Family stages of Christmas gift giving, Part I

By Stew

I follow a few personal finance bloggers via Twitter, one of whom is Money Crashers. Last weekend Money Crashers hosted an #MCchat where the discussion revolved around Christmas, especially the family gift-giving aspect of the holiday.

The social media exchange piqued quite a few thoughts about gift giving. I thought I would put on my sociologist hat and share some of those thoughts. I think that most families go through similar stages of gift giving at Christmas. Each stage of life presents new challenges for the tradition and even different possibilities for offense and hurt . . .

Here are some general stages of giving from my experience and perspective:

1. The nuclear family

From ages 0 to 14 or so, children are pretty much only focused on their own presents and those of their immediate siblings. The challenge for the parent is to instill and attitude of gratefulness and contentment in the children. I think that it is healthy for children to start purchasing or making gifts for siblings and parents by age 10 or 11. Many times the gifts will be inexpensive “tokens”, but it is the thought that counts, right? As they get into high school, kids will start to be aware of more people that they want to include in this tradition – friends, teachers, grandparents, etc.

2. The adult sibling stage

As the children in a family grow into upper high school and college, the gift giving in a family becomes more sophisticated. Most of the brothers and sisters have their own money and start to enjoy finding “the perfect gift”. Budgeting, saving and planning ahead are now a part of the Christmas experience. Greater attention is paid to finding useful, tasteful gifts that they know that brother, sister, father or mother will enjoy.

Tension can come in a bigger family where the oldest siblings are out of college and have jobs while the youngest sibling might still be a freshman or sophomore in high school. A measure of grace and selflessness on the part of the older, more financially-able siblings is sometimes needed. I have four brothers and sisters and during this stage, we would often go in for group gifts for my parents with the oldest siblings pitching in more money than the youngest.

3. The newly married stage

When one or two of the siblings get married, the added person is simply assimilated into the mix – another brother or sister. The problems start to crop up a bit as the newlyweds try to form their own holiday traditions without stepping on one another’s toes. Furthermore, sometimes the gift-buying obligation is doubled while the household income might not have kept pace. This stage also includes adult singles and brings with it the awkward decisions regarding gift purchases for boyfriend/girlfriends and fiances . . . Do I have to get a gift for Joey’s girlfriend of three weeks? What if I get a gift for Marcia’s boyfriend and she breaks up with him on Thanksgiving? Do I have to get a gift for my girlfriend’s mother? How about her brother?

4. The first grandchild stage

Finally, the event that everyone has been waiting for happens: a grandchild is born. Everyone cannot wait to get “just the cutest gift” for the little guy or gal. Every aunt and uncle gets a gift for that kid until the poor child is too tired to tear the wrapping off another gift. This process is repeated with the second grandchild and the third, although people have started to glance at each other sideways and mutter a bit. What if this is one of those family’s who end up with 10 or 15 or 20 cousins? Christmas will bankrupt us and who has time for all that shopping?! When grandchild #4 comes along, talk turns to maybe we should just get gifts for our own immediate children . . . or maybe we should draw names . . .

I’ll have the rest of the gift giving stages for you on Wednesday!

Article by Stew

Photo by Pierre Bedat


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