Family Holiday Gift Exchange

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When to stop obligatory family gifting?

Jan 2010

At Christmas, we have been giving presents to nieces and nephews. As they get older, e.g. have graduated from college, I am beginning to think that the gifting would stop. I'm not big on gifting - maybe I'm a bit of a Scrooge, but I don't like the obligatory part. I'm not particularly close to them and feel that once they are an adult they can join our adult ''grab bag'' group where one adult gets a present for one other adult in the group. My sister noted that her daughter was not part of our generation and that it wasn't something she wanted to do. My inclination is fine but don't expect a gift. Willing to hear any and all comments on this dilemma. Anon

I'd say once they're out of high school (or possibly earlier) you can stop giving individual gifts without hard feelings, especially if you're not particularly close to them. My nieces and nephews are all college age or older now, and lately I've only given gifts when they graduated high school, when they got married or when they had babies. If you're worried about offending, you could mention to the kid's mom that you're phasing out gifts, but I bet they'll be fine with it. By the time I was that age, I never wanted gifts from my older relatives, anyway, because they were so out of touch! Big Family

I would say age 18, which sounds like in your family would add a few people to the ''adult'' group, so it wouldn't only be the older generation and one young adult. If you are all physically together for the gift-giving you could try the white elephant game (google) for the over 18 set--young adults find this lots of fun. best wishes

We have a very big family, and my attitude toward gifts is that they are for ''children'', not just a generation of ''kids'', so I stop the gift-giving to my siblings' kids once they start college. With the economy in the dumps, you now have the perfect excuse to stop too. Even if your own budget is not noticeably suffering, you can announce that you'll give a gift to charity instead of gifting individually. Maybe you can give a charitable gift in their names, if you so choose. You keep the tax deduction, set a great example, and get to do some real good with your gift instead of just feeling obligated!

In our extended family, we moved to a ''name draw'' a few years had gotten insane with everyone giving everyone gifts (esp as people got married, added kids, etc.). It also go REALLY EXPENSIVE.

What we are doing now is the I ''draw'' names for everyone (actually I have a spreadsheet where I track it so that one half of the family gives to the others so that parents don't get their own adults kids/grandkids and vice versa). Each person buys a gift for their person. We have a maximum dollar amount that can be spent (but less is fine esp as people's personal circumstances go up and down every year).

For the little kids, the adults are allowed to give gifts to each of the kids...but don't have to. Once the kid graduates from high school, then they go in to the draw. So far, we have one in he has been in the draw for 2 years (one of my nephews). The next in line are two boys who are currently Freshman in high they will go in the draw in 4 years.

There are a few people who have opted out entirely (like my husband who just isn't interested and my step-brother)...and they attend, but just watch and laugh at the gifts. Since each person (other than the kids) only gets one gift now, it doesn't take forever...and we are getting/giving real gifts (limit is $45) instead of little junky things just to get enough items and not go broke.

As I mentioned, people are not required to spend the $45. For instance, my cousin had me this year...and they are really struggling his wife made tasted sugared nuts and sewed me an apron (she is a great cook and seamstress)...which I loved, but clearly they didn't spend $45 (though it was worth MORE to me as it was homemade and probably would have cost more than $45 if they had bought it instead of making it).

It took the family about a year of negotiations to set this up (the older mom, aunt and uncle didn't want to give up the gifts to everyone...though their spouses did as did we ''kids'' (who are all in our 40's and 50's).

Hope this helps a little. The family ''draw-er''

My husband has a large extended family, and we made a decision together a few years ago that once kids are out of school and employed, they would not receive gifts anymore from aunts and uncles and cousins. Parents are exempt from this--they're allowed to give their own kids gifts! I consult with my MIL every year to make sure we're on the same page, because it's not always clear-cut. For example, one cousin graduated from college this year, but is still unemployed and headed for the Peace Corps in May. We decided he was still a kid this year, since the Peace Corps isn't a ''real'' paying job.

