Gift Traditions

Archives: Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway? #16

Gift Giving Traditions


In all Alternative Gift Giving, the emphasis is on helping needy people and on building relationships, not on stuff.

Table of Contents

*Alternative Giving
*Modest, Fun Treasure Hunt
*Gift Theft
*Gratitude Cards - (model card)
*Gifts of the Magi

Alternative Giving

I was delighted to hear a comment made by CBC's "Metro Morning" Radio program host. When asked if he'd finished his Christmas shopping yet, he explained that he was making charitable donations instead of giving regular gifts to family and friends.

We, too, have been giving "alternative gifts" for the past few years. We've adopted a polar bear for one family through the World Wildlife Fund, "bought" a piece of the Trans-Canada Trail for another, made a donation to Amnesty International for a brother and his wife who are keen volunteers, and even adopted an acre of rainforest for a niece who likes real estate!

Some charities, though, are especially close to our heart, so we'll also be calling Habitat for Humanity, plus our local food bank, shelters and soup kitchen to make donations in the names of our friends and relatives this Christmas. Then all of these agencies will send cards to the recipients, telling them of our gift in their honour. It's so easy and it feels so good!

Of course, not everyone understands what we're doing or why, but overall it's been a very freeing decision. It's wonderful not being part of the "sellabration" of Christmas - we're not just exchanging things with others who already have an abundance of material goods; instead our money goes where it can have a real benefit. Giving like this also helps our family focus on what we're celebrating, Christ's birth.

Nancy Matthews, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada


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Mostly for Kids...

Modest, Fun "Treasure Hunt" Gift Exchange

Celebrate the real spirit of Christmas by limiting the number of gifts each child receives to three, the number Jesus received. But make a game of finding them: put clues instead of presents under the tree, and have the whole family follow each person around as they solve clues and find their gifts.

Likewise, giving your child(ren) just one large gift or a couple of smaller gifts for birthday will be really fun by making it a Treasure Hunt. This also works for adults.

(Adapted from Meg Cox's Ritual Newsletter, February, 2003)

More from Meg below

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Mostly for Adults...

Gift Theft

Christmas can be a time when people feel compelled to buy gifts for everybody in their family. We used to feel that way, but several years ago we changed our habits. Now when our family of grownups gathers we each bring a gift and we all go home with one.

On Christmas day our blended family of eight grown children, their spouses and friends and all the grandchildren gather for a meal. After the meal we share the Christmas story and the little children get gifts. Then all of us grown-ups (including the older grandchildren) draw numbers and begin the gift exchange. The gifts we have brought are supposed to be worth less than $20 and people follow that rule pretty carefully. Some bring home made items like candy and baked goods or something sewn or knitted. Some bring a bag with wine and cheese or a book. Last year I brought a five pound Hershey bar. Some gifts are wrapped, some are unwrapped.

We exchange gifts by having the person with #1 pick a gift and, if it is wrapped, unwrap it. The person with #2 can "steal" that gift or pick a new one. If #2 steals #1's gift, then #1 gets to pick a new gift. After a gift has been "stolen" three times it can't be stolen again, it belongs to whoever has it. One other rule: You can't take back a gift from the person who "stole" it from you, but you could take it back from somebody else. The exchange continues until all the gifts are dispersed and everybody who brought a gift has one to take home. As you can imagine there is a lot of hilarity in this process, a lot of fun, a lot of appreciation of gift giving and gift receiving.

Why did we start doing this and why do we continue? There are several reasons. Several years ago it became evident that none of us "needed" a gift at Christmas. We all have everything we need, a lot of what we want (and some things we don't want.) Frankly, it is a huge waste of money for us each to buy something for every other person. We considered "exchanging names" beforehand, but we thought that would put a lot of pressure on the gift giver to get the "right thing" for a family member whose tastes and needs are often not well known to everybody. At the same time, we do enjoy showing expressions of love and gifts can do that. So, we still give gifts, everybody still gets a gift, everybody goes home with something. Most importantly we all go home with good memories of laughter, joy and surprise.

Last year our oldest grandson got married and his new bride was surprised and relieved that their household budget didn't have to be stretched to buy gifts for everybody. One little tangible remembrance from last Christmas is plenty for each of us, especially when it comes with the remembrance of our happy family sitting in our oldest daughter's living room "stealing" gifts from one another.

Michael Meier

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Gratitude Cards

We don't need another gadget, a big coffee table book or box of fancy food, but we love to hear from people we care about at the holidays and have them express their fondness for us.

Let's send "gratitude cards" at Thanksgiving time to friends with whom we traditionally exchange Christmas gifts. It might say, "We're most grateful for your friendship, and we wanted to tell you that no presents are required to celebrate the holidays. Here are two ideas: instead of your presents, give us your presence. Let's meet for lunch before or after the holidays. If you want to make a giving gesture that would mean a lot to us, here are two charities whose work we generously support."

This also works for birthdays. A measure of maturity is that we realize we HAVE all the "things" we really need, but we still want to feel RICH IN FRIENDS. Say, "What a treasure your friendship is in my life. Please don't send any gifts to me, but honor our friendship by giving to one of these charities, which will help another person on the planet."

Enclose an Alternative Gift Card to one of their charities or ask what charities of theirs they would like you to honor.

-Meg Cox

[model of a gratitude card] | ART

Please, No Presents.
Your Presence, Please.

Instead of a traditional gift, consider giving a donation in my name

to one of my favorite charities.

1. __________________________________


2. __________________________________



What charities would you recommend for a donation from me in your name.

1. __________________________________


2. __________________________________



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Gifts of the Magi

Gifts of the Magi is a Christmas Wish type program that provides assistance year round within the 19 counties of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. It began in 1993 as a cooperative project between Catholic Telegraph, Archdiocesan Council of St Vincent de Paul and Catholic Social Services of Southwestern Ohio. Serving any resident of the Archdiocese, it provides assistance to strengthen their ability to care for themselves, enhance their stability and security, and improve their quality of life or their ability to contribute to the community. Applications may be submitted by any parish or service agency within the Archdiocese. In the 2002 Christmas Season the program raised over $26,000 to be used from October, 2003 to September, 2003.

For details contact: Rod Huber, Director of Family Services, Catholic Social Services of Southwestern Ohio,100 E 8th St, Cincinnati, OH 45202. Phone: (513) 241-7745. Fax: (513) 241-4333. rodh@cssdoorway.org

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This page last updated 4 Nov 2015

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