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FIRST-PERSON: How to avoid holiday gift-giving wars

GARLAND, Texas (BP)–In the early days in our marriage, it became obvious that picking the perfect Christmas gift for either one of us would be a major minefield in our relationship.

Conflicts over how much or how little to spend, locating the correct sizes and colors, and failing to pick up on “hints” that allegedly had been dropped during the year made the gift-giving issue more than just a minor annual ripple in our marital sea. The old maxim about “it’s the thought that counts” seemed to go out the window at such times.

Inevitably, one spouse’s gift expectations would not be met on Christmas morning. When that happened, the rest of the day would turn sour.

Or, one of us would fail to keep his or her word on an earlier decision. We’d vow something such as, “Let’s count that new greenhouse we bought in October as our joint Christmas present and not buy each other individual gifts this year.”

But without fail, either Kay or I would privately and impulsively decide to purchase the other something extra anyway. This left the one who kept to the original decision feeling confused and embarrassed. Apologies eventually followed, and we’d resolve not to let such much-ado-about-nothing preoccupy us the next year.

But the following Christmas, the situation would repeat itself. We’d wring our hands, saying, “Why can’t we get this matter right, anyway? Christmas is about the birth of Christ. Why does it matter so much what we buy each other for Christmas?”

Obviously, it did matter, however, so we at last developed these strategies, which have worked quite well for us:

1. We established a gift-wrapped suggestion box that sat on our bookshelf all year. If one of us saw in a catalog or newspaper ad some reasonably priced article that we’d love to receive, we tore out the clipping and put it in the “gift-suggestion” box [along with a notation about color, size, etc.] This required a commitment, however, that wish-list suggestions added to the box were just that — suggestions. Also, if the spouse who submitted it had a change of heart, that spouse was required to remove the suggestion promptly, thus avoiding a Christmas-morning response of, “Oh, that! I thought you knew I was just kidding when I said I wanted THAT. I changed my mind months ago.”

2. We started a “Christmas date night,” which has been our most successful action and what is now tradition in our 32-year marriage. Late in the season, when stores have already begun their deep-discount Christmas sales, we set aside a night for this Christmas date. We go out to eat at a restaurant, then spend the next couple of hours together browsing a mall, paying attention as each of us “admires” potential gift items (within an agreed-upon modest budget range).

At the end of the “admiring” time, each of us states his or her top five gift preferences. Then we separate and return individually to buy our personal favorite of the five suggestions. We take our individual gift home, wrap it, and put it under the tree. That keeps the surprise element yet allows the “giftee” some say in the matter. It also avoids having to remember back weeks or months to recall “Did she say she would like pink or blue slippers?” or “Did he say he prefers black or brown gloves?”

3. We decided to adhere more fully to the “How much is enough?” philosophy of Christian financial expert Larry Burkett, whom we admire. We try to count our blessings more often and ask ourselves, “Just how much more STUFF do we need around this house anyway? And are we really being good stewards of all that we own?” Instead of adding more and more to our stockpile, we try to use Christmas as a reminder that we need to decrease any materialistic quotient we have and instead make sure we are using the seldom-worn sweater or pendant from a previous gift occasion. Such a step, we agreed, was certainly more in keeping with the true Christmas spirit than wrangling over dashed gift-giving expectations. It also freed up more funds for giving to others truly in need.

Although all of these ideas don’t work all the time, they have certainly put us further down the road to a more harmonious Christmas. Now instead of having to fret about facing long lines at return counters the week after Christmas to swap that wrong size, wrong color, or just totally wrong gift, we are free to focus more fully on the gift of God’s continuing love that surrounds us.
Louis Moore and his wife, Kay, conduct marriage enrichment retreats worldwide through their ministry, Family Matters Seminars. They also own and operate Hannibal Books, a Christian book-publishing company based in Garland, Texas. They can be reached at 1-800-747-0738 or [email protected]

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  • Louis Moore