Holiday Boundaries: Gift-Giving

There are only two types of gift-givers in the world: those who meticulously plan out every gift they’re giving down to the last detail and keep a running list on their phone they update in real-time, and those who go shopping on Christmas Eve.

Inevitably, they marry each other.

Now, I’m not saying that one type of personality is better than the other, but I am saying that I am the meticulous planner, and my husband is the Christmas Eve shopper! 

Whatever type of gift-giver you are, I’m sure there have been times when you’ve struggled to figure out how much money to spend on that perfect gift or even what that ideal gift actually is. 

If we’re not careful, we can easily fall into the pit of gift-giving–where we stress ourselves out, spend too much money, buy too much stuff, and end up feeling defeated from the entire process.

This Christmas Season, I want to encourage you to set healthy boundaries where gift-giving is concerned.

Wrapped Presents to show how go overboard on gift-giving

Childhood Christmas Gifts:

I always hate it when people ask me to describe the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received. I have the same response every single time–I sit there like a deer in headlights and my mind goes completely blank. 

Do you know what I have no problem telling people about?

My favorite Christmas memories.

My dad is the king of practical jokes, and Christmas was always his time to shine. One year, we woke up on Christmas morning and there were only a few presents under the tree. My brother and I opened them, and then my parents went through this heart-wrenching story about how they were low on money and this was all they could afford. Now, we didn’t have excess money growing up, so this wasn’t hard to believe at all. 

After my brother and I spent sufficient time apologizing and telling our parents it was fine and not to worry about it, my dad whips out this pocket watch that he said glowed in the dark and drug us to our basement to see how well it would work.

When we got to the basement, there was a Christmas tree made out of drywall beads and wrapping paper.

My parents laughed hysterically and then informed us they just didn’t feel like wrapping all our presents.

I can’t tell you one gift I received that year, but I can tell you exactly what that stupid Christmas tree looked like.

Or, there was the year my brother moved into an apartment for Grad school. He’d been telling my dad how he wanted a corvette and how that would be a great Christmas present. 

Come Christmas morning, my brother had a pair of keys on a corvette key chain under the Christmas tree. Attached to them was a note to go look in the car hauler in the driveway.

Now, listen, there were three people in that house who knew there was no way my brother was getting a corvette for Christmas, but somehow my brother was not one of them.

He threw his shoes on and ran outside. He opened the door to the car hauler only to find a recliner for his new apartment. 

I’m not sure he’s forgiven my dad for that one yet.

I could go on and on.

As I sit here and I think about the Christmas Season, these are the memories that come to mind–not the amazing gifts I’ve received over the years. 

I really think there’s an important lesson here for all of us.

I know we want to give our kids, loved ones, and partners amazing gifts. It’s a concept that’s been around since the beginning of time.  We see this throughout the old testament and the new.

  • In Genesis 36-37 we read about Jacob giving Joseph the coat of many colors.
  • In Matthew 2 the wise men bring gifts to Jesus
  • In I Samuel 30 David gives gifts to the elders of Judah.
  • In I Kings 10 the Queen of Sheba gives King Solomon spices and precious stones.

Honestly, that doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to the different types of gifts and reasons for those gifts in the bible.

They gave gifts as rewards, to ease tensions, as tributes, to celebrate, to show respect, etc.

Knowing this is a tradition that has lasted through the ages and that we are not alone, how do we reign in our gift-giving and set boundaries in this area of our lives?

gift bag in front of the Christmas Tree

Remember Why We Celebrate Christmas in the First Place

I’m guilty of going through Christmas Day without ever actually acknowledging the reason we are celebrating in the first place.

One of the ways to keep the meaning of Christmas in perspective is to set that tone in your house throughout the entire Season. There are so many cool advent calendars and resources out there. Even though advent has already started, it isn’t too late to grab one of those devotionals and set some time each day to read it and talk about it with your partner and/or your family.

Then, on Christmas, shift the focus when you get up in the morning from the presents under the tree to the present in the manger. 

Manger Scene

Set Limits

Be honest about what you can afford and set limits accordingly. If you have a partner and/or family, then do this together. Be honest and set realistic expectations. 

For me, there is nothing worse than waking up on Christmas morning to exchange gifts and having our gifts be completely disproportionate.  Whether you’re the person who gave the more expensive gift or the one who gave the cheaper gift, this has the potential to be an extremely uncomfortable situation and even has the potential to ruin or set a terrible mood for the rest of your Christmas.

You can avoid all the disappointment if everyone in your family is on the same page from the beginning. 

To Do List

Keep Track of Your Purchases:

I keep a note on my phone where I track all my gift buying. I have each person listed, how much we have budgeted for that individual, and then I keep track of what we buy and how much it cost.

I have to do that or I completely lose track of what I’ve purchased and how much I spent, and I inevitably end up spending way more than I had planned–usually unintentionally because I have no memory!

It’s so easy to see something in the store and think you’ll just grab it for one of your loved ones. If you’re like me, you do that way too often, and then the pile of gifts becomes beyond excessive.

If you keep a list, though, you can know who you are finished with and who you still need to look for.

Just today, I was shopping with Kate and she picked out something really cool that I wanted to get her, but I looked at her and told her she was done! I have to do this or I just keep saying, “one more thing won’t hurt.”

Goal Detail List

Ask for a List!

Several years ago, Kate started making me a detailed list of what she wanted for Christmas. This year, I got a list complete with pictures and a link to her Pinterest Board!

It was great!

One of the most stressful times for anyone who loves giving gifts is the moment the recipient opens the gift and reacts. We desperately want them to love it. 

I’ve found the best way to make sure they love it is to find out what they really want.

No one wants to spend money on Christmas presents only to have their recipient hate the gift.

If you have a list, you don’t have to buy everything on the list, but you have a guide as to what the loved one actually wants. Then, if you have parents, grandparents, or siblings who are struggling with what to get that person, you can point them in a direction that will have a positive result for them as well.

If you are attempting to eliminate some of the chaos this holiday season and save your sanity, I hope this helps you set some boundaries and reign in your holiday spending on gifts. Remember, Christmas is really about the gift we received in Jesus, and your loved ones will remember that and the memories you make together before they’ll remember any of the gifts you get them.

List for Santa

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your biggest stressor when it comes to gift-giving?
  2. What are two realistic boundaries you can implement to help ease that stress?
  3. How can you shift the focus from the presents on Christmas morning to the presence of Jesus?

Scripture for Reflection:

Genesis 36-37: Joseph’s coat of many colors and the jealousy of his brothers over that coat

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