Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The ban on Christmas gifts December 26, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:33 AM
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WHEN MY ELDEST DAUGHTER first suggested it, I questioned how we could have Christmas without gifts.

Turns out we can. Sort of.

After a family vote, in which we all agreed to not exchange gifts, we didn’t.

Note the word, “exchange.”

I used festive holiday trim and a card from Christmases past to decorate this gift.

A gift from a previous Christmas. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

About a week before Christmas, I considered that I am the mom and thus have the right to break the new rule. And I did.

But I didn’t rush out to buy gifts for my husband, all three of my adult children and son-in-law. Rather, I looked first at what I already had in my home.

Each daughter received a handmade apron belonging to her maternal grandma.

I also gave the eldest a puzzle map of the U.S. Turns out, though, that when she opened the gift, Amber thought she was getting her own puzzle back. Nope, I clarified. That puzzle you played with during your youth was a childhood Christmas present to me. Best cherish this vintage puzzle, even if Kentucky is missing.

The second daughter also got a vintage print I picked up this summer. It’s a print of a girl and a bird which nearly all of the women in my family own—one of those family things.

Miranda’s favorite present, though, seems to be the poem I wrote about her.

That left the men. The son-in-law was easy. He loves blue cheeses made and cave-aged in Faribault. A block of cheese it was for him.

But the 20-year-old son proved more challenging. In principle, he’s opposed to gift cards. Scratch that off the list of easiest possibilities. So I just asked him what he wanted and he ordered it online with delivery promised in two days. Problem solved. The package arrived when he was sleeping. I wrapped the watch and tossed it under the tree.

The husband will get his present, homemade Date Pinwheel Cookies (like his mother used to make, except better, he says) once the surplus supply of sweets in the house diminishes.

As for me, I, too, found a gift—a box of chocolates—under the tree with my name printed on the wrapping. Sweetness from my husband.

My desk caddy Christmas gift.

My desk caddy Christmas gift.

And then there was the surprise, a small square package which, had I not known its source, I might have thought contained jewelry. When I ripped off the paper on Christmas Eve, I found a desk accessory painted in vivid hues of orange, blue and my favorite lime green. Perfect for pens, pencils and paper clips. Darling little Nevaeh, elementary-aged daughter of friends, painted the organizer and delivered it days earlier along with a jar of homemade sweet treats.

Aren’t those the best gifts, the ones crafted with love or the ones that hold personal significance?

Today, when many of you are standing in line to return items like the zebra-print sweater from Aunt Edna or the bulky loon slippers or the set of screwdrivers you don’t want because they are cheap, I won’t be returning anything. It’s not like I would ever return a box of chocolates.

As for the no Christmas gifts rule, I have mixed feelings. Drawing names so each person receives one present would suit me better. But then again, I didn’t miss the shopping, trying to find the perfect gift. Not one bit. No presents eased a lot of holiday stress.

The original proposal, to do something together as a family (like attend a holiday play at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis) instead of exchanging gifts, was a great idea in theory. But with the son living in Boston and one of the daughters living 300 miles away in eastern Wisconsin, it didn’t work. You have to all be together.

My three, plus the eldest daughter's boyfriend, Marc, opened gifts Christmas Eve afternoon. Caleb is juggling on the left with his new juggling balls.

Christmas two years ago, when we were all together and there were lots of gifts given. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Maybe some year. But next Christmas the eldest and her husband will spend Christmas in California with his family and the other daughter may be on-call and…

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


24 Responses to “The ban on Christmas gifts”

  1. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    I think that my favorite gift this year besides the time spent with family and some of my Mom’s cooking was my Mom’s wedding ring from her marriage to my Dad. Totally unexpected!!! I like the drawing names idea.

    • Oh, Missy, what a fabulous gift that wedding ring is for you. Your mother must be thinking like me, that we want to gift our kids with “things” that have deep personal meaning.

      I agree that family time is the best gift. All I really want is to see all three of my “kids” and my son-in-law at Christmas time. I did see all of them, just not on Christmas.

      I love the gifts you make for your family.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    I love what you folks did!! How creative!!

    I come from a family of eleven that grew exponentially as we all had kids of our own. Christmas was always a challenge but as the mathematics of giving turning into the tyranny of numbers, we had to do something. My sister who worked in a women’s shelter came up with the perfect solution. We would all give to a smaller more deserving family. Each of us was assigned a simple human need, like coats, shirts, socks, tooth-brushes and toothpaste. I got to buy sweat-clothes and what a joy it was!! I was in and out of Target in fifteen minutes.

    Best Christmas ever.

