12 Days of Christmas: Surviving and Thriving (Day 3: Present-Day Decisions)


First, let me begin with a disclaimer. I love Christmas shopping. I’ve had years where I found presents throughout the year so that when the first week of December rolled around,  I was done. And I’ve had years in which I was out there at the last minute, taking advantage of all of the desperation bargains. Either way, I really love looking for the right thing and finding that present that I’m reasonably sure they will enjoy.

I realize this passion is not universally shared.

Dealing with presents is usually at the top of lists of Christmas stress. Here are some tips to make life a little easier.

1. Before you begin, decide what you can do. Each year I decide how much money I have to spend on Christmas. I then divide that among by the number of presents I have to buy. And that’s my budget for each present. It doesn’t matter if I find just the perfect thing for someone. If it’s twice as much as my budget allows, I’ll keep looking. By sticking to the budget and paying in cash, I’m not hit with the month after remorse. Some years that budget has been pretty small, but it’s amazing what you can find on a good sale.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you have no idea of what your niece would like, ask her. It doesn’t mean you love her less. People get into trouble applying the mythical wedding ring ESP to other family members. (The mythical wedding ring ESP refers to the belief that if your partner loves you, they should be able to read your mind.) If your niece asks for a new car and that is beyond your means, ask her for a longer list.

3. Presents don’t have to be perfect. It’s easy to fall into the trap of passing on a really good present in the quest for that absolutely perfect present. When you’re tempted to fall into that trap, remember that your good mental health is the best present of all that you can give your family.

4. Along these lines, presents aren’t magical. They probably will not mend fractured relationships, heal family dysfunctions and make up for everything you didn’t get as a kid. It probably won’t finally make your mom love you best when she’s always favored your brother. It’s a Christmas present. It can be pretty special but it probably won’t radically change your life. And that’s okay.

5. Figure out what works for you. Your family may decide to draw names. Or to put your present money together and spend it on a family trip. Or adopt a goat in a third world country. The most important thing is that everyone is able to have a voice in the decision.

6. Gift cards are not tacky. You know all of those people whom you’d like to remember at this time of the year – teachers, choir leaders, hairdressers, etc.? The vast majority of them are not offended by a gift card. If you give a card to a local restaurant, just be sure it’s a place where they’d like to go.

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