How Do You Do Christmas Gifts?

posted by Andrea | 11/14/2011


Every year, as I make my Christmas gift list and search for great bargins on creative Christmas gifts, I always start thinking about all the DIFFERENT ways people handle “gift giving”.

Even in just our immediate and extended families, Dave and I have 7 or more different ways of gift-giving. Most of them don’t require a huge time or financial investment, and all of these different ways are an opportunity to spend fun holiday memories with family and friends.

How We Do Christmas Gifts?

I know every family and group has different gift-giving traditions, so I thought I would first share a few of the different ways my family and extended family handles Christmas gifts… but then I’d love to know how you do it too!

My Mom’s Side of the Family = $2 gift-trading game.

My mom has a very big family and my grandparents currently have 29 grandchildren/spouses and 4 1/2 great grandchildren {5 when ours decides to arrives!} There are also various “significant others” that are at our holiday party each year — so it would be impossible buy a gift for every single aunt, uncle, cousin, etc!

So what we’ve been doing as far as Christmas gifts is to have a few people in charge of finding great deals on different items {usually we can get many things for free} and then everyone chips in $2 to cover the cost. We play some type of game with female gifts and then with the male gifts and each time a person goes to the middle and unwraps their gift, they can either keep it or trade with someone else.

However, once a gift is traded 2 times, it’s done and can’t be traded any more.

This game is a fun way to interact, spend time with family, and get a few nice things without having to spend much money. It’s great for our very large group.

My Dad’s Side of the Family = gifts until you’re married.

My dad’s side of the family is MUCH smaller than my mom’s so all the kids {cousins} got a gift from everyone until they were married… then they were “cut off”!

My grandma always gave all the married cousins and aunts/uncles money, but the unmarried grand-kids and great grand-kids got gifts.

My Immediate Family = gifts for everyone.

Since my immediate family is just my mom, dad, 2 sisters, and sister’s fiance, it’s really not that big of a deal to buy a gift for everyone. We don’t go overboard and usually go in together for my parent’s gifts.

Also, growing up, we always got to open one present before church on Christmas morning… and then we waited until later on Christmas evening to open the rest.

Dave’s Immediate Family = name draw.

Since Dave’s immediate family has grown quite a bit over the last few years, we finally decided to switch over to the name drawing method.

We will pick names over Thanksgiving weekend and set a budget. Then every person will only have to buy one gift. We’ll still all get his parents something, and his parents will get us all something, but I’m thinking the name draw will really help to simplify my holiday shopping this year!

Dave’s Extended Family = nothing.

Almost all of Dave’s relatives live in another state so we rarely see them on Christmas. And even though it would be fun to get together with them, it’s kind of nice not to have those extra gifts to buy each year!

Friends = gag gifts of homemade food gifts.

We still get together with a group of college friends each Christmas — for an “ugly sweater party”. And while we don’t have any traditional plan for gifts, we usually end up doing some type of gag gift or we bring food gifts for everyone.

It usually doesn’t cost much, but is still a fun way to give a little holiday cheer to our friends.

Our New Little Family = gifts for everyone! 

This is the very first year we will be celebrating Christmas as our very own family! Since the baby will be here by then, and our two international students will not be going home for Christmas, we’ll have to start our own brand new tradition!

This will also be the very first year {ever} that we don’t have any parties on Christmas Day, so we are currently planning to spend a somewhat relaxed day at home and open presents after church in the morning.

I’m still not sure if I’ll have stocking for everyone yet… we’ll see!

So what about you and all your many different holiday parties…

How do YOU Do Christmas Gifts?


Filed under: FamilyHolidays

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  1. Bill


    For a couple years now, instead of just opening presents when it comes your turn we play games. We have done Yahtzee. Each present has dice stickers on it and we have 3 rolls to get what dice were labeled on that present. If we don’t get it, the board goes to the next person. If you do you can open the present. If you can’t get whats labeled you can try for a Yahtzee and open the present. Now we are starting to add wii u games like you have to get a certain number on bowling to open the present. On spin control bowling with the barriers, you have to dodge those and get a strike or maybe you have to get a turkey (3 strikes in a row). We also odd bingo a while back but that took a while longer and wasn’t as fun.


