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The Season of Giving

Now that Halloween’s over, it’s officially Christmas season, or at least that’s what I learned from a trip to Target. In fact, I actually went to Target on October 30th, and the Christmas section was already taking over the Halloween section, so I can only assume that by now Christmas has engulfed about 25% of the store.

I was brought up in a practically-no-gifts house, so the whole concept of buying gifts for people just because the calendar tells me to is very foreign to me. My fiancé, on the other hand, was brought up in a house where Christmas and birthdays meant piles of gifts. It’s a completely different way of life, and it’s hard for either of us to understand the other. But like all other things in relationships, compromise is the answer.

On Christmas, my fiancé likes to give gifts to everyone in his life. He’s a frugal fellow though, so most people just get a dozen or so homemade cookies. That’s a good thing, because if he went out and bought expensive gifts for everyone, my head might explode. He does spend a bit more than I’m comfortable with on his immediate family, though.

My family is Jewish, and my parents were always clearly a little annoyed that the “spirit of giving” associated with Christmas overtook American culture so much that they couldn’t completely deny their children presents during Channukah. Unlike many other Jewish families in our community though, my parents didn’t give us kids presents for every night, and when we did get presents it was something small, like a comic book. My parents didn’t believe in showering kids with gifts on holidays because they didn’t want to instill in us an entitlement or expectation that we “deserve” gifts. If we wanted something, we could ask our parents for it, and if they thought it was reasonable, they’d get it for us, regardless of the time of year. So as an adult, if I see something that I know someone close to me would love, I’ll get it for them, but I won’t give someone an impersonal gift just because it’s Christmastime.

It’s amazing how much we’re shaped by our upbringing in every aspect of our lives. When my fiancé’s sister and sister-in-law email him telling him what he should get their children for Christmas, it rubs me the wrong way like crazy. And my fiancé can’t even begin to understand how I think it’s acceptable to let my brothers’ birthdays go by with just a “Happy Birthday!” phone call.

The key to compromise is accepting that just because you don’t understand someone else’s viewpoint, that doesn’t mean their viewpoint is invalid. I can’t ask my fiancé to stop giving gifts to his family, and he can’t judge me for not giving gifts to mine. But now that we’ve joined our lives, we do have to think about what’s best for us. In the interest of our finances and future goals, he has to keep the amount he spends on his immediate family down. And in the interest of ensuring that my future in-laws don’t hate me, I need to participate in the gift-giving, as much as it kills me to buy a gift for someone “just because.” Thankfully, I have a very personal gift that I know his mother will love already, so I won’t have to grit my teeth buying her some stupid trinket I won’t know if she’ll like anyway. Yay!

Are you in a relationship where you have differing views of gift-giving? How do you deal with it?

6 Responses to The Season of Giving

  1. I like the way your parents think. My wife and I listen throughout the year for things that people say they want. It’s nothing big, but it’s not garbage that they can’t use. Then whenever their birthday or Christmas come we casually find a way to bring the present up in conversation. If they say they don’t have one but it’d be great, or something along those lines, we’ll buy it.

    Our Target started the Christmas stocking as soon as Halloween stuff left the shelves. Two weeks before Halloween the last row was filled with Christmas stuff. It just made me mad. I like Christmas for just about every reason except consumerism.

    • Yea, there are many things about my parents that I’m very thankful for. They weren’t perfect of course, but they made a concerted effort to raise their children with the values that were important to them.

      It’s definitely a good idea to take notes throughout the year on what your friends and family want so you don’t feel the pressure to buy them something you don’t know if they’ll like just because it’s Christmas.

  2. We try to stay in tune with what others say as well. We find though most of our friends and family don’t expect much. They just want to spend time with us. If anything, we often give activity gifts where they can spend time with people they like and have fun.

    • That’s fortunate. It’s what I’ve always been used to, but my fiance’s family is completely different. It’ll be interesting once we have our own kids and we have to decide what our family philosophy on gifting is.

  3. My husband and I are pretty much on the same page with minimal gift giving. He hates to shop and he definitely hates to overspend. I’m glad we are on the same page- it makes things easier!

    • That’s really helpful. My fiance is super frugal when it comes to himself, but he likes to give gifts to others. It’s really an admirable quality, but it still rubs me the wrong way because the people on the receiving end seem to have such a sense of entitlement.

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