Christmas in July: Alternative Gift Exchange Ideas

Welcome to the fourth installment of Christmas in July 2013. You can read about the purpose of Christmas in July here. Links to the previous posts in the series are located at the bottom of this post.

Is it too difficult or too expensive to buy gifts for each member of your family? Consider these alternative gift exchange ideas.

Have you ever experienced frustration, embarrassment, or other unpleasant emotions because your family didn’t discuss or didn’t agree upon how to exchange Christmas gifts? While there’s not necessarily a right or wrong way for families to approach gift exchanges, it’s sure helpful when family members can agree on how to do it!

One of the most common approaches to exchanging gifts is for each individual or immediate family unit to purchase a gift for everyone in the family. Alternative approaches have increased in popularity in recent years. In some families, tensions have increased right alongside the popularity of these approaches because some family members are interested in them and others aren’t. What alternatives are available and how can you talk about them with your family?

Alternative gift exchange ideas

  • A handmade gift or “regift” exchange. In these exchanges, family members exchange handmade gifts or items they currently own and are choosing to give away. Some families also allow their members to give gifts that were handmade by someone else and purchased by a family member (e.g., handmade crafts that were purchased from local artisans). (If you’d like some ideas for handmade gifts, check out OF THE HEARTH’s Pinterest page!)
  • Gift auction. Each family member brings a wrapped gift for the exchange. (It would be wise to set a price limit for the gifts.) Place various amounts of play money in envelopes and seal them; give one envelope to each family member. One family member acts as an auctioneer while the other family members bid on each wrapped gift. The highest bidder wins the gift (each person may only win one gift).
  • Thrift store gift exchange. Each family member draws the name of another family member out of a hat. The family members agree upon a price limit (such as $5 or $10) and head out to local thrift stores to purchase gifts. The object is to purchase the best gift you can for the family member whose name you drew.
  • Stocking stuffer exchange. Family members exchange gifts that are small enough to fit in Christmas stockings. Example stocking stuffers include lip balms, candies/sweets, pieces of fruit, gloves, boxes of tea, socks, pens, and small tools.
  • Secret Santa. Each family member’s name is put on a piece of paper and tossed into a hat. Each family member draws a name and purchases a gift for the person listed on the paper he or she drew. Most families set a price limit for gifts.

Of course, you can always choose not to exchange gifts at all. You can simply focus on spending time together over the holiday. Some families choose to give of themselves by volunteering at a charity together or by pooling their gift money to give to a worthy cause.

Your traditions and the nature of your relationships with your family members will influence how easy or difficult it is to have a discussion about giving gifts. It might benefit you to keep a few general tips in mind as you broach a conversation on the topic.

Tips for talking with family about exchanging gifts

  • Bring it up early. Many individuals begin purchasing gifts long before the traditional Christmas shopping season. It’s best to have this conversation early enough that none of these purchases have been made. Late summer or early fall is an ideal time for many families. If you choose to wait longer, be sure to have the conversation no later than Thanksgiving.
  • Be prepared for resistance. Exchanging gifts may be a very important tradition for your family. The thought of changing it may provoke anxiety or defensiveness. This is natural and really isn’t negative because traditions are incredibly beneficial to families. Listen to and empathize with concerns about losing the tradition.
  • Have an alternative to suggest but remain flexible. If you bring up your discontentedness with the current approach without presenting an alternative, you’ll likely not get very far. However, if you suggest an alternative, your family members may like the idea or at least see that there are alternatives to be considered. With that being said, you’ll need to be flexible because your loved ones may come up with additional ideas.
  • Consider compromise. Your family may not be willing to make dramatic changes; however, they may be willing to compromise. See if you can find common ground somewhere between your preference and tradition.

Does your family exchange gifts at Christmas? How do you organize the exchange? What suggestions do you have for bringing up a conversation with family members about exchanging gifts?

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