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There was a moment, one Christmas morning not too long ago, when we realized we had overdone it. After opening our dozens of gifts, we couldn’t move from our seats around my sister’s living room. It had finally happened. We had too many gifts. It was an embarrassment of riches.
As our children mature, they begin to want to take part in the gift-giving ritual. Soon they’re not only the recipients but also the givers of gifts. That’s when it becomes complicated.
The last thing you want at Christmas is for your children to become stressed over the length of their Christmas lists. It bothered me to see my daughter racing around town on Christmas Eve, trying to find the perfect gift for every person on her list instead of enjoying the festivities.
Christmas isn’t about that. Christmas is about spending time together, celebrating traditions. And yes, you can do that with a few token gifts. Holiday gift-giving isn’t supposed to induce panic. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of that.
So last year, as we dug our way out from under another mountain of tissue paper and coloured wrapping, one of our daughters announced she would like to establish a new family gift-giving tradition. She wanted to do a Secret Santa name exchange.
It sounded like a great idea. Each of us in our immediate family would draw a name and buy a Christmas gift for that person. The maximum value for that gift is $100. We can also buy smaller gifts with a limit of $20 for the other people in the family, but there is no obligation to do so. In fact, it might prove embarrassing or uncomfortable if you have gifts for people and they don’t have gifts for you.
The Farmer, who normally hands me the money and lets me do the shopping, is neither comfortable nor enthusiastic about the Secret Santa program.
I’m buying my daughters gifts, he announced.
That’s fine, I said. But if you didn’t draw the person’s name, the gift limit is $20.
I got something like a harrumph in response.
I explained that by introducing the gift exchange, we would be taking stress off the girls and allowing them to buy the things they really needed with their money, instead of racing around obsessed with buying gifts for everyone at Christmas.
The Farmer wasn’t convinced. He hasn’t bought into this whole deal yet.
But I’m really looking forward to being able to focus on holiday gatherings that aren’t centred around opening gifts. I’m looking forward to reconnecting, celebrating memories and building new traditions for our growing family, instead of just opening present after unnecessary present.
It feels good to be cutting back on this indulgent, unbalanced tradition. I’ll be able to take my time finding one significant gift for the person whose name I drew.
And I’m telling you right now, most of the other people in my family will be getting books. Because I love books and also because they most often fall under the spending limit that’s been established.
Now that I don’t have to spend hours upon hours in the hell known as a shopping centre at Christmas time, I might actually have time to relax and read one of those books myself.
When buying my gifts, I’ll make every attempt to shop local. I do this every year but it should be much easier this year with such a simple objective. I won’t be spending thousands of dollars this holiday season, but the money I do spend will stay in the community.
This is a challenge I see issued every year and as our business base grows in our little community, it’s much easier to keep it local at Christmas.
So this year I’m issuing a challenge, dear reader. If the Secret Santa thing won’t work in your family, consider limiting the number of gifts or money you spend and giving some to charity.
Look around and see what you can do to make Christmas a little less about buying gifts and a little more about celebrating the things that matter most.
Troy Media columnist Diana Fisher is a freelance writer living on a 200-acre farm along the Kemptville Creek in Oxford Mills, Ont.
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