It's difficult to do unless everyone is on board! One year the family tried to draw names for adults, but MIL insisted on exemptions left and right (because she HAD to buy gifts for her parents & adult kids), and the system fell apart after one year. EH

I am not much into obligatory gifting during Christmas either. My husband is from a large family and they have a pretty good system. All the grown-ups are in one group and all the kids (including college kids) are in another group. Individual names are drawn for each group and you are only responsible to buy for that one person (or the couple if you are married). For instance, if you have 3 kids, you will receive 3 gifts from 3 different kids and in turn, you have to buy for 3 different kids. If you don't have kids, you don't have to buy for those college kids until they graduate and be part of the adult group.

Your family can decide whether if you want to set a budget on the gift. For the adults, it is in the $50-100 range. For the kiddies, $25-50 range. Some families are more generous than others and it is at their discretion to spend more.

This worked out pretty well for us. We have since stopped the adult gift giving (thank goodness, it is particular hard for us because we are long distance!) and only do the kids. anon

As soon as my nieces and nephews (all TWLEVE of them) finished high school, they were taken off the gifting list. Now it's just holiday and birthday cards -- no gifts enclosed. Works for us.

Holiday Gifts - We Want OUT! How to put it nicely?

Sept 2009

My specific question is, how do you tactfully, politely, graciously tell your friends that you don't want to do the big give/receive present thing this holiday tide?? Please no advice on making your own gifts or any gift substitutes (donations, offers of service, etc) - I really mean that we want out, but without offending our pals....we could all use the money we spend on gifts to pay our own bills - there must be a nice way to say this? anyone?
stop spending on me I'll stop spending on you....

This is a tough one. We have much-loved friends who decided to include us in their small holiday gift-giving circle. It just freaked me out. I didn't have the money, time or interest in getting another five people gifts--people who already had enough stuff, as did I. I was able to suggest a secret Santa, so I only had to buy one instead. This worked as we had a gift-giving date each year. Now the emphasis is more on the meal we eat together and less on the gifting. My husband's family also bought into this method, thank goodness. Not ungenerous, just not into so many gifts

I actually opted out of the craziness years ago as well. I was lucky and could pull the Jewish card, but for my husband's side of the family we just simply said we would rather everyone get together and cook dinner than everyone run around spending money on each other. I don't think you need to sugar coat it in anyway, if this is your new perspective your family and friends should respect it. I love not being apart of the madness! Good luck! annoyomous

We, too went through this and we all agreed as a family (aunts, uncles, brothers, parents, etc.) to not exchange gifts. It went like this, ''Hey, since we are always asking each other what they want for ____(fill in the holiday), what do you say that we agree on a no-gifts policy?'' Everyone was delighted. Kids usually are exempt. Not a Grinch

I would just tell people ahead of time ''We've enjoyed our gift exchanges in the past, but this year we are cutting back on consumption and prefer to not exchange gifts'' or ''...plan to not exchange gifts.'' edp

Dear stop spending on me I'll stop spending on you... In direct answer to your question, if I wanted to reset expectations, I'd insert into conversations with family/friends something like, ''This economy really has us concerned, holiday gift giving is going to be quite limited this year, likely to immediate family only. Are you feeling the pinch too?'' But since when is gift giving a tit-for-tat occasion? We are completely comfortable setting my family's budget for gifts and sticking to it, regardless of what others give to us. My brother's family ALWAYS spends more on gifts to us than we do, and they have slightly less income and live moderately like we do. Interestingly, they are the ones asking for ''draw a name'' gift-giving to reduce the number of gifts and overall spending whereas we still find joy in shopping for everybody since it doesn't break our bank. My suggestion is simply to set your own guidelines, feel confident in your choice, and abide by it. If that means smaller gifts, or no gifts, so be it. There's no reason to feel like you have to ''keep up with the Jones''' and no reason you have to give a return gift to everyone who gifts you. happy gifter and receiver

You're doing the right thing by addressing the issue now, instead of in December. It's awkward to make an announcement that you are not doing gifts when someone might have already made the effort to get your family a gift.

