. Many times the grandparents continue to purchase gifts for every grandchild, but the uncles and aunts usually drop off at this point. Many of us have observed where an aunt or uncle forms a special bond with one niece or nephew and continues to purchase a gift for that one child, however they have to try to keep it on the “down low” so that the rest of the family does not find out.

Having too many cousins for whom to purchase gifts is one issue, but another problem is also developing among the original siblings with their spouses who are now adults in their 30’s and 40’s. Up to this point, the siblings/spouses have been purchasing gifts for all of their brothers and sisters and spouses. The problem is that this tradition is becoming expensive and in many cases, they live so far away from each other that it is impossible to figure out a useful or tasteful gift for each sibling/spouse. This problem is typically solved in one of two ways. The first is where each family gives a token or “thought-that-counts” gift to every sibling. These gifts can be pictures or sometimes hand-made items that are meaningful, but not expensive. Usually everyone is given virtually the identical gift. The other solution is to draw names so that each individual really only needs to shop for and purchase a gift for one specific person. This is a nice solution to the dilemma, but even drawing names has it’s pitfalls . . . the danger of non-equivalent gifts, some people “rig” the drawing or there might be family members who cannot make it to the annual Christmas gathering.

The middle age stage

At some point, even the drawing names and having to buy a gift for one sibling is too much to handle because the siblings are getting older and some might even be getting close to being grandparents themselves. Spending time together for the holidays is a great blessing, but the travel and scheduling is such a challenge that gift giving becomes an unnecessary complication to the whole event. Eventually, even the “token gift” and the “name drawing” falls by the wayside. More and more the idea sets in that Christmas gift giving is for the kids. The rest of us just want to relax by the fire and drink coffee while telling stories about Christmases long, long ago.

We appreciate those who still try to keep the tradition alive, but frankly people at this stage of life are content to buy presents for one’s spouse and children. Besides, there is nothing that you really want that you cannot buy for yourself.

The grandparent stage

Socio-economic status really becomes a factor here. Grandparents who are well off financially just about always continue to give gifts of one kind or another to all of their grandchildren. Sometimes the gifts are note specific to each grandchild, but the gifts continue. At the same time, many of the grandkids and parents continue to purchase gifts for the grandparents, but what do you get for the person who has everything? Mugs, scarves, team logo gear, sometimes even gag gifts.

At this stage, grandparents often give away fairly expensive while not getting much in return in terms of monetary value. Most could care less, however. Being with family is of primary importance. This scenario changes greatly in families where grandparents are not well off financially -sometimes they are even living in the home of one of their children. It is at this point where just being together and eating good food becomes enough.

The elderly stage

This is the stage where all of the traditional materialism of Christmas starts to fall away. Friends are no longer able to get out to spend time with you and some have passed away. You live for the moments when you can spend time with family – notes, phone calls and visits take on a new meaning and gifts? Well, no one really cares about gifts anymore. Still, there are a few of your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who always remember to stop by with a new book, an article of clothing or some baked goods at the holidays.

Every gift giving stage has advantages and disadvantages, opportunities for blessing and hurt. My extended family has a tradition of gathering at a place that we refer to as “the lodge” every other Christmas. Recently, my eight-year old announced that she did not care if she received any gifts for Christmas, as long as we went to “the lodge”. I hope she caries that spirit though all stages of Christmas gift giving. If she does, all of her Christmases will be happy ones.

Article by Stew

Photo by Pierre Bedat

2 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Family stages of Christmas gift giving, Part II”

  1. Victoria Says:

    Thanks for this interesting take on the stages of Christmas gift giving. I never really put that much thought into it, but it makes total sense. I guess I’m in a mixture of stages. However, I will say that we’ve always done the “3 gift” rule at our house. The reasoning…well, Christ got 3 gifts from the wisemen. We too had six kids, now down to 2 at home, 2 in college and 2 with families of their own. The 3 gift rule only applies to the ones at home who will be opening presents on Christmas morning, everyone else gets one. My spouse and I also do the three gift rule. It’s not so much about the amount of $$ we spend–sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. I usually do one bigger gift and two smaller, but that’s my prefernece. Keep up the great blogging. Merry Christmas!

  2. Stew Says:

    Thanks, Victoria. I hope you have a Merry Christmas too. Six kids . . . sounds like fun!