  2. Heather


    Loved reading this post! I love to see how different families handle this. For my side of the family, we still exchange gifts. My immediate family is pretty small, so it is not that big of a deal. I don’t participate in Christmas with my extended family though. For Josh’s side, the adults will be hosting an “ornament” exchange in lieu of gifts! This will be the first year to do that, so it should be fun. 🙂


  3. Kathy


    We have a very large family and some years ago we decided that we all had enough “stuff” and it was getting expensive buying so many gifts. Now, the “under 18” crowd exchanges names if they choose to be included. The adults each bring one “white elephant” gift – a small something you want to “re-gift”, something homemade, a coupon for baked goods or a gag gift – and we play a game to exchange those gifts. It’s lots of fun. The best part is that we decided there are plenty of other people that can use a gift at Christmas, so we all chip in whatever amount of money we choose and find a family that has a need. Sometimes we’ve helped with someone’s medical bills, paid rent for someone out of a job, bought fuel oil for the winter…or whatever need we know of. It’s so meaningful to share this kind of Christmas gift…..even the kids get into it!!


    Andrea Reply:

    What an awesome idea Kathy!!
    I might have to suggest this for our family next year! Thanks for sharing 🙂


    Ann Reply:

    In our family, the cousins (1-24) do not exchange gifts. Rather they each come to the party with a monetary amount of their choice on a piece of paper and that amount of money in their pocket (or their mom’s purse!). One person tallies all of the amounts and comes up with a budget total. They then pore through the various “catalogs” from different organizations and decide what areas of the world they want to focus on or what they can buy. They often choose goats, ducks, chickens, playground equipment, etc. An adult writes all the checks and the cousins turn their money in to that person. The discussions they have while discussing what they want to buy with their money are priceless!


  4. Franes


    Among friends we have a tradition of gifting homemade goodies or nothing at all. Just hanging out and having a meal together can be a gift in itself!

    With my husband’s family, we exchange one gift per person or couple that is relatively inexpensive (like a cookbook, or a homemade gift basket). We sometimes go in with his siblings on a gift for his mom or dad if we are getting a big ticket item (like AAA service). His extended family and grandparents do not exchange gifts but have a “pie” for all the kids. Small toys are placed under a sheet with a string and a tag attached. Each kid picks a tag and pulls on it to reveal his or her chosen gift. The kids eventually outgrow the toys and opt out on their own.

    With my family, Christmas is a BIG gift giving extravaganza! I loved it when I was a kid but now it’s a little overwhelming. Everyone gets as many gifts as the giver can afford. Fortunately this just includes my mom and grandmother. They use this as an opportunity to stuff our car full of gifts for the drive home! The gifts range in size, expense, and usefulness from plush singing Christmas penguins to pressure canners. We usually keep about 3 of the gifts and donate the rest.

    My husband and I have our own gift giving tradition of giving to charity in each other’s names. We write each other a card saying why we chose that charity for them and how their contribution helps their cause. We also get each other a small gift (a book) to exchange with each other at my family’s gift exchange.


  5. Abby


    Love this post! My hubby and I always argue about what to do w/ Christmas. I am a giver and he is a bit more careful! But I need some help- I need a good gift idea for grandparents. I want to do something fairly inexpensive (less than $30 or so) and something creative and fun. I’m at a loss!

    Any ideas?


    Ann Reply:

    The gift of time is often one of the best. We would give my Grandma some of the candy she kept in her candy dish along with a concert or church performance and maybe dinner. Of course, we went too because that was what made it fun! Sometimes we even gave them events they couldn’t participate in (bowling) or weren’t geared for adults (Lion King movie) but getting to come along with kids and grandkids was special for them.

    I don’t know what your grandparents are like but mine always appreciated stationary (for the snail mail they still wrote) and stamps, special treats (Godiva chocolate covered cherries), or just periodic visits.


    Abby Reply:

    Thanks so much for the ideas! Those are good ones…nothing fancy, but meaningful!


    Heather Reply:

    A memory jar is a nice gift for parents or grandparents. We came up with 365 memories. We wrote one on a piece of paper and filled a jar for them to take out one a day, or if you can only come up with 52, one a week. We had cousins and friends add to the memories, too. The gift was a beautiful g hit!


  6. Karla


    My extended family (parents, sibblings, in laws, nieces/ nephews):
    Everyone buys for the kids and the adults all draw names and buy one gift for $50.
    My husband’s family:
    $50 “chinese gift exchange” (pick a gift from under the tree or steal an already opened gift) as well as gifts for his mom and sister
    My immediate family:
    Presents for everyone!
    “Adopted” immigrant family, family friends, teachers, close friends etc:
    Gifts for everyone!

    Even though we try to draw names to scale back, it still ends up being so many gifts, but it’s so fun! It’s fun trying to find deals in stores and online.


  7. Ann


    Each year we give each of our children (and exchange children if applicable) an ornament that has something to do with the year that they had. Many years we have had to be creative and make our own ornament but it gets easier and easier to find uniquely themed ornaments. Soon my kids will all be taking their ornaments with them and I will have a bare tree. For many years we forgot to get ornaments for us (and our year!) but I have been catching up and adding them to “The Story of our Family” that we tell each year as we distribute the ornaments one by one culminating with giving them their newest ornament and taking their picture by the tree.