Here is what I did a few years ago. I sent emails (or in some cases made phone calls or had personal conversations) saying that I wanted to simplify our family life and concentrate on the other aspects of the holidays, such as gathering with friends and family. I suggested that we stop gift-giving, or in some cases, only exchange gifts for our children. I put the message in a positive light, and didn't make negative comments about people's gift-giving practices.

I received a warm response, and almost everyone was relieved that I had brought it up. No one seemed disappointed. Go for it! Pro-Simplicity

Tired of gift exchange with adult siblings

September 2003

As the holiday season approaches I find myself in conflict again with my family over gift-giving. We are all adults over 40 and I don't think we need to exchange gifts at Christmas any more. My brother and his wife agree but my two sisters do not and my parents are on the fence--therein lies the problem.

I personally feel that, after 40 years, I've run out of interesting and affordable gift ideas for my family. We're on a tight budget and have two small children to support, plus I have very little time to devote to Christmas shopping for the grownups. I'd be happy to make everyone a home-baked goodie and receive something similar in return but my sisters cling to the idea that Xmas isn't really special without lots of store-bought presents. Not to mention that they're very particular about what they want and even make ''wish lists'' of things to get. I've suggested we all save the time and effort and just spend the money on ourselves or our kids but they seem to think I'm a crazy party-pooping scrooge.

I've also suggested just giving gifts to the kids but they're resistant to that as well.It's become very dreary and tedious for me to have to shop for useless trinkets for my family every year and I'm really starting to dread the holiday season again. (Not to mention that I'm morally opposed to rampant consumerism but that's another story.)

Anyway, is there some other way to get out of this vicious cycle? I've tried to just not bring anything Xmas morning but then I feel guilty and end up having to shop at the last minute, which is really not fun. As you can tell this is quite a dilemma. valerie

What if all the siblings and their spouses (and perhaps parents too if they wish) put their names in a hat and each draws one person to give a gift to? My big group of sibs has done this for a uite a while someimtes my mom rigs the name drawing if she thinks one person is a better match for another, and we also hint to her about gift ideas so that if the buyer asks her, she can share some ideas. We set a dollar limit - usually $25 or $50. And I also think there is nothing wrong with you doing homemade gifts! What personal effort and thought you are putting in vs. the ease of grabbing something at a store and slapping down your credit card. Maybe your sisters whould just buy for each other! Jen

You may just have to decide what is best for you and your family and stick to your guns regardless of what the others think. I think baked goods are a fine present. It's inexpensive (and fun for some people) to bake, most people enjoy eating baked goodies and you feel like you've given something meaningful. I understand your feeling like you have to get something at the last minute.....We celeberate Christmas every year with my husbands family (I'm Jewish). Although the entire family agreed years ago that we would only give gifts to the kids, and just do baked goods for the rest of us, they would all still get gifts for everyone and I'd be the only one giving only plates of cookies and breads....I just keep doing my baking and enjoy the one has complained that I know of. Your situation is different, but maybe you can set the new way of doing things if you just do it and keep your head high...maybe the others that are waivering will follow. Good luck. I hate this kind of family yuck! anon

I feel exactly the same way. So for the last year or two, on agreement, we either cut out, or cut back, on the gifts to the one sibling who seemed comfortable with that. We still exchanged gifts between our kids. With the other relatives, I'm just accepting that they don't want to change things (in which case one might as well be grateful for those wish lists).

As for what to get the relatives (who don't supply lists), I think your ideas are good -- baked goods, wine... things that won't sit around gathering dust. And I figure giving a book I've really enjoyed reading (and think they might like) is at least thoughtful, even if they never read it. anon

Our siblings ganged up on my mother who always went way overboard and set up a system as follows (yeah, she still cheats). We have two families who have shared xmas since we were all small children:

All adults' names (14 of us) go into two pots - each grown-up picks one name (not spouse) from each family and really goes to town for those two people.

