“Why do we do this every year?” I whispered to my wife in the privacy of our guest room. With my forehead dropping down into my palms I continued, “Does my family even know me?” I had suffered through another year of exchanging restaurant gift cards, Wal-Mart tchotchkes, and cheap, thoughtless gifts with my family. And I was sick of it… but also super-guarded.
I felt extremely guilty for not loving this Christmas tradition. Instead of feeling excited about giving and receiving gifts, I dreaded it every year. But I feared verbalizing any of my feelings to my family because, in my mind, my own thoughts sounded like a Grinch/Ebenezer Scrooge mashup of Bah Humbug and cringe-worthy greediness echoing in the small tunnel of my shrinking heart. “I was raised better than this,” I thought. “I should be grateful for everything I get.”
My train of thought continued like this until my wife gently derailed it. “What don’t you like about the gift exchange?” she asked half laughing. I gave myself more than a few beats to mash my reasons through the strainer of human language. “I hate giving and getting gifts with no thought behind them. I hate feeling like I have to buy something for everyone. I hate feeling like I’m just a box my family members checked off on a convenience store shopping list. Most of all, I hate feeling like no one knows me well enough to get me a gift I genuinely like.”
Frustration edged my whisper into a whispering shout, “Just think about me! Don’t get me a candy bar. I don’t eat sugar! Don’t get me a knick knack. I’m a minimalist! I like to play guitar. I like to write songs. I don’t want something expensive! Get me a guitar pick for a dollar! Get me a pen, and I’d be happy! Just think about what I’d like! Or don’t get me anything!”
A Grinchy Exchange
Hit pause on my story for a sec. I hope I’m gaining points with you for honesty because, as I’m reading this, I still sound to myself like a self-obsessed jerk. But I can’t escape this one fact: I hate exchanging gifts! Why? I think the key is the word “exchange.”
When I exchange something, I naturally expect something of equal or lesser value back. At the New York Stock Exchange, people aren’t giving away stocks and cash for free. They’re trading. A Christmas gift exchange is the same. Except, depending on my mindset, I blindly trade gifts either hoping I get the better gift or give the better gift. It’s always a lose-lose for me. I feel sad every year whether I gave or received the better gift.
One year, I gave my nephew a brand new version of my favorite nerf gun ever. He unwrapped it and looked at me with disappointment, “You gave me this last year.” I tried hard for the save, “Now you got two?!!! That’s awesome!” Other times, I try to get pumped and conjure a grateful smile for a pre-packaged gift box of generic masculine leaning items. My wife and I then meet each other’s eyes and nonverbally say, “Re-gift” or “Goodwill” in a language only we can understand.
Each year proves one or both of the exchanging parties bought a gift on autopilot. And I hate it. Call me ungrateful. Call me a Grinch. Just don’t call my name in the next gift exchange.
4 Easy Questions
You might love or hate family and friend gift exchanges. You might have drawn the easiest or hardest person to buy a gift for. Whatever your situation and whoever you’re buying for, I will give you 4 easy questions you can ask to help you buy an awesome Christmas gift.
I’ll use myself as a case study since my wife and my sisters say I’m the hardest person to buy for. I’ll ask these 4 questions as if they were asking and answer honestly. Sometimes you may have to verbalize these questions. Sometimes you might be able to find out on your own or through social media.
What are 3 things you love to do in your free time?
Me: I like to play guitar, write songs, and get super organized.
What are 3 specific projects you’re working on?
Me: Right now, I’m writing 100 Christmas songs for next year, finishing my shed into a studio, and reorganizing my closet.
What do you need to finish those projects?
Reorganizing my closet- I need more natural wood hangers and pipe style wall mounts for my backpacks.
How much can I afford to spend?
No matter what hidden interests or quirky things you uncover from asking these questions, you’ll get to know your friends and family members in a deeper, more meaningful way. You’ll make them feel more known and more loved. And that’s the awesomest gift you can ever give anyone, even a Grinch like me.
(Quick Disclaimer for my family: This article specifically targets family and friend gift exchanges where I feel obligated to buy for people in my family or vis versa. It’s not a comment on my family’s gift-giving as a whole. They are very generous to my wife, my daughter, and I.)