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
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.