Kids & your own spouse/ significant other - no holds barred -

So now instead of buying for 13 grown-ups, it's 3 people (including your partner). In fact my kids are the only grandchildren for ~7 grandparents so I tell everyone to only give them something if they find something perfect. This works because we are all together at Christmas and everyone has a minimum of two people focussed on them. We don't do this for my husband's family because they are out of state and scattered. Our gifts are intended to make them feel included in our lives (we have the only grandchildren in the family).

The very best argument I have for doing this is that you get to concentrate your attention on a few people and give them something very special. Often, the gifts have been amazing - 1 yr subscription to netflix, earthquake kits, skis, shoes, etc.- things you couldn't buy for 15 people on your list.

The other thing that works is to buy time together - ie a special event or trip, etc. Often pooling money to do something unforgettable can stop the package-itis.

For extended family members, we have grab bags (~$10-15/ gift. These are often silly - gift for male = beer + Joe Namath pantyhose, for example. In addition, we have cookie exchanges.

I dislike the gift buying ''just because'' & wouldn't go back for the world! Don't give up - I think it is important to return because you want to please someone & not due to a sense of obligation. Anonymous

With two small children and the way our economy is, it's a fact that most everyone is on a tight budget. So, if I were you, I'd stick to my guns. This Christmas, make home-made goodies, disregard the wish-lists (they should be wishes anyway, not demands or expectations), get gifts for the children, and see how it turns out! Your brother and SIL would probably be thankful for that and may do the same the following year. If you continue to do this, then everyone else will eventually do it. I tend to think that birthdays are the time to splurge more on people, esp. since it's usually only one person at a time. Christmas should really be just for being together, IMHO. anon

We do a gift exchange. We set the gift price limit of $20 - $25. We ask all adult family members if they want to participate. If so, we draw names. We ususally do this at Thanksgiving. Even if not everyone is at the same Thanksgiving Dinner, we know who wants to participate. Someone then makes sure to give those not attending, the paper with the name of the individual that was drawn for them. No one knows who picked who, unless they try to figure it out (that's sometimes fun too). All kids get something regardless, and each adult is guaranteed one gift. Saves a lot of time shopping and a lot of money too. Been There

If your family can't agree to give or not give, why not compromise by drawing names. Our family, which is big, like yours, enjoys the day without much pressure or hassle. We simply draw names every Christmas for the following year. One gift only, and no wish lists! You have all year to happen on that perfect something (or wait until three days before Christmas, if that is your habit). We have a moderator (me) who is the only one who knows the identity of the giver and receiver, so there is a bit of intrigue. I keep a record of who gets who and send out a simple reminder card in August or September. This method has worked great for our family for about ten years, and counting. The only catch is, you are supposed to stick to the one-gift-only rule. This means, no giving gifts to parents (who are also included in the draw) or a favorite sibling. Save those special gifts for their birthdays or surprise them with your generosity on some other day of the year. No one will feel left out. Oh, we also put a limit on spending, which changes as the years go on. Come up with an amount that all family members can afford, or stick to gifts that are not purchased at all. Hand made or found. anonymous

Adapting holiday traditions can be a real struggle within families, as your story indicates. We have a couple of solutions within our two families, and both have provided some relief from the rampant consumerism you (and we)try to resist. In one of our families, we have a lottery among the adults every year. All of the names are placed in two hats, preferably in two different homes. One sister on the east coast pulls a name the 'gifter', and one mother on the west coast, pulls another name, the 'giftee'.

