So I guess Kung Fu Parenting isn't as funny to other people as we think it is in this house. That's ok. Let's move on! I need your advice, because as the shops have already started to remind us, Christmas is happening again this year, with all the excesses the season heralds. But this isn't specifically about Christmas - so don't stop reading yet if you don't celebrate - it's just Christmas has triggered it, as it tends to be the biggest gift-giving occasion in our household. This, however, is about gift-giving in general. Here's my problem.

We move often. We live in small houses. We have most things we need and want, under the circumstances, and if anything else comes up, we do - like most people - tend to buy it ourselves if the next gift-giving occasion is still a long way away. Or at least that's true of things within the usual gift-giving price range. Still and yet, people keep buying stuff for us.

What happens to these things? The pattern has become clearer as the years go by. With rare exceptions, gifts given to us by our relatives tend to languish in forgotten cupboards until they break, perish, or are given away in the next move. I have started trying to shorten that cycle in order to prevent the breaking and perishing outcomes, but even so it tends to be a waste of time and money. The op shops are lucky to make half the original retail prices if I give it to them, and tracking down someone who values the item sufficiently is time-consuming and sometimes impossible. And what about the efforts of the gift-giver in obtaining the item? I can only hope they enjoyed it, but I rather doubt that can be absolutely the case. Christmas shopping tends to wear on even the most dedicated shopaholic, and the average person ends up finding it a chore. Besides which, it makes me feel bad when I don't use somebody's gift myself, as they intended.

I have tried suggesting a Secret Santa arrangement, where we draw names at random and only give and receive one item per social group, but it doesn't seem to wash with the in-laws. (My family are actually not so much the problem. We grew up with the rule that, come Christmas, all the gifts go to the youngest generation of your household. In other words, only people without children - a lot of whom are children - get presents. Although I guess there are also the gifts from children to their parents. At any rate, I am fine to continue this.)

For about five years running, I have been suggesting charity gifts, such as the ones in the Oxfam gift catalogue. Do you know how many takers I've had on that? None. Zero. People are not comfortable with donating to Oxfam in lieu of buying me a present, or let us say - because I certainly see it the latter way, and not the former - as a present. I don't know how to make them comfortable with this idea. I want to know. One year we even bought exclusively from charity gift catalogues, thinking that we would afterwards reap what we had sown, but to no avail.

I now have a low-clutter "want list" which seems to work... sort of okay I guess... as long as you don't honestly expect people to follow your want list very often. And living overseas does help. The postage, you see. But I'd really like to have at least one more crack at getting people to gift me some sort of charity thing. There just has to be a way to make it palatable to them. This is where you come in.

Do you buy charity gifts? If not, why not? You won't be judged (you can always go anonymous) - my instinct leads me away from them as well, and I'm just trying to figure out why so I can overcome that instinct.

What would make you buy a charity gift for someone, instead of a material item? What could they say or do to make you feel that it really was fine? Would you feel better about it if it was only 50% of the present and the other 50% was a small item, a token object to make it feel like you'd wrapped something up, same as always? Would you feel better if the person asked you for a specific charity item, and not just "some sort of charity gift or other"? Would you feel better if the person asked people to pool together for a large charity gift - a bicycle ambulance, for example, rather than a chicken?

Any thoughts, please share them.


Bionic Baby Mama said...

for the record, i loved kung fu parenting. it's just that i seem to be on the receiving end of the cosmic karate chop at the moment, and didn't manage to tell you i'd loved it. nevertheless, it is one for the ages.

i have only given a charity gift once, to my father, who i was pretty sure would be tickled to receive virtual ducks. frankly, at this point in my life, i would be pretty sad to get a charity gift myself -- it's just that things have been so tight for us for so long that there's not much buying things for ourselves that we only want (and i mean including clothes to replace worn out ones, or to stand in for all the ones that don't fit postpartum). of course, as americans, we are still living in the lap of luxury compared to much of the world, but, well. there you have it: i am greedy anyway. our families tend to be fairly thoughtful, and the gifts we get generally do not go to waste.

if you really want someone to give to a charity in your honor, then i think you really should specify which one(s) to avoid seeming disingenuous or just extra-righteous. (not to say that you are those things, but do you see how "oh, nothing for me," could seem that way to someone from a different family culture of gift giving? to a greedy person like me, say?) anyway, presumably there are some charities you'd be more and less happy to support. contributions towards something big is also a great idea.

