The Gift Conundrum

I hate holiday gifting.

Each December I face the same issue, to give homemade gifts or to give purchased gifts to those members of my family who place a high importance on the gifts they receive and don't appreciate handmade items (those of you who have never received negative feedback on homemade gifts are very lucky).  I enjoy making gifts and doing so aligns with my personal values, but I worry that my insistence in doing so only causes me to come off as pretentious and holier-than-thou.

So I cycle between anger, despair, and stress when it comes to holiday gift giving.  It isn't about what I can afford based solely on my income, but on what my values are.  I like to give gifts that are beautiful, useful, or consumable.  If I can't make something homemade I like to purchase something homemade, but in either case the gift recipient can't return it if it isn't what they want.  Forget giving second hand gifts within my family; it is generally considered akin to giving someone a bag of your garbage.

What I want is to give homemade gifts and not worry that people won't like what I made or think that I make homemade gifts because I am "cheap".  I hate when others form expectations based on what they think your income is or what they think you should do (like go into debt for holiday gifts).  I kind of hate that my family hasn't joined the handmade revival (although I was giving handmade before handmade was hip) and still thinks that the best gifts come from factories and stores.

The truth is, I know I can't please people even if I shop for them.  We all know how hard it is to hit a home run in the gift department, even with those we know really well.  It's even harder when we are talking about adults that we see only a few times a year and when budgets are involved.  Is your brother still into punk rock, and if so, what is current in punk rock and does he already have it?  Does he have an iPod?  Would buying a CD be archaic?  Do you give an iTunes gift card instead?  Does he know how to download music?

It's not like everyone else out there is hitting home runs either.  I mean, really, how many popcorn tins can one person receive?  Are we supposed to feel carefully considered because we received a gift that was peddled as a fundraiser for someone's child's school?  Is the fact that someone spent real money on an impersonal gift supposed to make us believe that it is still better than something handcrafted, a gift of time or talent, or a gift of charity?  (Don't get me started on charity gifts, which my family derides as giving yourself a gift under the pretense of gifting someone else.  Honestly, they'd rather have presents.)

Some families resort to giving gift cards.  Gift cards are less stigmatized than giving cash (which really shouldn't be stigmatized but is because people know how much you "spent"), but really, all they do is allow the giver to choose where you get to spend the money they are giving you, thus potentially limiting you to shopping at Sephora when what you really need is at The Home Depot, or eating at The Cheesecake Factory when you prefer In 'N Out Burger.  Also, they shift funds to chain stores and restaurants rather than allowing you to patronize local businesses simply because it is difficult for family members who don't live in your town to buy a gift certificate from your favorite local store or restaurant (assuming they even know what those are).

I don't particularly enjoy receiving gifts as an adult.  Perhaps it is because the magic has worn off and I see past paper and bows to items which serve no purpose and deplete the earth's resources.  Perhaps I am jaded living in a society of (mostly) plenty and see no reason to receive things that I could buy for myself if I wanted to (but probably haven't, which tells you something right there).  But mostly it is probably because I stopped judging the value and happiness of my life based on the stuff I own, and thus giving me stuff doesn't bring me happiness, even at holiday time.  You can't prove you love me by giving me the best present ever and you can't make me think you don't love me by giving me a popcorn tin dud.

And that, I suppose, is the crux of it.  When did holiday gift giving to adults become about giving them exactly what they want?  When did adults start making holiday wish lists for themselves?  When did our worth as human beings become something judged by the holiday gifts we give?  Why is buying something valued over making something, and spending more valued over spending less?  Why the heck is going into debt valued over living within your means?

And so the cycle.  Decide to give handmade gifts.  Work on those.  Start to feel insecure about handmade gifts.  Decide that monetary gifts would be better received.  Get angry about that.  Throw hands in air.  Post rant on blog.  Decide that handmade is good enough.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Disclaimer:  This rant only applies to certain branches of the family.  My father-in-law and stepmother-in-law love all things handmade as well as simple holidays with a focus on people, not presents. 


FionaCat said…
It is hard to buy gifts for adults. My mother always laments that "Christmas just isn't the same without any little ones around" which I take to mean, no one is opening gifts and squealing with delight over their toys. As adults our "toys" tend to be more expensive things; if I were sending a letter to Santa to ask for some "fun" stuff it would be a new lens for my camera (a couple of hundred dollars), a Kindle (at least $140) ... things I can't really afford, and which my family members can't either.