These two keep the master list, and then call or email everyone with their assignment. The list is kept secret, theoretically, everyone knows only to whom they are giving, but there is a lot of colluding. We are usually pretty specific with our spouses about what we want the most, and our spouses or sibs find our gifter and make our wishes known. This works out really well, because NONE of us really wants stupid clutter, or calendars or tchotckes, and we end up with one REALLY good present, kitchen aid mixers, spa days, digital cameras, etc. We all give gifts to the children, and in a family of our size they end up with a ridiculous 50+ presents each. Some family members refuse to abide by the rules and still show up with a tchotke for everyone, but frankly, I consider this really rude, and would welcome a consumable like the baked good you mention or maybe a plant or flowers instead of something I will inevitably throw away.

In my other family, we tried something new last year which was brilliant. We read about adopt a family in the newspaper, and we contacted a social services agency. They matched us with a needy family of 5, gave us their list of needs and clothing sizes, and we bought them bedding, cookware, clothing, toys and books. We did not exchange gifts among ourselves. The experience of buying basic necessities for a family was incredibly powerful for me, it really drove home for me how lucky we are, and that we actually really do not NEED one single thing, which made it completely okay to not receive any gifts, and served as commentary during the high pressure holiday shopping buzz of what was really important, I highly recommend this adopt a family project, you will feel proud of your gifts, and it keeps the consumerism in check.

Good Luck! Elizabeth


I think this is a wonderful and thoughtful gift, and you don't have to spend a lot of money. Liz

Dear Tired,

I agree that it does feel pointless sometimes to continue giving gifts to adults, and can also feel more like a tiresome obligation than a joy. But, your sisters sound attached to the ritual and I doubt you're going to get out of it. The good news is that they do most of the work for you by providing a list of what they want. If I were you, I would just go online, order the things they want, have them gift-wrapped if you don't enjoy doing that yourself, and just finish the duty in as painless a way as possible. My family has definitely reduced the holiday excesses, and I must say it makes the holiday season easier. On the other hand, my husband's family still makes a point of adult exchanges of gifts, and I have delegated that job to my husband, since it is his family that values this. denise

I fall into the ''more is more'' camp when it comes to holiday gifts, so like your sisters I'd be very grumpy about proposals to stop giving. But since part of your family is open to the idea, a compromise is probably in order. Dollar limits or a homemade-gifts-only rule are fairly common among adult members of the same family, but feel too restrictive for those who enjoy the excess.

One family I know has a tradition that I think is nice, and it cuts down on the craziness while still allowing everyone to enjoy giving and receiving an abundance of gifts. Each member of their family receives as gifts, ''something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read''. Each item may be as simple as new socks or as elaborate as fancy electronic gear, and I gather that in my friend's family, the parents still tend to buy things in all four categories for their children while the siblings divvy up the giving categories for each other.

Likes being Santa

I know it's hard when the whole family is not on the same page.


A gift is something YOU choose to give! It's up to YOU to change your giving to something more affordable/reasonable/heartfelt. And then you have to deal with the possible backlash. If your sisters are well-bred, they won't dream of saying, ''All you got me was these cookies?'' And if you're really committed to this idea, then you won't worry if they say it behind your back.

I suggest you soften the blow by announcing in advance, ''I'm giving everyone homemade gifts this year.'' or ''I'm giving everyone chocolates this year'' or ''Everybody's getting a book from me this year.'' And then follow through. My guess is, in a year or two you'll be getting whatever you're giving.

NB: In my family we rotate yearly among food, books, and games, with a preset spending limit of $25, and you only buy one gift that would be suitable for anyone. We play a game where you pick a gift from the table and unwrap it, and anyone can choose yours or choose a different wrapped one. Everyone ends up with one THING which is consumable and not expensive. The rest of the money we would have spent gets donated to charity. The key to converting my family over was to guilt people about the needy...worked like a charm and now everyone overwhelmingly prefers it.

good luck! Happy Again at Christmastime

This won't tell you how to stop giving gifts, but how to make it easy/inexpensive.

