Christmas: an embarrassment of riches

The youngest member of my family of origin is 30 years old. Our youngest first cousin is 29. None of us are buying for children, at this point. The piles of presents under the Christmas tree, however, would make you think Santa had confused my family for a mid-sized elementary school. When it comes to giving gifts, my family goes way, way, way over the top.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, or that I’m too much of a Grinch. We exchange gifts as tokens of affection. We are fortunate that we can afford to give as much as we do. I like Christmas shopping, and have made peace with the fact that I’m going to spend a lot on presents for others, and that each year, I’m going to receive a fair number of gifts that I just don’t need. In self-defense, I have become queen of the recycled gift; if I don’t want or can’t use present X, I find it a good home. Gifts from work go to neighbors; presents from one side of the family go to the in-laws, and vice versa. Re-gifting works, as long as I remember where the present came from in the first place.

Of course, there are gifts that I keep. Some that I had asked for; some that I didn’t even know I wanted, and was surprised and delighted to receive. But in general, I am given far more than I can use, or than I deserve, judging by Santa’s naughty-or-nice scale. So I try to redistribute when I can.

Ho ho ho, hee hee hee, we gave your present to a refugee

When I was in college, I had a friend who found a note that said just that under the Christmas tree one year; sure enough, his parents had given the money they would have spent on his Christmas presents to someone who needed it a great deal more than he did. As a not-terribly-enlightened 20 year old, I was a bit shocked—and glad my parents hadn’t done likewise. Over the years, however, that option—-giving to charity in someone’s name—has become more and more appealing to me. It costs more than re-gifting, but the total amount of good that comes out of it is greater.

So here’s what I’ve started to do: I give relatives who are older than I am a token gift, and a letter telling them which charities I have given money to in the past year, in their name. Younger siblings and cousins still get material presents, but Nana gets donations to the Ronald McDonald House1, where she used to volunteer, and Guiding Eyes for the Blind2, an organization that raises guide dogs. My architect uncle gets donations to Habitat for Humanity 3 ; donations to the Smithsonian 4 are in the name of an aunt who loves cultural stuff; my fisherman father gets the newsletter (and a letter thanking him for the donation) from Save the Bay 5, the organization whose efforts go to restoring the Chesapeake Bay. Et cetera.

So far, no one has followed suit, but they don't seem to mind that I'm spending their present money elsewhere; they always thank me and tell me it's a nice idea. On the other hand, none of my younger siblings or cousins are begging me to extend this new tradition to them. Oh, well, I've struck a balance that works for me.

(Contributions to non profit organizations are tax deductible, so I'm really getting three benefits out of each donation: knowing the organization has been helped, coming up with a creative gift for a family member, and having a write-off on my taxes. Ho ho ho, indeed.)

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The friend who gave me this idea in the first place died before his 33rd birthday ; in his honor I give each year to his non-profit of choice, Planned Parenthood. 6

Just in case you’re interested in any of the charities mentioned above, here are some web addresses: 1 http://www.rmhc.com/donate/donate/index.html 2 http://www.guiding-eyes.org/ 3http://www.habitat.org/ 4 http://www.si.edu/giving/ 5 http://www.savethebay.org/ 6 http://loper.org/~george/trends/2002/Oct/50.html

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