Ellen K. said...

I really like the idea of charitable gifts and have suggested to my family that we go this route. Blank stares all around. My parents are REALLY into Christmas. It's their favorite holiday and they go all out for it. My dad has an old-school corporate job with a hefty Christmas bonus -- I didn't know about this until I was almost in college, but it did seem that we got almost everything we wanted at Christmas even though we didn't live lavishly during the rest of the year. But D. hasn't had a Christmas bonus in 5 years and had a 5% pay cut 3 years ago. D.'s family is also a little bigger than my brothers' in-laws, so we have more to purchase, although we've long since gone the name-drawing route for kids and no gifts for siblings/siblings' spouses. This year my brothers and I have agreed to get only gifts for the kids. Now that we all have at least one child, it's even. I wouldn't have dared to suggest it last year because of SIL #1's infertility. I feel badly for D's sister, whose husband's family freaks out if each person does not give a gift to each and every other family member.

My parents don't have high expectations from us, and they are terribly generous -- we all get a big check in our stockings plus some gifts under the trees. It's much appreciated, and I know I & N will always have awesome Christmas gifts from their grandparents. But it is hard to splurge on I & N with so many other obligations. Last year was stupid, with $1400 USD spent on Christmas, but less than $150 going toward I & N's gifts, because my brothers decided to play high-roller and I didn't have the nerve to say no, we can't afford this. Some of that $1400 was charity, but not enough. So I end up giving about $100 of my Christmas check to a favorite charity. Unfortunately part of the rest of that check goes to pay off Christmas bills.

A couple of friends and I have agreed to exchange charitable gifts this year, because we don't NEED anything and circumstances are uneven in terms of salary and family obligations. And another friend (mother of my godson) and I are going to exchange Heifer International gifts. I showed the website to I., who seemed to get the concept.

I've been thinking of asking I & N to pick out an HI gift for their aunt, because she is their godmother and I sponsored her son for confirmation, so I feel it's a good example as well as a good work. But then I think, damn, she is SO generous to me and the girls, giving us lots of her free time. But THEN I remember that a few years ago she made donations to St. Jude's in all of our names, so I think the HI gift would fly. Also, instead of buying D's aunt another bottle of her favorite brandy, I want to donate to one of her favorite charities (founded by one of her own relatives, whose 18mo son died from a very rare disease).

I've given up on the charity idea with my own family. But I think we will go ahead with it for certain of D.'s relatives. Thanks for the post -- nice to know others feel similarly. : )

Lut C. said...

In my family, we don't do much orchestrated gift giving - except to the youngest generation as you put it.
Even there, the gift-giving is often modest.

In my husbands family, they also limit gifts to the youngest generation. Unfortunately, I often find they go for quantity more than quality. There has to be a big pile of wrapping paper after each birthday party it seems.

I was considering asking for charity gifts in stead of the traditional baby items (we have just about everything we need). My husband isn't too keen though.

I have my doubts too. People want to give you something to unwrap, something that will remind you of them.

m said...

I'm a huge fan of the charity gift, but admit that I only use them as a portion of the total gift, if that makes sense? I would LOVE if people bought us charity gifts as we also tend to end up with clutter and unused 'stuff' lying around - but both of our families tend to also do the quantity over quality thing...

Rachel Inbar said...

When my inlaws were in the US, I asked them to get a winter coat, good for rain & with a hood for Abigail (they came back with a REALLY UGLY hoodless, non-waterproof, but warm fleece) and they bought nice blankets for Nomi and Yirmi (for Nomi, a princess blanket, for Yirmi - Thomas the Tank Engine, of course). Those were excellent gifts (except the coat, which, I think could perhaps win prizes for being super-ugly).

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