I give the SAME THING to EVERYONE in my extended family. I come up with only 1 idea/year. And if I think of it early enough, I can buy on sale, sometimes one year ahead. And if someone isn't thrilled one year, there will be another year. It also allows you to pay more for certain people but buy the same thing.

For example:


  • Animal slippers at about $12 each. Even Grandmother got a pair!
  • Games
  • Clocks (inspired by catalog sales)
  • The year that they all come to my house for Christmas, I found red plaid PJ's, which made a nice photo.
  • Plain white T-shirts with each family getting a package of tie-dye ink and instructions.
  • Disposable cameras with an album or frame.
  • Hats, scarfs and/or mittens.

    It ends up more inexpensive since you can buy on sale and early. This year my holiday shopping for extended family is over already and in December I can concentrate on immediate family gifts. Friends and neighbors also get the same gift: one year bulbs, another candy, or cookies, or ornaments.

    ENJOY the holidays!!! Barbara

    I got to this same point with my family. So a couple of years ago, I started giving gifts to charitable organizations in honor of my family members. If I know one special to a family member, I'll donate to that one. If I don't know who they'd like to support, I make a donation in their name to Heifer International. You can donate a hive of bees, or a flock of chicks, a sheep, or even a heifer to a family in need somewhere around the world. Heifer International does good work, and it seems really to be in the spirit of the season giving where the need is great. They will send you gift announcement cards that you can send on for your family to open. You can find Heifer International at BTW, the first few years I did this, most of my family members didn't even mention it (perhaps they thought I forgot to send a gift?). But last year, I got some wonderful letters--not just notes--of thanks for these gifts. Carolyn
    We dealt with this same issue in my family by choosing ''Secret Santas'' (or ''Kris Kringles''). You put everyone's name in a hat and then each person draws the name of the family member who he/she'll be getting a gift for that Christmas. We include brothers, sisters, parents, brothers- & sisters-in-law in the drawing. The kids still get presents from all of us. Christina
    We usually buy gifts for the children only and do the Gift Exchange GAME for the adults. Basically everyone who wants to participate brings a gender neutral gift. We have a $40 limit to make it worthwhile.

    1. All gifts go under the tree.
    2. We pull numbers from a hat to see who goes first.
    3. The first person picks a gift and shows it to the group.
    4. The second person either picks a gift OR ''steals'' the first person's gift, and so on...
    5. If your gift is stolen, you can immediately either pick another gift from the tree or ''steal'' someone else's.
    6. You can't immediately ''steal'' your gift back and once a gift is stolen 2x it's out of the rotation.

    This game is so fun and it's hilarious to see some of the reactions when a gift is stolen. Some only bring one gift per couple and strategize together for the one gift to bring back home but most bring two because everyone wants to play. It cuts down on the adult gift buying, it's a fun event to look forward to, participation is completely voluntary, no planning and coordinating names before hand, and you get one decent gift to bring home.

    It's time for your sisters to realize the true meaning of Christmas and that the massive amounts of gifts are for the children. Who needs a ton of extra stuff to store? It's hard enough to find room for all the toys the kids bring home at Xmas time! Save the wishlists for Santa a.k.a. Their OWN husbands. Rhea

    Sorry to follow up late, but along with the good suggestions already posted, I thought you might like to know what my large family is trying this year. Mom set a $5 per person limit - at first I was sort of dismayed, but now it seems like a totally fun game. A $25 limit wouldn't be meaningful because that is how much we might spend anyway, and you still might think you were trying to get a ''real gift'' with $25. The $5 limit makes it clear it is just silly and fun - more fun by far than no presents, but very different from our usual pattern. I think everyone is happy to go along with it because we're all spending extra $$ at Christmas to all travel to my sister's wedding (and none of us have much extra to spend). -Charis