I take some pride in choosing gifts that I know people will like and that show I know them well. Of course, when I can't find that "perfect" item and settle for something more generic, I feel guilty. I shouldn't, but I do. I also have difficulty with seeing others open gifts I have chosen carefully and receiving something "generic" in return. I know I shouldn't care, that the greatest joy is in giving, it's the thought that counts, yadda, yadda, yadda ... but still there's that little part of me that feels disappointed.

Every year, we have something new to learn from life and eventually, if we're lucky, we'll figure it all out. And maybe, just maybe, that perfect gift, handmade or thoughtfully purchased, will appear.
I think some people are just really *bad* at giving gifts and that is where generic tends to come in. My mom always listened to us all year long (even as adults) and would try to find something that interested us. My MIL strikes out year after year (a turkey platter from the casino, pot holders, a cosmetic bag from the casino, etc.) and I always figured it's because she still really doesn't know me, but she strikes out with Mike and the boys as well (too many sweaters and pajamas to count). I think it's the difference between paying attention to detail or not, and maybe she just doesn't like to shop for gifts or is entirely stressed out by it.

I do love to choose gifts for my girlfriends and I think in part it is because I know most of them far better than I know my siblings, lol. I know who is into 1970s vintage, who knits, who is a foodie, who would love a great bottle of wine, etc. Of course, we rarely exchange gifts (although I sneak them in randomly as "thinking of you" gifts). I also love to buy or make gifts for my FIL, as truly I can do no wrong, lol. The Klean Kanteen I gave him a couple of years back ranks as one of his "best gifts ever".

I do understand the disappointment in receiving something generic. For me, I feel like the person thought they *had* to get me something, not that they *wanted* to. So I feel badly because I think they didn't want to get me a gift *and* because they felt like they had no choice. Because really, I can do without gifts that don't come from the heart.

Of course, I give gifts like that too. It's part of our gift giving etiquette. We give gifts to those who give us gifts and we try to give gifts of equal value, except for parents and grandparents who can give gifts worth more to their children and grandchildren (no matter their ages). We feel embarrassed if someone has a gift for us and we don't have one to reciprocate.

With my siblings (and siblings-in-law) it was a lot of fun when we had the gift exchange because we each bought one gift and we had the time to really think about it. The budget was always modest (some years $20, some years as high as $40) so we had to be creative because we couldn't just spend money for a big wow.
Warm Bellies, I could just cut and paste your blog onto mine, because that's point for point the way I feel. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one struggling with this whole gift giving dilemma. I carefully chose presents for all members of my family and my husband's family for years, sometimes lovingly handmade, with absolutely no reciprocation or reciprocation with, as you call them, generic gifts with not much thoughts put into them. I also sent everyone gorgeous Christmas cards full of sentiments, with zilch in return, so this jaded me and this year, there are only a few gifts being bought and given and very few cards being sent. It's hard to be the only one caring and finally come to the realization that you should stop caring so much too because you just get hurt when your expectations are not met.
I'm sorry you experience so much hurt when it comes to gift giving. For me it is more frustration and stress, although having handmade gifts rejected over the years is hurtful. I was once told that my beautiful handmade Christmas card was a waste of my time because so many cards are received at Christmas time that it was "just another card". ANd really, I couldn't see how taking the time to make something and write a personal message was the same as letting a company mass produce cards for me.

I haven't read the "Love Languages" book but I do know from a few articles about it that some people have "Gifts" as their love language, meaning that receiving gifts is how they feel loved and because of that giving gifts is how they express love. It can be really hard for a person with this love language if the people they love have different love languages.

I'm at a place where gifts aren't very important to me, but I was raised by a parent whose language is definitely gifts (although he is more about giving than receiving) so we got tons of them, and a parent who was a great gift giver. Early in my marriage my husband wasn't good with gift giving (a coffee table book on Impressionism, how lovely for your new bride, lol) and I was hurt because I was raised to see Christmas gifting as a very important way to show you care. Of course, I grew up and began to develop my self and soon enough gifts became less important to me because they never really were my love language. But I try really hard buying/making gifts for people who are close to me for whom gifts are their love language.

I am definitely more of an "acts of service" person and making things for people is an extension of that.

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