Random gift exchanges are silly. There is no sense, financial or common, in trading gifts with extended family or people you’re not close to. Times are tight and many can’t afford frivolous gift exchanges. They don’t want to waste money on a meaningless token gift. So here’s a plan: skip holiday gift exchanges and donate Christmas presents to needy children.
Christmas is all about the kiddies and it feels much better to donate gifts to needy children who actually could use them. Got an extended relative gift exchange to go to? What a nuisance–you have to dream up some kind of Christmas present to get someone you barely know. Or you trade lists of what to buy each other–how personal and meaningful (not). Why not suggest dropping that and adopting a family, collecting presents for needy children, or raise money for a gift to Heifer, International? The worst ones are the white elephant or gag gift exchanges. There’s a dumb idea: buy junk for each other that no one needs don’t need and will be throw away, instead of doing some good. There’s the holiday spirit. What a poor legacy to leave the children, teaching them that Christmas is about getting presents instead of giving.
Company work party gift exchanges are no better and possibly worse. Employees don’t know each other. They don’t want to risk looking silly, cheap, tacky or too personal a gift. Co-workers could give holiday wish lists which is a half-step better. But usually they just wind up trading gift cards. Plus, wish lists are just uncomfortable. Do you really want everyone to know you collect Doctor Who memorabilia? Holiday gift exchanges among students are THE WORST of all. Making kids buy each other Christmas presents does little good and can cause problems: competition, polarization, jealousy, hurt feelings, embarrassment, confusion, frustration.
Like the time a 5th grade boy got a GIRL’s name for the holiday gift exchange. He got no end of ribbing from the other guys. He had no idea what to do, and so opted for the obvious male response: tell no one and ignore it. Finally, on the day of the party, he wrapped up an old pencil in a piece of notebook paper. Needless to say the girl was aghast. She started crying in front of everyone, which made him feel even stupider. The teacher called his parents to report his idiotic behavior. His mother was mortified, marched him to the store to buy the girl a present: a doll. She made him bring it to the poor girl’s house which was mind-bendingly awkward for both kids. And yes, the doll was probably a bad gift for an 11-year-old. But the boy’s mother was older, had only one son and didn’t know any better.
All of which highlights why gift exchanges are a bad idea. The teacher should have made sure kids got same-gender names to buy presents for, at least. Or she should have skipped the dumb gift exchange in the first place. Or best option of all, she could host a party for needy children and have students by presents. Then everyone wins: the needy children get Christmas presents and the students feel good about helping. They learn valuable lessons in unselfishness, awareness and empathy. Gift exchanges just breed attitudes of entitlement and expectation. They turn greedy kids into greedier adults.