    The in-laws' extravagant gift exchanges

    October 2002

    my husband's side of the family has (what i consider) an extravagant gift exchange for christmas. there are his parents, his sisters and their husbands, as well as his nieces and nephews. we all get together on christmas morning and each person gets multiple presents from each individual family. for example, my son will get a few things from his grandparents, a few things ''aunt sue and uncle jim,'' something from ''cousin jan,'' yet something else from ''cousin todd,'' etc, etc, etc. it was a little much when the family was small, but now it is ridiculous. and i almost forgot to mention the stocking stuffer gifts too! when opening the gifts, i feel like my young kids are not appeciating each item. they just seem to rip open one after the other. they even get tired of opening gifts!

    i feel like i have no say in this because i am just the daughter- in-law. i come from a family with a much smaller christmas budget. i have some ideas like drawing names, or setting spending limits. has anyone had any experience with HOW to approach the in-laws without insulting their traditions? is it ever okay to ask them to just buy one gift and contribute the excess $ to the kids' college funds?

    We had the same issue at my parents' house. I have four siblings (plus spouses) and each sibling has two or three kids. The amount of gifts under the tree was embarrassing! We decided to draw names for the kids (thus, only one gift per kid) and some years we draw names for the adults and some years simply decide no adult gifts (except for the grandparents, which often receive one gift from all of their children). We have three kids, so we draw three names and buy each child (our children's cousins) ONE gift. This has worked much better. My sister's husband's side of the family gives group gifts, where everyone donates a certain amount of money into a pot, and the others plan what to buy each person. Again, the idea is that each person only receives one gift. Too much of Christmas!
    Hi, I've been through this with my in-laws. Long after my side of the family was drawing names, they were still giving mountains of gifts. When my son was about 2 he didn't even open all the presents--just lost interest! If you don't feel comfortable bringing it up as the daughter-in-law, get your husband to do it. Or start lobbying the other ''kids'' in the family. I convinced them to draw names, although the first year most people ''cheated'' by buying little gifts for people whose name they hadn't drawn and buying multiple gifts for the person whose name they had drawn. Then the name drawing worked pretty well for a couple years. Last year my husband and I made a big point that we wanted donations to non-profits in our names as our gifts (I should add that we e-mail a ''wish-list'' before the holidays). This year I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from my parents-in-law saying they are giving no gifts this year except to the grandkids because they want to donate the money to charity instead!! And they were the most extravagant gift-givers. So hang in there, these patterns can change. (And in the meantime, I would recommend just taking a bunch of the gifts you and your kids receive and donating them-- when my kids were little I did this behind their backs, but now we talk about it--there are usually gifts they don't mind parting with). anon this time...
    No, you can't tell your in-laws to contribute money to college funds rather than buy toys. It's probable that they cherish their extravagant traditions and would feel very deprived if they couldn't indulge. (If anyone suggested that my family draw names, I'd be appalled and sulky. Even though I know it works well for many. Remember, this really isn't about right or wrong. Just different.) Of course, it's also possible that everyone would be relieved that somebody else suggested reining it in. But you need to have a heart-to-heart with your husband on this topic before either of you says anything to his parents and siblings. Does he agree with you? Or would he seriously miss the Christmas morning chaos? If he agrees there should be a change, he's the better one to bring it up with his family. And he's the better one to gauge what type or level of change will be accepted.

    And if nothing changes, that's okay. Focus on teaching your children to acknowledge and appreciate *every* gift -- whether it's the first, only, or tenth item they've received on the same day from the same people. Holly

    This really is a hard issue, because family traditions can be difficult to change. You certainly should try to at least limit the number of gifts your children receive. I would try to be as diplomatic as possible, and plead limited space or the fact that they only play with a few toys anyway, no matter how many they have. If you can't get your relatives to limit the number of gifts, you could also suggest practical gifts such as clothing (or your idea of a contribution to a college fund). If that doesn't work either you can either put away most of the gifts after your kids open them, or ask your kids to give some of the toys away. My mother-in-law has a habit of giving my kids far too many toys at Christmas. I think this is in part because she feels bad that she can't see them more often. So, I try to be sensitive to this and accept the gifts graciously, but then put them away for sometime later in the year when they will be appreciated more. Gifts that are simply inappropriate or I know will never be used are given away (once my kids are older, I plan to ask them to participate in this process).