    In my husband’s family, the rule was that the cousins drew names until they turned 18. Since there is only 1 left under 18, she loses out and cousins no longer give each other gifts. The adults buy presents for his parents but not for siblings/spouses.

    In my family, my parents (Gma and Gpa) give a small gift to each child and grandchild. (Often purchased at a resale shop.) Each family gives Gma and Gpa a gift or we go in together on a gift for them. The “main event” however is the $2 food exchange. Each person brings a wrapped edible item (beverages count) which costs $2 or less. We then play the choose/steal game until everyone has a gift. In the past we have had kimchi, coffee flavored gum, penguin poop (chocolate covered peanuts), LOTS of candy, a bag of potatoes, chips, bakery specialty items from our favorite bakery, ice cream (with a clue wrapped telling where to find the real gift!), sausage, a giant homemade chocolate chip cookie “pizza”, pop, chocolate covered cherries, etc. Even the littlest kids get into the game and do not pitch a fit when their gift gets “stolen”. When they game is done, most of the time all of the foods get opened and put on the snack table for everyone to enjoy anyway. (Unless it’s a bag of candy which a young child received. Sometimes they hold on to it for later!)

    In our nuclear family, I buy too much all year long and love giving it at Christmas and birthdays. Every year I try to scale back and every year I find things I want to give. Some things are homemade, many are purchased used, and some are bargained shop for new things. We open one stocking gift (chapstick, socks, gloves, etc.) each Sunday of Advent when we light our advent wreath. We then discuss what we will give to/do for Jesus that week. The next week we recap what we did, open a new gift, and make a new plan for this week. It always helped my kids in the interminably long wait for Christmas to arrive!


  8. Keri M.


    Over the years I’ve had my struggles with Christmas, and by defining how I celebrate the holiday on my own terms, I’ve been able to truly enjoy it. My main reasons for not liking this particular holiday were all of the obligation that surrounds it, and all of the excess, sugar, and trash. So, I decided that a simple, handmade holiday focusing on family and faith is the way I could celebrate it and not get too grumpy. I’ve got a series of Christmas posts on my blog – this one is the most recent:



  9. jerilyn


    we only do gifts for each other, our children, and our parents. A few years ago we mutually decided (unspoken) that no more gifts between adult siblings. We only have 1 sibling each, unmarried, and with no children. So it makes things easy! Except I never know what to get my in-laws!


  10. Kristin


    My husbands family is a bit smaller than mine (we’re the only ones married with kids) so we still all exchange gifts.

    My family is a lot bigger, more grandparents, grandkids, aunts, etc… we tried the name drawing game last year but it was still so hectic that I still to this day don’t know what gifts my kids got from whom. Mass Chaos. So this year we’ve decided to scrap the name drawing, only the 3 grandkids will be receving gifts (all are under 5) and my parents will still probably get each married couple a gift. And I will also give out cookies to everyone.

    Extended family- no gifts really, usually just a photo card, too many of us

    Friends- I have 3 college friends who are my best friends and we’ve had “girls christmas” for the last 12 years. For the last 4 though we’ve done it as a cookie/baked goods/cookies in a jar exchange. We like the treats!


  11. Donna Garcia


    We also have an exchange student this year. She is from Brazil. We always send our faraway friends an inexpensive ornament that reflects some aspect of the year we have had. We have been doing this for 20 years so they look forward to them now! Anyway this year we have one in Portuguese “Feliz Natal” with our names, including our student — fun!


    Andrea Reply:

    I love that ornament idea for your far away friends! how fun!


  12. Tammy


    My husband’s family has drawn names for years (this includes his grandmother, each of her five children, their children-our generation, and the great grandkids). Last year was the first year we did not receive gifts from whoever had our names, we let it go. We are doing the name thing again this year, we always have to mail these since we are military so if it isn’t reciprocated, I think we will bow out next year. I’d much, much rather spend that $30-$50 on a gift through something like Samaritan’s Purse.

    My extended family is complicated by divorce, age differences and second families (my children technically have an aunt and uncle younger than them) so drawing names doesn’t really work. For years I have purchased something for all my siblings, nieces, nephews and parents. This year, the families with kids will each be getting a board game gift for the family, and I found personal/fun things for parents. Right now I’ve spent about $50 for most parents, all my siblings’ families and best friends. This is the first year I have NO idea what to do for our immediate crew (husband and kids). We really don’t need anything and there isn’t even a lot on our ‘want’ lists.