    • Right back at you. I love what you folks did, giving the basics to a deserving family. I really would like to do this at our extended family Christmas gathering, where we draw numbers for gifts and can steal from one another. It’s fun. But none of us really “needs” anything. But I don’t want to be the Grinch to suggest this because I know the idea would be met with resistance. Sigh. What to do?

  3. Liz Says:

    We too tried to ramp down the gift giving this year. One thing our extended family has done for several years is to have one person each year choose a non-profit that all would donate to in lieu of exchanging gifts. No one knows if you did donate or how much. I have done better some years then others in creating a small ornament to represent that charity. We are encouraging our grandchildren to also suggest a charity they want a donation made to in their name.
    I love your idea of giving things that are family heirlooms – so much more meaningful! And the idea of shopping for a family in need is another good idea.
    The time spent together is what is really important.

    • Liz, thanks for sharing what your family does instead of exchanging gifts. I like your idea, too. This seems so much more meaningful than exchanging gifts with one another when none of us really need anything all that badly. I love how you are teaching your grandchildren the joy of giving. Well done.

  4. hotlyspiced Says:

    What a lovely idea and I’m glad it all worked out well. In my extended family each person buys one gift for someone else and it’s all organised so everyone gets one present. Then we buy gifts for all the children. I have a friend who every year gets together with three other couples. They exchange gifts but the rule is that you can’t spend more than $2.00. She says it’s the best thing ever as everyone cannot wait to see what they’ll be given. It’s amazing what you can find for $2.00 if you’re on the lookout! xx

    • We used to draw names in the extended family. But then it got to be costly and difficult because most did not need anything. Then we transitioned to the game of buying a generic $8 – $10 gift and playing a game to see which gift you receive. It works OK. This year the coveted gift was a snowman painting handcrafted by my talented sister-in-law.

      Now finding something for $2 would be a challenge. Dollar Store, here I come. I think that could be fun. Oh, yeah, I’d probably hit the thrift stores and garage sales, too.

  5. treadlemusic Says:

    Some years ago we did the name-drawing ‘thing’ then transitioned to ‘only for the younger ones’. We’re kinda slipping back to gifting something to each one of the adults but, because of the ‘no gift for the adults’, the $$ spent are minimal/under $5 and the challenge is to really “key in” to each one’s interests and find a little something that fits that interest. DH makes wine so one gift was a clever pour spout/stopper for a wine bottle. All the gals received hot pads from me with fabric that was specific to each one (really fun for me to make). One of those silicone jar-opener “thingies” was one of mine (it had a wine them, also!). I will have to say that gals are a lot easier to do this for than guys! The challenge is for low $$, creative outside-the-box thinking!!!!! And the thinking begins NOW for next year!!!!!! LOL!

    • This seems like another good way to keep the gifting curbed with minimal dollars spent. Yes, it definitely is harder to find gifts for guys. No one needs any more screwdrivers, flashlights or similar tools. Six packs of craft beer have been popular. But now even that is getting old.

      This year I found some vintage Schlitz malt liquor beverage glasses at the thrift store for a guy gift. The recipient loved them. Several years ago vintage pheasant drinking glasses from a thrift store were the desired gift.

  6. Jackie Says:

    Sounds very nice Audrey, gifts with special meaning! I love how you said, “I’m the mom, so i can break the new rule”…isnt that the truth. We still buy way too many gifts for too many people, and it’s getting to the point where everyone has to give ideas because nobody knows what to get anyone….crazy spending is what it seems like, I’d like to cut back but I really dont want to be the one who brings it up.

    • Oh, Jackie, I understand your “I really don’t want to be the one who brings it up.” My guess is that if you’re thinking the spending is getting too crazy, then others are also thinking the same thing.

      When we were still doing gifts on my husband’s side, we simply opted out one year. Now we don’t even get together at Christmas with Randy’s side given how large families have grown. Instead, we have a summer reunion. I miss seeing my husband’s side of the family. But I understand the reason for the change.

      I have this wild idea that we should play BINGO next year given how much my mom and brother and his wife love BINGO. We could all bring Dollar Store or thrift/garage sale prizes. But where do I find a good and affordable BINGO set?

  7. Norma Says:

    Hi Audrey. This idea was fine if that’s what they wanted to do. However, I’m the grandma, and I love giving, and I too break rules. I don’t expect, want, or need things. I wonder if they will feel the same way when babies start appearing? Hmmmmm.

  8. KerryCan Says:

    What a good discussion this post inspired! Our family gave up on holiday gift-giving several years ago and, although the transition felt a little awkward, for the most part we’ve never looked back. We give gifts of time and craftiness and purchased items when we feel like it all year but give ourselves a break during the Christmas season. I can honestly say now that it was the best thing we did, to encourage a focus on one another and time together.

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