In our family Christmas gift exchange, I was often the one that wound up buying the same gift as someone else. We'd be gathered together around the tree passing out and unwrapping presents and once I'd see someone unwrap the same exact gift that I had brought for them (because we were all given the same "wish lists") - I'd go from feeling the high excitement of, "I can't wait until they open my gift" - to the low dread of knowing that when they got to opening the same one from me, it would actually be a let down and they'd try to hide their disappointment of having a duplicate and try to make me feel better. Never a fun moment, can you relate?
This brought up a constant issue in our family's Christmas gift exchange story and how our holiday gift giving evolved into the disappointment of giving duplicate gifts, struggling to make wish lists, buying predictable/boring gifts, getting things you really can't use & having to return them, and having to deal with traffic and crowds and stressful holiday shopping in general.
Let's face it, family Christmas gift exchanges can often lose their magic once we get older and all the little kids have grown up, and as adults we have much more holiday stress to deal with and have likely had the thought, "Can't we just skip it this year", or "I wish it was over with already".
Our gift giving got so routine with each passing year - we'd pretty much know:
As time went on, we would continue to say each year how we needed to make a change to our family Christmas gift exchange, but had no ideas on how to do it differently, so we stuck with the same old stale routine.
Three years ago when we came to terms with the fact that the little kids in our family were growing up and that our adult Christmas gatherings just didn't have the same anticipation and joy of Christmas any more - we were determined to come up with something else OR we were going to stop doing it altogether and none of us wanted that at all.
We loved celebrating the season together and taking the time to put thought and effort into choosing
a special something and creating those special moments each year. Several of us
really missed the days when we were buying for each person in our family
separately because that's part of the joy of giving but with the
"rules" we had for drawing individual names, many of us got the same 3-4 people over
and over and NEVER got to give to the other family members anymore.
So as we were picking up my brother & his wife on the way home from the airport one Thanksgiving a few years ago, I floated a crazy new idea to them.
"Hey, what if instead of drawing names out of a hat, we chose categories of items instead? That way we could go back to giving gifts one-to-one so all of us could enjoy giving something to each family member again.
"We could set an individual dollar limit much lower than the $100 we're now spending on the single person we drew from a hat, and instead we'll spread the budget out and spend $15-20 on 10 people and we wouldn't have to make lists anymore AND there would be no duplicates!
"Also, when new people come into the family, it's easy to add them into the mix so they feel included and we can shop for something simple and fun to give since we may not know them as well yet. "
It was just the spark we needed!!
They were really into this and that's where our new family Christmas gift exchange idea started.
As they became more and more intrigued and the possibilities of this fresh new change started to sink in, they began asking, "How would that work? What would be the categories?"
Well, that night I did some research at Amazon.com and made notes of dozens of typical gifts that people give (to men and to women) and I began to formulate a system of how each would fit into categories.
Armed with this information, I came down to the breakfast
table the next morning confident and determined to make a go of this new family Christmas gift exchange
idea and prepared for a spirited debate & we got to the point where they couldn't deny this was definitely worth
This grand conversation, negotiation, collaboration lasted four solid hours! We left no stone unturned.
We had come up with answers for everything from:
Once we got past the critical points and counter points and came to an agreement and got it all on paper, it really wasn't as complicated as it seemed at first.
We had put in a lot of brain power into this (2 members in the family are engineers) so all angles were covered and fully trouble-shot. We were really inspired! In the end, we had a brand new system
and it was time to roll this plan out to the rest of the family and see how it goes over.
I was elected to present the idea and I was able to explain it in simple terms and it was an easy YES from all! In fact, there was a new electric excitement about the upcoming holidays that our family hadn't had in years.
We were so looking forward to Christmas Day and we had no idea how making this one change would revitalize our family Christmas gift exchange and make it a special time that we would truly remember year after year.
When Thanksgiving came around that first year and we were ready to launch our new family Christmas gift exchange idea, I pulled the category glassware/barware out of the hat. Ooo, and I really liked this one and it's one of our family favorites because we all like to entertain and drink delicious cocktails and beverages. Literally the gift ideas for each person instantly jumped into my head, so I accepted, "Yep, I'm keeping this one."
So that following Monday I went online and was able to shop around all the Cyber Monday deals in my pajamas while having my morning coffee. What made it super easy was that I went
straight to Amazon.com and typed in barware and all my options
were right in front of me at prices that were within my $15-$20 budget and only a few clicks later I
had three-quarters of my shopping DONE!
Seriously, it took me 48 hours to complete my family Christmas gift exchange shopping. I happily found a martini glass set for my brother-in-law, fancy champagne flutes for my brother, some stemless wine glasses for my father, a really cool tic-tac-toe shot glass game board for my college-aged nephew and for the girls, I added 3 sets of the same cute liqueur glasses right into my virtual shopping cart and had it shipped to me for free!
Truth be told, I did go into one or two
nearby stores the next day so that I could compare a set I thought I
might like better and I did wind up buying that one at retail. But
still all the guesswork was done. I knew exactly what I was looking for
when I went into the store and I didn't have to hassle with aimless browsing and indecision and second-guessing.
I was more than excited!! I couldn't believe how easy it was!
With eight of us doing this for each other, I knew we'd all be receiving a fun assortment of goodies all hand-picked just for us. I mean if you choose the category music or books, or gourmet foods or alcoholic beverages, you're going to know that person so well that you can tailor buy something that's just their style and you KNOW no one else will be gifting that to them.
What happened when we showed up at my dad's for Christmas Day that first year was overwhelming. Each of us needed to take at least two trips to the car to unload all of our gifts to put under the tree.
It was amazing and we were all wowed by how full the
tree was with presents! Instead of us each having just one gift package
to open, we now each had eight, plus all the gifts for the younger kids - you can do the math - it was a gift-a-palooza!
Once that first family Christmas gift exchange was in the history books, EVERYBODY told me they had the MOST FUN opening presents in years, and that the shopping was so stress-free, and they loved the gifts they bought and received.
It was immediately apparent to me that this fun family gift exchange idea for Christmas could work well for a lot of families of all sizes - even large families with up to 20 people. And then what about office gift exchanges or other community groups that exchange holiday gifts - someone could suggest trying this new way and be the hit of the party!
Over the last 5 years that we've been doing our family Christmas gift exchange this way, we've all told stories to our friends about how much fun it was and how easy it was and they were ALWAYS so interested in knowing more.
But the problem was none of us could ever explain in just words exactly how to duplicate this with their families and make it sound as easy as it truly was. We needed a way to SHOW them and give them the nuts & bolts of the process so they could repeat it.