    If you are feeling more ambitious (or if your initial suggestions for your own children work and you think more change might be possible) you could attempt to work a greater change on the whole gift-giving program. When my mother and step-father married there were five adult children, numerous spouses and a few cousins we celebrated with. These adults were quickly joined by what a number (now 12) little children. So, my stepfather set up a new exchange program. The adults (other than the grandparents) pick one name and exchange gifts that way. Each family gives one gift to each child (so the kids get more gifts). And each adult/spouse pair can give one gift to the grandparents. (Grandparents are exempt -- they can give as many gifts as they like, although they are usually pretty restrained.) There are ceilings on the amounts that can be spent on each of those gifts. This has worked very well for us, especially because each adult has the opportunity to find out what the one adult he or she is giving a gift to really wants. So, people get one gift they really want, instead of a number they don't care about. The kids still get a lot, but not as many as if there was no plan, and each kid ends up with the same number of gifts which is very helpful. We also open only one gift at a time (yes, this takes a long time, but we usually divide it before/after church on Christmas Eve and some Christmas morning). Each gift is appreciated, and each giver thanked before we go on to the next gift. This makes it more meaningful for us, and also gives us a lot of very pleasant family time. Good luck! Stephanie

    I too am the daughter-in-law of a large family that spent hours Xmas day opening gifts. What I really hated about it was not how expensive it was (there was a $25. limit for all the good it did!) but how much TIME it took to shop for all these gifts (even if my husband took care of his family). Now that my sister-in-law is back to work with 2 kids, she seconded the ''exchange names'' idea and we've finally moved to that for our generation (small children are exempted and alas still get lots of gifts). So raise the issue as one about TIME and you can hopefully avoid some of the hot emotions people have about money and presents and Christmas. Good luck. anon
    I was in a very similar situation last Xmas and in combination with post 9/11 introspection, I proposed that we donate to a needy family in our area. There is a great website in our area that listed family social services and shelters. I did the research and made the suggestion at our annual Thanksgiving gathering where we pick names for Xmas gift giving.My father-in law was probably the most resistant but when it was explained that it was a large family (as is their's) where a set of grandparents are trying to raise the grandkids,they seemed more receptive. We were given a list (so touchingly modest) of items requested by the family (the list included clothing as well as dolls and balls). At that point, everyone was a convert. Each of my husband's family member was responsible for a gift for the recipient family. For our own family, we opted for buying a nice, not expensive, generic gift for a ''male'' or ''female'' and went around the room picking out a gift from the generically marked pile. It worked out very nicely. No one felt deprived or upset about the deviation in holiday tradition. I'm hoping that a new tradition has been established and that we can continue it this year. It will be especially important since the economy is in such dire straits plus the grandkids all got an important lesson in community service Heather in Berkeley
    I understand your 'problem'. In my family, we changed our tradition once boyfriends/husbands got introduced into the family. We realized we were all spending a lot of money and no one really got what they wanted. Can your husband 'find out' if anyone else feels overwhelmed (besides Grandma & Grandpa)? Are you close to any of your husbands brothers or sisters? Perhaps they can be an advocate to their parents on changing the traidtion.

    I don't know who wouldn't want to spend less $ and buy less presents. I advocated the change in our family and prefaced it by saying 'let's just try it this year and see how it works out.' Its been 5 years and we love it. Our family decided to draw names and everyone gets one big item ($100-$200). We also make lists to help out. On my husband's side of the family, we decided to spend money on an outing together - like Cirque du Soleil or 49ers tickets. Both have worked out quite well. Good luck! Julie