The annual Christmas gift-giving dilemma

Is there a Dirt Cheap Tuesday?

Insane Deals Wednesday?



I guess I'm doomed

On Black Friday I goofed off; it's my tradition after preparing such a big, heavy-with-love meal. On Cyber Monday I spent a few hours on the computer and didn't purchase a thing, because I didn't see a thing anyone needed.

Maybe it helps if you know what you want to give before you start looking.

I have a major shopping handicap called, "I don't want to clutter my home or anyone else's home with junk we won't use." I also suffer from persistent frugality, acute indecision, too little inspiration, and not enough time.

Scrooged, that's how I feel.

At this time of year, I always wish I could return to my childhood. (Just so I could do all the gettin' and not do any givin'? That's not so!)

I want to go back in time, because (I know, I know) things seemed so much simpler then. Because the tree was picked from the woods behind our home, cut by Dad's ax, instead of from the local big box store. Because one of the biggest things to look forward to was Mama's cooking. Because when our neighbor, Mr. Wellins, left a big box of shelled peanuts, candy and fruit on our porch. it was a big treat for us kids. Because when we went to our tiny post office to pick up boxes of presents sent from relatives far away in Idaho, it was huge. Because we didn't have much hope of presents many years, and we learned to appreciate family, tradition, the kindness of others and surprises.

One year in particular my parents had frankly told us that there wouldn't be any gifts. It was always hard to see Dad's stress around Christmas as he and Mom balanced bills, groceries, and a slower time of year for their grapevine business with all the expectations of the season.

It killed him to tell us they just couldn't afford presents.

We kids woke up Christmas morning and still excitedly clambered onto Mom and Dad's bed (that's what I, the baby, remember doing, at least), expecting nothing. Our Merry Christmases were returned, and then Dad reached to the side of the bed and drew up a plastic sack.

He and Mom had worked late the night before, not unusual, and had sold their wreaths to their good friend Larry who distributed them to buyers and florists. But they had seemed to be a long time in getting home that Christmas Eve. Now we began to suspect why.

"It's not much, but your mama and I dropped by the dollar store on the way home yesterday evening," said Dad.

He handed out the gifts, one for each of us. Mine was a Barbie. She wasn't fancy, but she was something I hadn't expected that Christmas morning.

And I still remember her and how she made me feel.

And perhaps that's it. Our expectations were simpler. We expected a tree we could decorate and some of Mama's good food and for Dad to play carols on his guitar, but we didn't expect elaborate, fancy, or abundant gifts.


To be fair, since then I have indeed been on the receiving end of some fancy, beautiful, and unexpected gifts, and I know the joy that comes with realizing that someone pays attention to what you like, want, or need and cares enough to give it to you, something you'll keep for years and possibly forever. My husband, my parents, my siblings, and my in-laws have all bestowed such things upon me.

Perhaps I am completely lacking in the art of gift-giving. Unobservant. Perhaps I am selfish.

Even though it often takes me a good deal of time to pick out each gift, I never feel like my gifts are "perfect".

This season is often a struggle in many ways for me, another search for balance amid all the holly jolly White Christmas dreams of coming home to presents by the tree. I imagine that's so for all of us.

For instance, whereas some who regularly experienced lean Christmases as a child are much more inclined to spoil their own children with gifts from wishlists, I am much less inclined to do so. My childhood was too precious without gifts for me to believe too stoutly in their power. Still, as we prepare for Jolly Old St. Nicholas to come around, I often end up agonizing in the 11th hour about whether my kids will have a good Christmas, whether they will like what they receive, whether they will be disappointed or compare. The fact that we have encouraged belief in Santa only adds to the pressure.

But I'm still frugal. I still won't go crazy granting wishes for stuff like some sugar-and-caffeine-charged holiday fairy.

And yet I do also want to give my children and my whole family simple things they can honestly use, beautiful things that they will truly enjoy, or just anything that their heart earnestly desires.

As long as its not a Lamborghini. Or a cruise. Or an iPhone. Or an ice sculpture carved by me.

For all my loved ones, I do at least have love, laughter, conversation and homemade cookies to give away in abundance. Following in my dad's footsteps, I can even play carols on my guitar.

They don't sell those things on Black Friday.


  1. Great post, friend! I struggle with the same things when it comes to Christmas gift giving. This year a Facebook friend (my sister-in-law's sister, actually) posted this suggestion: 4 gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. For some reason having a "list" of sorts has taken away some of the anxiety I feel about buying presents. I have other friends who limit the gifts to 3--one for each of the gifts of the Magi. When I look back on my childhood Christmases, I can remember receiving about 3 gifts each year. (It's hard to go too crazy when you have 10 kids to buy for!) (Camille)

    1. I'm not the only one!

      I actually had that in my post, and then edited it out. Our kids can ask Santa for five things max, but he brings just three - and not always exactly what they ask for, though usually he gets at least one item (well, and little stocking stuffers...). Matthew and I try to give them gifts of experience, because I can't bear to buy more toys to clutter this house.

      I love the four gifts idea! I think it's an excellent suggestion, and it does take a load off. I do feel this anxiety building around Christmas now, and that is what makes me want to run for the hills or go back to my childhood.

      But Christmastime will pass, too, and then I'll miss it.

  2. I love this. My husband and I want to do one big gift for our kids and stocking stuffers. We want to teach them they get gifts on Christmas to remind us of the most important gift, Christ.

    1. Bless you in that endeavor! It is very hard to stick with, but I believe you can do it and simplify the celebration of Christmas to things that truly matter.

  3. Gift giving is a perpetual struggle in my house. Hubby and I disagree on how much is enough and he's inclined to overspend each year so there's a LOT of gifts for the boys. This year we purchased a big ticket family item that everyone wanted (a new TV that is fully functional.) I've been telling the boys to not expect a bunch of gifts as this was a gift for everyone to enjoy the whole year through. I'm hoping I can keep hubby on board with that.

    1. My husband is cheaper than me! He likes to say that he's cheap, and I'm frugal. Sometimes I am the one pushing to do something extra. Perhaps I shouldn't do that.

  4. Hillary I love this! I love your family stories so much! It strikes me that even during your parent's financial struggles love was so strong! I just adore the story about the simple Christmas I long for them! Beautiful!

    1. Love was very strong. We had our disappointments and our struggles, but we always had love, and life was indeed simpler in some important ways.

  5. Hillary I love this! I love your family stories so much! It strikes me that even during your parent's financial struggles love was so strong! I just adore the story about the simple Christmas I long for them! Beautiful!

  6. "I also suffer from persistent frugality, acute indecision, too little inspiration, and not enough time." <--You are describing me here. (Although I probably have enough time; I just waste too much!)
    I really struggle with wanting to be a perfect gift-giver. I want someone to open my gift and say something like: "Wow, I didn't even know I wanted/needed this, but I so do!" The reality is that I usually have no idea whatsoever of what to give anyone, or, if I do, I don't know where to get it, can't afford it, don't have time/skill to make it, etc. I think that is why I enjoy doing stocking stuffers more; they can be cheap, silly or practical, and even all the same. I try to be more personal and do bigger gifts on birthdays, when I can focus on one individual!

    1. I am exactly in this same boat as you. You know exactly how I feel on these big gift-giving occasions, a great summary of what I was trying to say.


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