When I say “The Holiday Season,” what’s the first stressor that comes to your mind? Probably finances, right? Affording gifts is always the biggest holiday burden on my mind.
If your family’s gift-giving traditions have you and your family stuck in a stress-inducing cycle year after year, I’m here to to offer a new perspective that can reduce the stress and help you start enjoying your holiday get-togethers once again.
With the pressure of remembering (and affording) to get everyone a gift (not to mention figuring out what they like, what size they wear, or what scents they’re allergic to), there was no way to make everyone happy without completely “breaking the bank.” We started to realize that we needed to get out of the cycle we were in by limiting the financial strain and change the expectations of gift-giving and receiving so that we could all start enjoying the occasion once again.
We switched from the traditional gift-buying “free-for-all” in favor of some other budget-saving options. We started by doing “Secret Santa” and drawing names each year, and we’ve even had years where we only buy and give gifts to the kids in the family. All of these worked great, but there is one gift exchange that stuck with us year-after-year: The the “White Elephant” gift exchange.
My family has been doing “White Elephant” for almost 5 years now. Also known as “Yankee Swap” or “Black Santa,” this game has put a great “twist” on our gift-giving traditions. We practically eliminated the financial stress of the holidays. Each attendee has only to buy 1 gift at an agreed-upon maximum price (for us, it’s usually $20.) Everyone brings one gift and leaves with one gift.
We like to mix it up by choosing a theme each year. Here are some ideas:
1. “As seen on TV” themed gifts.
We did this the very first year that the change was suggested, and the theme actually wasn’t my idea! Another family member suggested it and it was a huge hit! Each gift must be stamped with the official “As seen on TV” logo. This was so much fun! Many local stores sell these items and there is an extensive online store as well. (Tip: you could do this theme several years in a row and never repeat gifts!)
2. “Give a compliment” themed game.
My family did this one as well. The gifts had no theme, but every time a gift was exchanged, the “taker” had to give the “takee” a compliment. It was quite humorous with my family. (Tip: Be sure to clearly define what you mean by “compliment;” my family took creative license and used all different “kinds” of compliments… but it was all in fun and still hilarious!)
A twist on this idea could be using “puns” as gifts are exchanged, or only communicating in puns for the duration of the game. For instance, if someone calls your name or asks you a question and you don’t hear them the first time, you can say you were “wrapped up” in thought.
3. “Practical” gifts.
The idea here is that each gift should be able to be used in a practical capacity on a regular basis – if not daily, then weekly, and at the most, monthly. Some ideas are laundry hampers, luggage, picture frames, toasters, etc. I got this idea from my parents who bought me only practical gifts the year I moved out – socks, laundry hamper, wreath hanger – they are my most memorable Christmas gifts, because I still use them every day – years later. (This is the theme I have proposed for our 2012 gift exchange! I’ll be sure to let everyone know how it goes if it’s accepted.)
4. “Ticket” themed gifts.
These can be movie tickets, game tickets, gift cards…
5. “Gag” gifts.
The word “gag” explains it all! It’s most fun if there is an inside joke thrown in there, like a bad family picture or other family memory that gets passed around year after year – our favorite “gag” item is a huge multi-colored, stained glass turtle plant holder.
6. “Animal themed” gifts
Pick an animal like a zebra or leopard and all gifts must fit into this theme (leopard-print blankets, a picture of a Zebra, etc)
7. Re-gifted gifts.
The gifts can only be gifts that have been given to you – possible even from gift exchanges from previous years! This is especially fun with the “gag” gifts because people won’t be able to believe that you kept that gift for a whole year!
8. Bring a friend!
Have each of your family members bring a friend or extend an invite to extended family members. Ask each guest to bring a gift that fits in with your theme and you’ll have more people, more gift passing and more fun! Not to mention you’ll have the chance make someone, who may have not had anywhere to go for Christmas, feel special and included.
With this twist to our gift exchange, most people have so much fun playing the game and are so glad to be rid of the huge holiday stress of finances, that they are happy to leave with anything that they receive; even if it’s a “gag” gift or a picture of a zebra!
Guest Blogger Natasha Popow
- Natasha is an only child and her family may not be the biggest on the block, but she has more “adopted” brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles than most people have biologically! She loves spending quality time playing games and laughing or just sipping coffee and chatting with anyone who will join her. Most of all, she loves sharing her love of family and her loving family with anyone who wants to be a part of it!